Thursday started in the back of a Nicaraguan police car.
I have found my way into the back of a Nicaraguan police truck. #purosabor18
— Charlie Minato (@charlieminato) January 25, 2018
Due to some confusion about which bus I was supposed to be on and which one was supposed to pick me up to take me to Condega, which is located north of Estelí.
We went to see the Omar Ortez Originals factory, a new facility that the longtime cigarmaker opened. The ride—outside of the police sirens—was a reminder of what Estelí once was. The traffic has gotten much worse, there’s a middle class and businesses that can support it and the construction boom has been amazing. Condega reminds me of what Estelí was like when I first visited it nearly a decade ago: quieter.
As for the factory, it’s new and a lot of what will be done at the factory is still being resolved. Omar and his three children were gracious hosts and like the PENSA and NACSA factories that Ortez has managed, the factory is clean.
I would be remised if I didn’t mention the rest of my group: Grupo Cinco. A dozen or so Dominican cigar smokers came to Puro Sabor and I will be one of many that will be disappointed if they don’t return next year. Grupo Cinco is just fun.
There was singing, dancing and chanting, lots of chanting. The group seemed to surprise each factory we visited by chanting their name in a soccer-like rhythm upon leaving each tour, something that each factory seemed to enjoy.
Lunch was hosted at Cigar Rings facility. It features the #purosaborchallenge afterwards which included singing, dancing, jumprope and finally, a tasting seminar led by Claudio Sgroi of Mombacho Cigars S.A. Unfortunately, this is Nicaragua and we were running behind schedule which meant it felt like the tasting seminar was a bit rushed.
Afterwards, we headed back to the busses and headed to Tabacos Cubanica S.A., home of Padrón. While Padrón has allowed guests to photograph on previous tours, they asked us not to for this one, a request I headed.
There were some small changes from the last time I was at the factory—there are now two male rollers and some rooms have moved around—but by in large, Padrón is Padrón. The company has a unique formula that’s worked and as such, there isn’t a ton of change.
Jorge Padrón told a few stories from his legendary father, the late José Orlando Padrón. He also announced that the Padrón Family Foundation would be building a school in Estelí.
We then got back in the bus and headed to La Corona, the factory behind Hirochi Robaina’s HR Cigars.
While the factory is best known for producing Robaina’s cigars, it’s not his factory. Rather, it’s owned by Omar and his son Luis González. The elder González ran the La Corona factory in Cuba and worked with Cubanacan, before a public break up.
It’s a bit challenging to fathom, but the space that is now La Corona was once NATSA, a factory that employed over 300 pairs. And while NATSA once occupied more space, it wasn’t that much more of what is now La Corona.
While NATSA was known for producing bundle brands and private labels at maximum speed, La Corona is the opposite. It’s one of the few factories in Estelí where you won’t find a single Libermann machine, the bunching device that is used by the vast majority of buncheros. Instead, cigars are bunched and rolled by hand with extra processes like additional cuts on the wrapper to remove veins.
La Corona was giving out Soneros, a brand owned by the González family that is expected to return to the U.S. market shortly. They also gave out Cuban coffee, the best I’ve had this year.
From there, it was back to Padrón, this time to tour one of the family’s farms. Fortunately, pictures were allowed—because it was stunning.
We then headed back to the hotels to prepare for dinner: white night. I believe this is the only thing that hasn’t changed in the last five or so years of Puro Sabor. Thursday night is hosted outside the museum and everyone is asked to where their white guayabaras.
I’m not a huge fan of it. The unicolor dress makes it challenging to find people and the whole thing feels a bit too much like Procigar’s, the Dominican Cigar festival, white party.
This year was a bit different with tributes to the late Gilberto Oliva Sr. and the aforementioned Jose O. Padrón, both of whom passed away in December.
The night was not all sad. After dinner some costumed dancers came out to perform before we headed across the street to an impressive outdoor bar for the afterparty.
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.