ProCigar 2015: Day 3

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After starting in La Romana, day three of the 2015 ProCigar Festival was the first that took attendees to the factories in and around Santiago, one of which was Tabacalera Palma, the factory that has become much better known in recent years due to the success of Boutique Blends, Aging Room, SWAG, Señorial and a number of private labels. It’s also the newest member of ProCigar.

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The visit started with a visit to Jose “Jochy” Blanco’s Jacagua farm in Santiago Viejo where criollo ’98 was in the middle of being harvested and hung in the barns, with another crop recently planted that will be ready in a few weeks. There was also a small plot of land being used for new experimental blends to see how they grow and handle being in the soil.

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From there, it was onto the Tabacalera Palma factory and a walkthrough of the facilities, followed by one of José Blanco’s blending seminars, held in a tobacco storage room with the 40 or so attendees from several countries, as well as a few manufacturers and industry personnel, sitting on bales of tobacco while talking about what to look for in a premium cigar. The factory is impressive: a two-story operation with nearly 40 pairs of rollers, a busy packaging room and a good bit of processing. One of the most interesting parts of the factory might seem fairly minor—cedar shavings on the floor of the aging rooms—but it’s an idea that helps remove moisture from the cigars and get them better prepared to be shipped from the factory. It’s also one of those things that you really only get to learn about from visiting a factory and seeing the differences for yourself.

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Similarly, you can see how one factory can accomplish the same thing; in this case it was box-pressing cigars. Sometimes they use a more traditional method such as a large press:

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Or sometimes you just use a couple of cinder blocks:

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While it’s just a flattened piece of earth at the moment, directly across the street from the main factory was one of the most notable parts of the visit, as ground was recently broken on a new facility that will bring more tobacco to the complex and further expand Tabacalera Palma’s ability to produce cigars while reducing the transport of tobacco from farm to storage to factory.

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After the visits were completed, ProCigar hosted a press conference for media gathered from around the country to discuss the current state of Dominican cigar production, as well as the effects it has on the country’s economy and the obligatory questions about how a change in relations between the United States and Cuba would affect the Dominican cigar industry. Litto Gomez was the first to grab the microphone to respond, saying he looked forward to having everyone compete on a global level, and that there was nothing for the Dominican manufacturers to be afraid of, a sentiment echoed by Manuel Quesada and applauded by the majority of the audience.

But it was an earthquake that shook the room just after Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard started speaking that seemed to really get the crowd excited, or at least the people we heard outside the room who were a little more animated than the journalists inside. The Davidoff CEO didn’t seem phased by it at all, however, as he discussed the sales numbers of the company and the Dominican cigar industry. Beyond that though, it was fairly uneventful: no major announcements about new projects, government initiatives or so on; in fact the majority of company heads there didn’t speak.

The afternoon continued with a seminar on pairing cigars and beer, with Davidoff and SAGA providing the former, and Presidente, Hoegaarden, Leffe Blond and Leffe Brown beers being featured. The seminar was led by noted beer writer Ben Vinken.

The day completed with what is quite possibly the most well-known part of the ProCigar Festival, the White Dinner, held at the Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración in Santiago. It was at that event that attendees got a look at the handful of new cigars being unveiled by way of a special gift box containing the cigars while enjoying an impressive evening of dinner and dancing while overlooking the Santiago skyline.

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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