When registration for Procigar 2020 opened late last year there was a very obvious change.
Normally, Procigar features the optional first two days in Casa de Campo—which most people skip—and then three full days in Santiago. Those days in Santiago offer visits to the facilities of member companies, be it a company’s farm or factory, or sometime both, which you select individually on a day-by-day basis. There are usually some other non-factory visits: a visit to Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, a beach day and a charity poker tournament on Friday.
This year, there were no tours to sign up for on Friday; rather, the organization opted for a Friday Field Day and announced nearly no details about what was planned.
By Thursday night I was already a fan of the Friday field day as it meant that we would start our day an hour earlier. As the week went on, more details came out about what was planned.
All of the Procigar attendees would visit La Flor Dominicana’s farms in La Canela. Rather than doing the normal LFD tour—which starts in the farms in the morning and then moves to the factory in the afternoon—there would be a large tent set up on the farm and all of the principals from the other Procigar members would be in attendance.
After a nearly hour-long bus ride to La Canela, that’s exactly what we saw. A massive white tent in the front of the farms.
Everyone was given a pack that contained four baseball cards, though instead of players each was of a Procigar principal. We were told that we could trade the cards, which included facts on the back of the card, just like a baseball card, and that we would go up to a table corresponding with each company and be given a cigar.
Welcome to Dominican Big Smoke.
In theory, what was supposed to happen was people would go up to the tables, get their card signed by the member and they could use that time to get to better know each principal and ask questions one-on-one.
If there’s one thing that Nicaragua’s Puro Sabor does better than Procigar it’s that one-on-one time. Because there are far more people at Procigar and because of the structure of how the events work in the Dominican Republic, unless you go on a specific tour it’s pretty challenging to get one-on-one time with someone. If you do get that one-on-one time, it’s usually tracking them down in passing or during a dinner where the music is often blaring, though admittedly the music on Wednesday night and even Thursday night was a lot better than it has been in the past.
What actually happened was that people rushed to get their four cigars, generally didn’t have very long conversations—because there were lines of other people—and then kind of sat around.
There were some that came later and others that went back to tables and had those conversations as intended, but 45 minutes into field day I began to wonder what we were going to do for the next three-plus hours.
In fairness, there were other things to do. There was a large assortment of food, including these pigs that had been cooked right next to the tobacco plants, which I hope have been designated for a fictional La Flor Dominicana Year of the Pig release.
Dancers in Carnival costumes, which took place over the weekend, entertained the crowd for about 20 minutes.
There were also domino tables, a coffee bar and later a coffee seminar, and a full bar which some people took advantage of more than others. There were a couple of speeches from Procigar members, a band performed for a few hours and some media members conducted interviews. But by-in-large, there wasn’t really anything planned, meaning it became an afternoon of hanging out.
Some people really enjoyed this, others were noticeably peeved that this time could have been used to visit another factory. As someone that has been on most of the tours multiple times, I was fine with it. However, if Procigar does this again, I’d recommend a few changes.
First, the idea of only getting four cigars was a bit awkward. I get the idea to trade the cards, but I’m not sure many people actually did this in practice. I get that it’s a few hundred more cigars that each factory would have to hand out, but some factories even admitted it was somewhat awkward to see people and not give them cigars.
Secondly, I’d love for this to be a much more unique experience. If each member brought rollers to make fresh cigars for guests, I imagine that would have gone a long way. Where else could you get 10 freshly-rolled cigars from these tobacco makers, in a tobacco field? It’s slightly more work, but people would be talking about the event much differently if they left with 10 fresh-rolled cigars from these factories.
Instead, guests got regular production cigars, less exciting than the ones that are handed out during the dinners.
Finally, while I certainly appreciated the downtime, I think that a few more interactive events throughout the afternoon would have gone a long way. Some of those events that wouldn’t require a ton more logistically:
- Procigar Trivia — Put people in teams, randomly selected by the card packs we were given. The winning team gets signed travel humidors.
- Cigar Rolling Competition — I don’t think everyone needs to participate, but it would be great to see Eladio Diaz, Davidoff’s production chief pictured above, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr. and others judge cigars rolled by 10 people.
- Cocktail Contest — This is something that Camacho did on its event tour to great fanfare.
The key here is to find the balance between the relaxation and the activities; this year was far too skewed for the former. The good news is, Procigar listens. The whole reason something like this came about was from people complaining about being exhausted on Friday.
Everyone arrived at dinner a bit more rested than normal, which was certainly part of the intent. I would also say, there’s only so many years Procigar can do this before it will get old.
Even with the aforementioned suggestions, I can’t imagine people—particularly those that attend every year, which is a decent chunk of attendees—will be thrilled to do this three years in a row. I’d recommend reverting back to the Friday tours for 2021 and then try a revamped field day in 2022 and just alternate going forward.
Dinner was held at Centro Español, the same place that hosted the Friday gala for every Procigar I’ve attended. This dinner oftentimes gets overshadowed by the White Party and many people head back to the U.S. on Friday.
I think this year’s Friday night crowd was as good as I’ve ever seen and the event remains my favorite dinner of the week. There were a couple of small improvements compared to years prior, most notably, a false wall where white-gloved hands appeared with glasses of Champagne for guests.
The start of the show is the Procigar auction, which benefited three charities this year.
- Hospicio San Vincente de Paul — A charity that supports the elderly without people to take care of them.
- Voluntariado Jesus con los Niños — A charity that supports children.
- Un Hogar Para Mi Familia — A new effort started by Procigar that will improve the homes of the less fortunate.
In total, the organization unofficially raised $205,000 between the auction and further donations. Below covers the official auction lots, as always Michael Herklots and Manuel “Manolo” Quesada Jr., the two auction emcees, added a few unlisted lots like aged cigars, a signed hat and a dinner at local favorite, Saga.
I was a bit startled when the auction started, seemingly earlier than normal, as I hadn’t had dinner yet and needed to keep track of the auction lots. I proceeded to just drink through dinner and eventually found myself eating the best food I had all week at this local Dominican spot at around 2 a.m.
Less than two hours later, I was at the airport checking in for the only flight from Santiago to Miami, one that departs at the very convenient time of 5:30 a.m.
If you’ve been reading these Procigar blogs, you’ve likely been surprised by just how oftentimes I’ve mentioned sleep or going to bed. Midway through the week, I tried to stop mentioning it as I was becoming a broken record.
Make no mistake about, this is an exhausting week, one where I got six hours of sleep just one night. A lot of that—particularly the difference between getting five and a half hours of sleep and nearly eight—is due to the need to get these blogs up while I’m in the Dominican Republic. And some of that is also due to saying no to late night afterparties.
But it’s all worth it.
Our daily coverage of festivals around the world, usually with less than great internet, is something that I’m proud of and it’s always nice to hear from people during the events complementing halfwheel for getting these posts up.
But Procigar as a whole is also worth it and the immense amount of smiles I see from other attendees from 8:30 a.m. to the end of every party each night are further evidence.
Procigar is a well-oiled machine. I was watching Hendrik “Henke” Kelner on Friday looking out at the tent in the cigar festival. Kelner, the longtime head of Procigar, had a face that is more or less the face I see every time I see him, but it seemed like there was a sense of pride connected to his gaze.
I’m guessing that 15 years ago, it would have been hard to imagine a few hundred people spending the afternoon in a tent in a tobacco field. Perhaps more importantly, it would have been hard to imagine how smoothly all of this now functions.
There’s an immense amount of planning and preparation that leads to a single event going off without a hitch. Procigar is six days of events spanning a country, oftentimes with events going on simultaneously and with no breaks between when things start on Sunday to the early hours of Saturday morning.
It’s an impressive feat to pull off of one of these events. It’s a monumental accomplishment to do a week’s worth of events and it’s a completely different thing when I reflect at my cumulative Procigar experiences over the year.
I leave for Cuba’s Festival del Habano in a few days, which will give me better judgment as to which cigar festival is the best. I suspect that I will have a favorite, but there won’t be one that is the best. Each is different and serve their own purposes and audiences. But Procigar—from both my own experience and that of others—seems to be the one that is the most stable and the calmest. While I’ll be able to say this in more definitive terms in a week, Procigar is the one I’d recommend you go to first.
Update (Feb. 25, 2020) — A representative from Procigar clarified that the total proceeds from the auction was $205,000 not $200,500.