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Written by Daniel Lopez

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

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Tabacalera Fernandez - Simply Amazing

Wednesday Novemeber 19th, 2008 5:30pm Nicaragua

The clunk from the sound of landing gear wakes me in my seat as it is evident that I have just landed in Managua,  Nicaragua yet another time this year. As people from the plane scurry to be the first off I am reminded that I will be  moving no where fast lugging around 150 extra pounds of camera gear. As the conveyor belt at the airport rolls by  I double check to make sure I have everything. Got it! Tripod strapped across my shoulders, hard case on  wheels containing the video camera , backpack with 2nd video camera and a still camera, and last but not least my  duffle bag with clothes for the week. A quick stop at the duty free to pick up a special bottle of rum for a buddy and I am on my way. I make my way out of the airport to an awaiting driver from Esteli,  Nicaragua that has been sent to bring me to a factory that I have been wanting to see for some time now. Night  falls quickly as we drive along the highway in turbo charged Toyota Helix, a model not made for the states with more than enough power to get me to Esteli in 2 hours flat.

Arriving in Esteli, Nicaragua I quickly notice that we are driving to the nicer part of town. Many of the cigar  manufacturers own homes in a certain area of town and I am invited to stay with Kris Katchaturian on this trip. Kris greets me at the door and we do the man hug thing. A little background on Kris Katchaturian or "Don Kristopher" as I would soon call him out of respect and friendship. An Armanian man of stout stature with a silver tongue he is a man that I would soon grow very fond of. Every great story has a wise man that guides the character of the story, Kris is this wise man. When you are in another country such as Nicaragua it is great when you can trust someone to show you the right path, I trust Kris with my life. I first met Kris on my second trip to Nicaragua and we kept in touch. I was excited to hear that Tabacalera Fernandez was now created thier brand that would debute in early 2009. I would get the chance to visit this factory and meet the rising star blender AJ Fernandez. Kris has a pallate for cigars that can be equalled to that of a sominaire of wine. He pulls no punches when he smokes new blends of cigars and has a keen eye for construction. This man is very generous with anything he has including opening his home on this trip to me and Alex Svenson from Cigar.com. Kris is a partner in the Tabacalera Fernandez factory located in Esteli, Nicaragua. The factory is known for producing cigars such as Rocky Patel Fusion, Rocky Patel Signature, Man O' War, Gurka Park Avenue, Sol Cubano Cuban Cabinet, Sol Cubano Artisan, Padilla  Habano and ITC (Indian Tabac) 10th Anniversary.

I pull out the special bottle of rum and hand it to Kris, he looks at it and realizes why I brought him that rum. On our first meeting we had actually shared a bottle of the same rum and it has become a favorite for me ever since then. Very sweet and a perfect compliment to an after dinner cigar the rum is subtle enough that it does not overpower flavors of a fine cigar. He thanks me and we talk for a couple of hours before a knock at the door and a familiar voice is heard. We make our way to the door to greet Alex Svenson of Cigar.com and help him in. Alex is the Chief Merchant for Cigar.com so yes he has a dream job. He gets to smoke everything new and also works with many factories on exclusive cigars just for Cigar.com. Sounds fun right? I would soon learn that he works his tail off and it is very hard to keep up with him. He has unlimited energy and drive along with the fact that he does not rest until all of his work is done each day. Some people have Blackberrys, Alex has a Apple Macbook strapped to his side. Smoking since he was first able to score a cigar he is a cigar nut and the Wikapedia of tobacco today. At close to 6'-3" Alex is a big boy which makes him stand out in Central America but by no means looks like an easy target. If you are walking the streets of Nicaragua at night this is a guy you want with you, he knows the ins and outs of Esteli. I would learn alot from Alex and it was really great to be with him on this trip.

We all get settled in for the night and talk about our plans for the next day. We order the best damn pizza I have ever had and smoked into the night.

Thursday Novemeber 20th, 2008 8:00am Esteli, Nicaragua

A full belly and a morning cigar already half smoked we arive at Tabacalera Fernandez. As the gaurd escorts us to the office area a charasmatic young man welcomes us to the factory. Recognizing him as none other than the AJ Fernandez I introduce myself as Daniel Lopez of Puff.com. I drop my gear and sit down for a cold refreshment and one of the new cigars by the Fernandez Tabacalera. Like a proud father AJ starts the tour of the factory with me and I quickly realize that this young man has master blending skills. I have been to a number of factories at this point so it was a bit of a shock to see things at this factory that really are different then other factories. From double fermentation, chewing pieces of tobacco, to rolling cigars that have been aging between your fingers to listen for the crack, this factory is different.

The smell of cigars being rolled in mass is one that should be bottled and sold. Usually when you enter a rolling room you get this smell that hits your senses and sometimes you can smell a hint of amonia. This is NOT the case here in the Fernandez Tabacalera rolling room. This room smells like an aging room which totally throws me off. Why would this be? I would later find out during a tour of the fermentation areas located in another area of Esteli, Nicaragua that this tobacco is actually aged twice. Now this is really interesting how they do it as well. First they sort the tobacco into either viso, seco, or ligero and ferment it in pilones. Next after the pilones have passed through and undisclosed amount of aging time the pilones are then separated by texture and placed into smaller pilones of the same textures. Amazing is not the word for this because the shear fact that the cigars become so consistent in construction is for the fact that the rollers are working with the exact same materials for each cigar.

Next we make our way to the aging room and that is where another step Nof the magic takes place. In this area Kris Katchaturian gives me a bit of insight on the way Fernandez Tabacalera deals with shipping cigars and I am surprised by his words. Kris explains that there is no set time that the cigars have to sit before they are ready for the consumer. He explains further that each time it is different since cigars are a natural product and you must listen to the product. I ask him about what he means. AJ and Kris go on to explain to me how to roll a cigar between your fingers and listen for the crack. Crack? Yes, cigars that are in the aging room are rolled and they are moist. After time they adjust to the perfectly temperature and humidity controlled aging room and start to acclimate themselves to the set humidity and temperature. I grab the video camera and start shooting so that the members of Puff.com see it for themselves. One thing that I will try to keep in mind is that since AJ only speaks spanish there will be many long hours translating for sub titles in English. I do feel that it is very important to do this because it will give the members of Puff.com every opportunity to understand the process of blending, aging, and the other aspects of this great factory.

Energy! Enthusiasm! These are the two words that describe AJ Fernandez and Kris Katchaturian so I decide to do something special for an intro for the premier video. With help from a second camera held by "Swanson" we set out to shoot a cool entrance video. After setting up we get our entrance shot and AJ and Kris are greeted by the sounds of hundreds of chiveras clanking against the rolling tables and cheers from rollers themselves. Respect for the men that put food on the table is a common thing here and working hard is rewarded as seen in many cases throughout the trip.

Damn Lunch time already? It is apparent as the masses of employees get up in perfect timing to leave for lunch. After picking out a few cigars for after lunch we head out to eat. As we roll through the streets.........

................Full Article Coming Soon.....................

 

 




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