While Tuesday of Procigar started a bit later than it typically starts, my morning began far earlier than I’d like.
After some brief work, I packed and then headed to the first activity of the day, a combination of breakfast and a presentation from Tabacalera de García. The latter is normally done at the factory itself, but this year it was done at Casa de Campo which meant for a slightly later start, particularly if you were willing—like me—to skip breakfast.
Tabacalera de García—the world’s largest premium cigar factory—is also one of the strictest when it comes to various compliance standards. That meant that we were told not to wear open shoes, sleeveless shirts or short skirts. I was a bit curious to see if the short skirt rule was going to harken back to how my classmates at Catholic school would have their skirts checked for length—place your arms at your side and the skirt must go below your fingertips—but it appeared there weren’t any explicit uniform checks going on and fortunately I was not wearing green slacks, one of my favorite parts of Catholic school.
Last year the factory gave us boots to wear, this year it returned to something known as a safety toe cap, a rubber cover that goes over your shoe and resembles a clown shoe. We were also given badges to signify we were visitors, along with earplugs and face masks. What’s interesting is that outside of the box factory, almost none of the workers wear this equipment, though I suspect that that is more due to liability of visitors than the importance of steel toe shoes.
We then boarded the bus and took the less than 10-minute ride over to Tabacalera de García.
There is no factory we have written more about than Tabacalera de García, at least when it comes to factory visits, so this will briefly talk about the tour and highlight some of the changes. If you’d like to read more about the factory, here’s our coverage from previous years:
Like every other time I’ve been here during Procigar, we were divided into groups—this time of 10 people—and were led around the factory by various employees. Unlike some other factories where people will start in various stages and move from place to place, Tabacalera de García gives the same order for each group:
- Pre-industry — The preparation of the tobacco for rolling, i.e. moistening the tobacco
- Stripping — The removal of the center stem from the tobacco leaves
- Tobacco Sorting — The final sort of tobaccos before rolling
- Blend Creation — A process where each blend is divided out tobacco by tobacco
- Rolling & Quality Control
- The Aging Room
In some years this tour has also included a visit to the box factory, but this year we just saw the cigars placed into boxes and didn’t see the boxes themselves being made, which is something that is done in a different area of the facility.
The step pictured here involves weighing out the fillers tobaccos before they are sent to the rolling floor to be turned into a cigar. The idea here is to give each buncher the materials needed to roll a specific number of cigars.
The Tabacalera de García facility—which produces the non-Cuban versions of Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann and others—is always changing. One thing that was very apparent this year was the inclusion of digital tracking for production. Various supervisors on the floor have iPads where they input data which is then displayed in a few different places showing both the productivity of the overall operation as well as specific areas.
Tabacalera de García likes to spend a lot of time talking about its various draw testing machines and other quality control checks throughout the process. If I’ve learned one thing after visiting 80+ cigar factories it’s that if a factory has invested in a draw machine, they are going to talk about it.
I’m not really sure how the relative humidity in this particular area could be 95 percent.
There is a 360 video of both the aging room and rolling floor that I’m trying to upload, but that seems to be stalling at the moment. Eventually, I will get it onto YouTube and add it here; it better captures what an operation that produces over 30 million cigars annually looks like and is also something we’ve never done here.
After the tour we were given a gift bag and offered fresh coconut milk, coffee and water. Unfortunately, the snow cone cart from last year didn’t make another appearance.
From there it was back to Casa de Campo for lunch before heading on the 175-mile ride west to Santiago. As I’ve done for the last few years, I joined a half dozen media members in hiring our own driver. This meant we were able to leave earlier, drive a bit quicker and get to Santiago at least 90 minutes before the bus, if not close to two hours earlier.
That meant I could edit and publish a review, catch up on some email and revel in Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 win over PSG earlier in the day.
From there it was off to a cocktail hour at the Garden Court hotel on the eastern edge of Santiago. I forgot to take a picture, but it seemed like the same overall set-up as last year with perhaps a bit more food.
Like many others, I headed to Saga—a restaurant and bar owned by Augusto Reyes, who is the head of Swisher Dominicana and part of the Reyes family—and had dinner with people from Boveda and La Flor Dominicana. As is the case at Saga every year, there were people from just about every major Dominican factory as well as retailers, suppliers, media and friends. If Saga was bigger, I’m pretty sure they could just make this an official Procigar party as the restaurant is taken over by the guests and factories.
Despite my best efforts, it’s 2:47 a.m. local time. After a couple of failed Ubers from Saga back to the hotel, we got in a car with people from J. Cortès and ended up having one more Presidente and an Oliva Serie V Melanio before finally making it back to the hotel, which means that for the second consecutive night, I’ll be sleeping for less than 5 1/2 hours.
Wednesday is the first day of Santiago tours and I’ll be off to Tabacalera La Alianza S.A., the home of E.P. Carrillo. Be sure to follow along on Instagram for more updates as I’ll be posting to both halfwheel’s account as well as my own.