Written by Gary J. Arzt

Monday, 17 March 2008

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Many of the best-known cigars are made in the Dominican Republic including brands such as H. Upmann, Macanudo, Zino, Romeo y Julieta, Fonseca, Aurora, Montecristo, Cohiba, Davidoff and more.

ProCigar is the Association of Dominican Cigar Manufacturers started in 1992 which includes members such as General Cigar, Aurora, Matasa, Tabacalera de Garcia, Tabadom Holding, Inc. and Tabaquisa, S. A.

The First Annual Procigar Festival was held March 5-7, 2008 and Gary J. Arzt was there reporting for Cigar Review. This is his succinct report, fondly crafted like the true cigar lover he is.

First Cigar Festival in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic

From Wednesday, 5 March through Friday evening, 7 March, ProCigar, the organization whose membership includes some of the most prominent names in cigar making, showed 120+ aficionados and journalists the tobacco fields, production facilities and parties that have made them famous. Yes, this was about cigars and tobacco, but it was clearly about Dominican charm, culture and hospitality. And, ProCigar pulled it off beautifully. I say that with some ‘authority’ since I had attended the Partagas 150th Anniversary in Havana in September 1995; the Cohiba 30th Anniversary in Havana in 1996 and the launch of Trinidad in Havana in 1998. All of these were precursors to the annual Festival of Habanos. My point: It took Habanos, S.A. 10 years or more to get their act together. ProCigar, on its maiden run did a fantastic job!

We were divided up into five (5) groups, each with its own very comfortable bus and charming hostess from ProCigar. And while they all looked like cover girls, they were all involved in the cigar industry and knew their business.

The visits we made to tobacco farms and facilities and manufacturing facilities were always accompanied by the ‘principals’ of ProCigar:

• Leon Jimenes factory - Guillermo Leon, Jose Blanco
• Davidoff farms and factory – Henke Kelner, Hendrick Kelner
• General Cigar - Daniel Nuñez
• MATASA - Manuel Quesada, Jose XXX

ProCigar includes Juan Clemente cigars, Jean Clement, owner.

Additionally, Jose Seijas of Altadis, was present at all the events, but, only those that went to La Romana, for the golf tournament on the weekend, got to see any of the Altadis facilities.

Being shown a tobacco farm and tobacco processing (What tabaqueros call “pre industria”) by Henke Kelner and Daniel Nuñez is taking a graduate degree that is not available in any university in the world! Likewise, conversation with Manuel Quesada about tobacco growing and cigar making is a conversation filled with passion…the one ingredient I have found present in the make-up of all successful cigar makers.

My group, the Blue Group began our experience Wednesday morning at Leon Jimenes’ new factory. A superb, purpose built plant with everything under one roof. I had been to the previous facility many times, and it was scattered among several buildings.

We were ushered into a conference room to be greeted by Jose Blanco, Leon Jimenes’ Vice President of Sales. Jose encouraged everyone to take an unbanded cigar from the humidor in the center of the table; smoke it and we would discuss it later. Ironically, I had just clipped a new La Aurora Barrel Aged – with a band – and was smoking it.

Jose cautioned me to keep my mouth shut, as I had smoked too many of the cigar in question! The discussion elicited very positive comments about the Barrel Aged, and a very interesting exploration of the difference between full flavoured and full bodied. The tour of the facility ensued.

The members of ProCigar put a face to each and every company and they held classes, so to speak; they lunched with us; and in the evening we were fêted by the organization and we were able to eat, drink and converse with these famous tabaqueros and their wives. It was the most intimate, personal experience one could ever experience at any cigar event or festival (I think, particularly, when I say that, about the Festival of Habanos).

This may have been a Cigar Festival; this may have been organized and produced by ProCigar; but, this was about Santiago de los Caballeros as well…and everyone in the city knew about it; enthused about it; and, participated to some degree! I have to tell you that we, the attendees, were made to feel like visiting dignitaries! The warmth and charm of the Dominican people was readily in evidence, and contributed tremendously to the success of this event.

The three evening galas, at a museum; the old Recreation Center and the final dinner at the Spanish Foundation were extraordinary…excellent food, superb cigars, great camaraderie and exciting entertainment.

The final dinner on Friday included an auction of special items prepared for the event, and $50,000 was raised for the Sociedad San Vicente de Paul, which runs a hospice in Santiago.


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