I have loved the country of Nicaragua since my first trip in early 2012, in particular, the city of Estelí. Of course it is a mecca for cigars, but it’s also one of the most interesting places I have been in all my years of traveling. I have visited many of the cigar factories in Estelí and met with many of the manufactures to see firsthand how they operate and produce the cigars we love to smoke.

It occurred to me on one of my trips there that while there are a great number of snapshots from all of the different factories, I have never seen an in-depth documentary essay on how a tobacco factory works written by someone who is both a cigar journalist and photojournalist. Cigar smokers know the common buzzwords around cigar production: hecho a mano, 300 pairs of hands, old world; but unless you spend many days around production, it’s hard to actually attempt to truly visualize what that means. It’s not just eight hours in a factory, probably not even eight days.

Thanks to the generosity of Nestor Andrés Plasencia, over the period of three different trips and about four months I was able to see not only the Plasencia Cigars S.A., the family’s Estelí factory formerly known as Segovia Cigars, but almost their entire operation in Estelí and Jalapa where they grow, cure and sort tobacco. Overwhelming does not even begin to describe the enormity of their holdings—and even though I thought I was prepared—I was astounded by the sheer magnitude of it. In some places it is literally a sea of green, with row upon row of tobacco plants as tall as I am stretching as the eye can see.

However, while the Plasencia family is well versed in tobacco, they are also trying to make theEstelí, and the entire country of Nicaragua, a better place. They have opened the industry’s first daycare, where factory workers can drop their children off to be looked after and taught while they work. I spent quite a bit of time photographing the children there, and the hope and joy that is in their eyes is extremely evident.

I cannot stress to you how amazingly humble and accommodating everyone—from the rollers to Nestor Andrés—is at Plasencia Cigars S.A. (He actually droves us himself during the six-hour round trip from Estelí to Jalapa.) I have tried, through my photographs, to bring life to not only their work environment, but also their passion. While this is by no means an exhaustive documentary, it will hopefully bring to light some parts of the process that you may not have known about until now.

Brooks Whittington

I have been smoking cigars for over eight years. A documentary wedding photographer by trade, I spent seven years as a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I started the cigar blog SmokingStogie in 2008 after realizing that there was a need for a cigar blog with better photographs and more in-depth information about each release. SmokingStogie quickly became one of the more influential cigar blogs on the internet, known for reviewing preproduction, prerelease, rare, extremely hard-to-find and expensive cigars. I am a co-founder of halfwheel and now serve as an editor for halfwheel.