I can’t wait to see what you say about this (event) because nothing has changed.
Some version of that was said to me Friday while leaving Procigar’s Member’s Field Day 2022. To the point, there’s a lot less to write about what happened during the day on Friday than I’d like. For the second consecutive Procigar Festival—there wasn’t a festival in 2021—Friday was a decidedly different day than Wednesday and Thursday. Rather than visiting farms or factories, or even having an option as to what to do on Friday, there’s only one official Procigar event during the day: Field Day.
The concept is that Procigar sets up a very large and nice tent at a tobacco field, the principals of the various Procigar companies attend the event alongside the festival attendees. There’s live music, food and drink, some games like bingo and darts, and some other activities; but Friday isn’t a day to tour a company’s operations. This is more or less the same as what was planned in 2020 and while there are some clear benefits, I’d be lying if I said this was the most productive day to spend in the Dominican Republic.
I was told there were more activities planned, but it didn’t seem like any of them really got implemented outside of the darts and hat painting.
The basic premise is that you get some trading cards with the faces of various people who all are the heads of a Procigar member company. You find that company’s table, have the person autograph your card and are given a free cigar from that company.
As I explained in 2020, this seemed rather pointless given it’s the Friday of Procigar and most people have been given many “free” cigars throughout the event. Furthermore, no one really spends much time at the tables, so it’s not like many people use this as an opportunity to get to chat with the heads of these companies. And then of course there’s the problem when the heads of the companies aren’t there.
I’ll start out with the people that were there:
- Jochy Blanco of Tabacalera Palma
- Javier Elmudesi of Tabacalera de García
- Abe Flores of PDR Cigars
- Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana
- Guillermo León of La Aurora
- Nirka Reyes Estrella of De Los Reyes
- *I’m not really sure if Yuri Guillén of General Cigar Dominicana was there or not.
Unfortunately, four (and maybe five) of the 11 Procigar members didn’t have the heads of the companies at this event. That’s not to say there was no one there from Arturo Fuente or Quesada, but it wasn’t the person on the card.
It’s not a good look. It’s not a good look for Procigar, it’s not a good luck for the companies themselves. If Procigar chooses to continue to do this event—which I think has some merit—it must make sure that the heads of these companies are in attendance. Otherwise, many people—like me—will wonder if there time could be better spent elsewhere.
That being said, there’s a lot to like about the field day.
- Late Start Time — It starts with the fact this event’s buses weren’t supposed to leave until 11 a.m. As it turns out, the buses left a little bit early, but being able to sleep in is awesome. Some people also used this time to go visit other factories or local shops in Santiago.
- The Food & Drinks — Quite frankly, I think this food was better than the food at the gala dinner. Part of it was that a lot of it was being prepared throughout the day including things like steak, lechón, barbecue. (I realize while typing this why Nirka Reyes brought her own vegan lunch.) The guava drinks were a great way to cool down, the coffee was good and there was an open bar with a decent array of drinks.
- This Field Was Pretty — This is a La Aurora field and it’s very pretty. It looks very new and the setting was awesome. Seemingly, some people took the opportunity to get some work done; there are worse places to work from than this field.
- It’s Very Well Organized & Executed — I wish there was more to do than darts, dominos and one half of a corn hole game but Procigar organizes this very well. The tent, at least one side, has fans and the whole presentation is very nice.
- It’s Nice that Other People Attend — Henke Kelner, Hostos Fernández, Omar de Frias and other people who aren’t part of Procigar member companies were all in attendance which is nice. There’s certainly festivals where these people’s attendance would be frowned upon, but not here.
- This probably can’t be an every year thing or it will get very boring.
- More activities (cigar rolling, longest ash, trivia, etc.) would go a long way to add some interactive fun.
- I think it would make sense to offer an alternative to this. Find one company will to do a tour on this day and let people who want to see another factory have that option.
The Field Day wrapped up around 3 p.m. and it was off to the hotel to get a COVID test for the flight back to the U.S. and then prepare for the gala dinner. As always, the gala is held at Centro Español in Santiago. Procigar always does a great job of decorating the space and this year was no exception.
This year, there were some special recognitions, including for the late Frank Seltzer, a fixture of Procigar. As I mentioned after Frank’s passing, Procigar would always fall right around Frank’s birthday. Here’s a video of a large contingent of media celebrating his birthday at Saga in Santiago one year.
In addition, Oriana Veloso—Procigar’s executive director—was recognized. This will be Veloso’s last Procigar Festival in charge as she is moving on to something that doesn’t involve trying to organize a bunch of cigar factories, this event and others. Veloso has been a fixture at Procigar and I imagine—like Sara Tio before her—will probably still be around during next year’s Festival, but it will be different. For all of the people who are impressed by the various aspects of the festival, those are the two people who are most responsible for it in my opinion. Oriana is one of my favorite people not just because of her commitment to not smiling, but also because of her ability to just get things done, and done well. Procigar—both the organization and festival— and I will miss her work.
After the various tributes, it was time for the auction. This year, there was more than 35 lots because Procigar asked each member company to donate a bundle of unbanded cigars. The idea was to try to have some more affordable lots for people to bid on and it seems to have worked as the bundles sold for between $500-2,800.
The proceeds from the lots benefited two charities.
Hospicio San Vincente de Paul is a non-profit dedicated to providing care for the elderly of Santiago. Proceeds will help to complete the Golden Age Residential Center, an area that will care for 26 full-time residents and 12 more daytime patients. The project is being created so that the organization can charge for care to help pay for its charitable costs.
Voluntariado Jesus con los Niños is a non-profit dedicated to helping children and their facilities. It includes a children’s oncology unit, children’s burn unit and a nutritional program that helps to offset the effects of chemotherapy treatment.
By my count, 35 lots generated a combined $298,150, shattering the previous Procigar Auction high of $205,000 set in 2020.
In addition, roughly $40,000 was generated through donations for A Home for My Family, Procigar’s own charitable initiative that builds and furnishes a new home that is raffled off to a deserving worker of a Procigar member company.
After the auction concluded, there were many hours of dancing. One theme of this year’s Procigar was that the music was generally a bit lower than it’s normal level and that was a good thing all around. Not only did it make it easier to talk, but it had zero effect on people’s desire to dance as this year there seemed to be more people dancing than ever before.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the coverage of the Procigar Festival, I certainly enjoyed being there. It was a bit tough to remember everything I needed to do and it was a balancing act between trying to enjoy myself, do some of the non-festival coverage aspects of my job, and cover the festival. Having been to all three festivals—Cuba’s Festival del Habano and Nicaragua’s Puro Sabor—I can tell you that in many aspects, Procigar is the best festival to attend. It’s far and away the most organized, the only one that runs remotely on time, typically has better food and is the easiest one to be an attendee at because of how little doesn’t go to plan. It’s very well done and I highly recommend.
But there was a lot of gloating on Friday night about how much better Procigar is than the other festivals and I’d caution that. It’s not a great look to begin with, but it looks a bit worse in 2022.
This year’s festival is the only one scheduled to take place in 2022. Cuba and Nicaragua have other problems beyond just trying to have a cigar festival, problems the Dominican Republic has largely avoided. Yes, I’m sure that it took a lot of work to get Procigar 2022 to happen, but I’m not sure that the Procigar team could have gotten around the issues in Cuba or Nicaragua. While I enjoyed this Procigar Festival more than any I remember, there were some issues that were on full display during this festival. The faces of four of its member companies were not present for most of Procigar. From what I understand, some of that lack of attendance was very legitimate concerns about COVID-19 but that’s not why all of them weren’t in attendance. I suspect that some of those faces will return for 2023, but I’m not going to be surprised if they all aren’t back next year. That’s an issue and it’s one that Procigar would be wise to try to resolve.
Procigar will be that much better if its member companies all show up.
I am very thankful that the Procigar Festival happened as it was quite fun to be there and, in particular, to catch up with so many people. At the end of the day, it’s really just about the people.
Note: Procigar paid the cost of my registration which covered the hotel rooms and events. halfwheel donated an amount similar to the cost of registration to A Home for My Family.