Wednesday of PuroSabor starts with one of my least favorite activities: packing my suitcase, followed by a two hour trek up the Panamerican Highway back through Managua and onto the city most cigar smokers have heard of: Estelí.

Along the way, the buses took a cigar break at the farms of Victor Calvo, which is about 30 km outside of the city. The usual bumpy and dusty ride led to an impressive spread of land that was a mix of tobacco plants in various stages of their growth; some were just going into the ground, while others looked like they had been there for a few weeks.

One of the impressive things is that not only is the tobacco covered in shade a shading net, but the sides of the fields are also screened off to prevent damage from the winds. It’s an amazing network of metal poles—the previous wood ones snapped far too easily—along with cables and what I’d call a fine mesh material that stretches seemingly as far as the eye can see.

Charlie Minato was particularly impressed by the size of the barns, saying they were some of the tallest he’s ever seen. While I wasn’t as convinced of that assessment, they are certainly impressive even when empty.

Additionally, the farm utilizes a system made by CIG that is called “Fertirrigation,” a computerized network of pipes and tubes that delivers water from a central station to each individual plant. It’s quite impressive, and as would be expected in this day and age, it can be controlled by an app on an iPhone.

From there it was onto Estelí and lunch at the Plasencia Casa Hacienda El Tuco, a welcome repeat from last year, and with much more of the Estelí-based cigar industry joining the group. The usual cigar moments occurred to accompany the meal and conversation and music, this time sponsored by Plasencia Cigars and J.C. Newman.

With bellies full and a few cigars in the ashtrays, it was time to visit the first factory of the Estelí portion, or factories as it was in my case, making my first visit to Tabacalera Tavicusa S.A., which produces a number of Rocky Patel’s premium cigar lines, and Nica Sueño, home of RoMa Craft Tobac as well as a handful of contract brands.

It was a bit of a throwback as both operations are dare I say, boutique, and both conduct a smaller portion of the cigar making process. As opposed to having fermentation and pre-industry activities on site, both handle processed tobacco through the shipping process, and both in much smaller spaces than what goes on at the city’s larger factories. It’s an interesting contrast and as someone mentioned to me, a throwback to what cigar factories likely looked like in the years before the mega-factories we see today.

There wasn’t much in the way of new product shown off or discussed, though Rocky Patel will be releasing a new Hamlet culebra that features his Tabaquero, 25 Year Anniversary and an as-yet-unreleased blend that will be used at events.

I was excited to finally visit Nica Sueño, and the wait was certainly worth it. It’s a small but clean and well-organized laid out facility, and featured a few unique touches that I’d hadn’t seen before, including a TV that oversees the sorting area and rolling galera, and while soccer matches are often shown, today it appeared to be music videos, Jennifer Lopez at this particular moment.

Skip Martin was more than forthcoming with information about the factory, getting into a number of specifics that I know I wasn’t expecting to hear, and I’m sure many of the consumers weren’t either. The only things flowing more than the Flor de Caña was the hospitality and information.

While the day went a bit longer than anticipated and resulted in a much shorter amount of time to get cleaned up for the evening’s dinner than I would have liked, it was hardly much to complain about. Any rush was fairly quickly forgotten upon walking into the courtyard of the Joya de Nicaragua factory, a place I hadn’t been in six or seven years, on what very well might have been my first trip to Nicaragua.

While Tuesday’s dinner is on the tame side of the energy scale, Wednesday night brought out the bright lights, DJ and dancing. The president of the Nicaraguan Tobacco Chamber, Anielka Ortez, opened the evening with remarks about the festival, followed by the mayor of Estelí offering a welcoming address. With Joya de Nicaragua hosting the event, Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca concluded the remarks with a heartfelt toast to Carlos Fuente, José Orlando Padrón and Gilberto Oliva, Sr., all of whom have passed away and who have been influential in the cigar industry, the latter two in Nicaragua. Then as usual, and as Charlie Minato loves, the music got cranked up fairly loudly for Wednesday night in a quasi-residential neighborhood.

One of the highlights of the evening for a rum lover such as myself was Flor de Caña being offered straight out of the barrel, though it had been cut with a bit of water prior to being served. I was told it comes out with an ABV around 75 percent, while what was being served was closer to 50 percent, and it definitely felt it, but it was a unique and very enjoyable spin on a rum that makes plenty of appearances this week. Each person could also give themselves a pour, though even before having one or two servings it was a bit of a challenge to get the rum into the glass without spillage.

A handful of groups split off into afterparties that involved mixes of karaoke, dancing, and of course, more sampling of Flor de Caña and Toña, with an early start set for Thursday that features more farm and factory visits, lunch at Cigar Rings’ facility, and the festival’s white dinner.

Disclosure: Puro Sabor paid for one festival registration, which includes the activities, lodging and most meals while in Nicaragua. We paid for our airfare and the other registration.

Avatar photo

Patrick Lagreid

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 previously the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for Major League Baseball, plus I'm a voice over artist. Prior to joining halfwheel, I covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.