Plumbing problems have a way of making you wish you were someplace else. Last night, after my first trip abroad, I was welcomed by a plumbing problem that, without going into too much detail, couldn’t be solved with even the most forceful application of a plunger. So even though I was glad to be back home I was already wishing I was back in the Dominican Republic where I smoked God only knows how many cigars, drank tons of rum and beer, ate some of the best food I’ve ever had and, more importantly, met some awesome people.
Miami Cigar and Company, which advertises on this blog, set up this junket for a group comprised of mostly cigar bloggers but also a PR guy and a cruise guy (I’ll name names at the end of this post). We were set up at a very nice hotel called the Camp David Ranch. It is set on top of a hill with some amazing sites and is extremely cigar friendly.
The first full day in the Dominican Republic featured a trip to the La Aurora cigar factory. Unless you have seen one of these factories firsthand then there’s little chance you can completely grasp the massive operation it is to make premium cigars. Jose Blanco, one of our gracious hosts and a brilliant cigar man, led the tour. He started us off running… with a test!
After sitting us all in a conference room we were handed baggies with five cigars, each rolled with a unique type of tobacco. Our mission was to figure out the flavors associated with each cigar, its strength and, the really hard part, which country the tobacco hails from. So here I’m sitting, right next to Jose Blanco nonetheless, trying not to look completely like a rube. I think I may have gotten one country of origin right but the big takeaway from that experience for me was that there is still boatloads of stuff I need to learn. (I’ll go into more depth about this seminar in another post since I did learn a tremendous amount about cigars during this exercise and I think you would like to learn about this stuff as much as I do.)
I guess none of us failed that entrance exam horribly enough because we were all allowed to tour the factory and blend our own cigars. Man, now that was an experience. Using the impressions we were able to glean from those five test cigars we were tasked with formulating a blend comprised of any combination from those tobaccos. Then we picked up our tobacco leaves and headed off to bunch them. I was horrible at that. If it weren’t for the guys there basically doing the bunching and rolling for me there is no way I would have ended up with anything that even remotely looks like cigars.
With the filler and binder tobaccos resting in forms we went off to look at all sorts of things. Rollers, curing rooms, a contraption that makes tobacco leaves more pliable, another contraption that rips out stems and so much more. Most of it was very humid but amazing to see. The most apt description of my sense of awe at seeing the complexity of their operation is this: WOW!
After picking my jaw up from the ground we went back to put the finishing touches on our own cigars. I was horrible at that too. Putting a wrapper on a cigar looks simple enough but it’s deceptively complicated. You have to put the wrapper down, then cut it so you’re left with a strip of tobacco, then put the foot of your bunched tobaccos at one end, roll it, apply some glue, roll some more, cut this way, cut that way, twist the extra, cut of the extra, cut the cap from a scrap piece of tobacco, apply some more glue, try to get it on and then, in my case, hand it over to the man who was watching over me so that he could fix it enough so the whole thing didn’t just fall apart. Even though it wasn’t an easy thing to do I had a blast. They even gave me a framed photo of myself rolling the cigar to commemorate the experience.
The rest of our stay in the Dominican Republic was a feast comprised of cigars, rum, cigars, authentic Dominican food, cigars, beer, karaoke and some more cigars. Guillermo León, who is the head of his family’s cigar business, was frequently there and added a great deal to my enjoyment of the trip. All in all it was a great trip and I can’t wait to see another cigar factory. My sincerest thanks to the La Aurora cigar family.
So, who else was on this great trip? Here’s a list: