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Commentary: Loving Cigars is a Contact Sport

29 Jan 2014

Many people who enjoy wine have made the trip to Napa Valley, France, Spain, Italy, Argentina, or another wine-producing locale to walk the vineyards, speak to the winemakers, and learn more about the process of transforming carefully grown grapes into wine.

Cigar SafariMy knowledge of wine is far more limited than my knowledge of cigars. Yet my understanding of wine seems to grow exponentially with each visit I pay to a vineyard. While those visits are rare, each one leaves a lasting impression on me. I pick up new nuggets of information. I see the passion of winemakers sewn into their meticulous processes. I observe how others taste wine. And, above all, I gain a greater appreciation for the grape.

Cigars, like wine, are hard to gain a thorough appreciation for unless you have the opportunity to see them made. Loving cigars is a contact sport. You need to walk tobacco fields. Witness the many careful steps required to properly ferment the leaves. See the cigars being rolled. And speak with the great cigar men who oversee blending, bunching, aging, and boxing.

Such firsthand access to cigars doesn’t come easy. Obviously you can’t get it at an event like Cigar Aficionado’s Big Smoke. While no doubt fun, events like these are typically spent wondering through crowds to exchange coupons for cigars—and trying to balancing a lit cigar with a drink and a plate of food (there’s always a severe shortage of tables). It’s hard to have a brief conversation with a sought-after cigar maker, let alone see any of their processes. One Big Smoke I attended in Las Vegas featured a mile-long line just to shake Rocky Patel’s hand.

Still, there do exist opportunities to visit tobacco fields and cigar factories, and to get an invaluable behind-the-scenes look at cigar production. The foremost example is an experience I can’t recommend highly enough: Drew Estate’s Cigar Safari in Nicaragua. I find myself thinking about my Cigar Safari adventure a lot. It was so eye-opening, and it was a real pleasure to bounce all my questions off knowledgeable men like Jonathan Drew, Steve Saka, José Blanco, and Mario Perez. Other options for factory tours include the ProCigar Festival in the Dominican Republic, Humo Jaguar in Honduras, the Nicaragua Tobacco Festival, or the Habano Cigars Festival in Cuba. I’ve also heard instances of cigar shops sponsoring informative trips, so keep your ears open at your local tobacconist.

Reading about cigars, visiting your local shop, speaking with other enthusiasts, attending events in the U.S., and, of course, smoking cigars are all great ways to learn about the leaf. But I would encourage you at some point to visit a live cigar factory, tobacco field, or tobacco processing facility. The experience will increase your appreciation of cigars twofold. And you’ll have an amazing time.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

6 Responses to “Commentary: Loving Cigars is a Contact Sport”

  1. mphxaz Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:40 am #

    This is a timely post for me, Patrick! A ‘Cigar Safari’ is unquestionably on my bucket list, to be taken soon after I retire in 2015. I can’t wait!!

  2. JimmyS Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Yes, I need to do this. No question about it. I loved watching your videos and reading your coverage of your Cigar Safari visits.

    If I can't do Cigar Safari, anyone else have other trips they would recommend?

    • George E. Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 10:39 am #

      Take a trip to Miami and visit Calle Ocho. Lots to see, do and smoke. I don't think it can compare to a visit to the source, but you can certainly experience and learn a lot.

      • Rodrigo Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 10:46 am #

        Yes, Calle Ocho in Miami is a nice experience. George is right. There you can learn about cigar rolling and boxing, but you won't be able to see tobacco growth, cultivation, fermentation, etc. without going to DR, Nica, Honduras, or Cuba.

        Another good Florida cigar locale is Ybor City in Tampa. Lots of good boutique cigars, you can see cigar rolling, have a Cuban sandwich, drink Cuban coffee, etc.

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