As I sit back and write these little recaps I realize that there was a massive amount of information. The amount of work and the number of people that go into making a cigar is amazing. After one tour of the factory it is amazing that we don’t pay 5 times the amount for a cigar then we currently do. While I am not advocating a price hike, I am not sure how companies turn a profit even with the low wages some of these employees get in comparison to jobs here in the states even with the lower cost of living.
Day 2 began with an 8:30 call to meet at the bus that would take us around Santiago. Like past trips I got up early to enjoy breakfast before heading up to the pool deck. This would be the common thread of the trip. The mornings in Santiago are comfortable with a subtle breeze. As the day moves along the temperature rises and the humidity follows suit. It’s really like spending 10-12 hours in a sauna and if you can handle it I believe it is the ultimate weight loss plans.
As 8:30 rolled around we headed to the Tax Free zone, Zona Franca which houses many factories. The factories here aren’t subjected to export taxes which I guess helps keep the prices a bit lower. Sadly, it hasn’t been enough as many textile places have left for the cheaper labor of China. The complex also houses other tobacco companies such as Matasa and Fuente as well as band maker, Cigar Rings.
We began the day in the training room where we learned the history of the General Cigars from the 1960 purchase by the Coleman brothers. 1968 saw the purchase of Macanudo. In the 70s the US rights to Parartagas were acquired, followe dby Cohoba in 1981. 1999 Punch, Hoyo, and Excalibur joined the mix and in the same year El Credito was added to the company. Today in 2011 General Cigar operates as part of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG).
One of many things to amaze me was the amount of land that the company holds. In the Dominican Republic they have 2,697,421 meters of land, Nicaragua has 53,181 followed by Honduras with 41,760 meters.
In the Dominican Republic there are currently 2,125 employees, and the amount of things General Cigars does for the employees is impressive. Since 1984, General Cigar has actively assisted the people of the Dominican Republic through a variety of initiatives which are underwritten solely by the company. In the 27 years since these outreach initiatives began, General Cigar has continuously financed its socially-conscious programs without soliciting donations of any kind. Some of these programs include:
- Literacy Initiative. Under this campaign, company employees, as well as citizens who live in urban and rural areas surrounding the company’s farms and factories are taught to read and write based on curriculum mandated by the Dominican government. Students who pass the course receive a diploma that is formally presented during an annual graduation ceremony, the most important event held by General Cigar in a given year. Victoria McKee shared with us a story about a grandmother who took part in, and graduated from the program. Upon receiving her diploma she stated that she could now read to her grandchild. Something she had not been able to do before.
- Continuing Education programs which offer a range of professional development courses designed to provide employees with additional skills and training relevant to jobs within the company. More than 4,000 employees have prospered under this program which boasts more than 50 unique areas of training, each developed in cooperation with technical education institutions.
- School Sponsorship endeavor which was created in 1997, has more than 2,500 students benefit from General Cigar’s support, which helps to broaden the scope of learning and ensure a better future for the children. Through this initiative, General Cigar provides broad-based financial to support to four economically-challenged Dominican schools. The company underwrites infrastructure costs, while also providing students with school supplies and sporting goods. General Cigar has also utilized this program to bring technology to remote urban areas by appointing the schools with modern computers.
The list goes on an on, but one other thing that also stood out anwas the fact that General Cigar purchases citrus fruits, vegetables, dairy products, livestock and fish which are then sold at below wholesale prices to company employees. After the presentation by Jhonny Diaz, Edmundo Garcia, Francisco Rodriguez and Yuri Guillen it was time to tour the factory.
The sheer size of a factory is tremendous, and the General Factory is multiple buildings but more on that as we go along. As we walked through the rolling room, at first I though it was specifically La Gloria Cubana, but it turns out many rollers were working on Partagas Black while we were in town. The skill that rollers display amazes me, along with the speed in which they produce cigars. According to a board in the room they were producing over 21,000 cigars a day which translates into more then 840 boxes.
After the quick tour, we were taken to a room where they had a table laid out with various types of tobacco. In front of each leaf was a puro of that tobacco. We were invited to mix and match the tobacco before us and have the roller piece them together in order to figure out a blend we would be rolling on Day 3. We would be judged on our creations. Of course Skip, aka Chief Hava tried to psych us all out by saying he would win as he was the only one of the group who had his own line. After about 45 minutes or so, we all had an idea of what we wanted to do and submitted our blends which we would bunch, roll, and package on our own (with a little, ok, a lot of help).It was confusing to try different tobacco pairs, and not lose track of what worked and what didn’t work. But the process was fun especially since this was a bit different then in my past experiences. It was very hands on and a lot of fun to say the least.
After a lunch fit for kings that included some amazing rice with bacon it was time to head on out to the storage facility. The amount of tobacco stored by General is insane with tobacco as old as 1988 from Cameroon. Without getting into specifics the inventory on hand was worth millions of dollars. Some of it was sorted already and those that weren’t still had to be processed. The processing is handled by women who traditionally have better eyesight. The tobacco is sorted by size, grade, and color. The process moves faster then I would expect but when we had a chance to view the tobacco the color differential was so small it was incredible. Francisco, our guide referred to some of the brown tobacco as candela (not like the cigar), and the hue of green was faint even under light. It was incredible to see these ladies work.
After our tour was over for the day we headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and a pre-dinner cocktail with a cigar on the pool deck. We headed out for an Italian Restaurant in Santiago where we mixed for a bit before sitting down to dinner. I know what you are thinking, and i scratched my head at the thought of Italian in the Dominican Republic but I opted for Filet Mignon which was outstanding. We sat in two groups, at two tables and I was lucky enough (I think) to be seated with Michael Giannini from La Gloria Cubana. Let me tell you something, this guy can eat. After we all all ordered our meals he decided to order another meal of Churrasco as an appetizer along with some tostones (at my request). So basically Michael, David Jones of Tiki Bar, and Tony Blake from 365 Cigars had 1.25 meals. But it didn’t stop there. After for desert he ordered two different types of cake. We had to beg him to stop, by the end we were quoting Month Python, “I need a bucket”.
As we sluggishly moved to the bus, and made it back to the hotel the powers that be went to their rooms or the 5th floor Executive Lounge and the bloggers were left to enjoy the evening. Victoria took care of us with 2 cases of Presidente as smoked cigars and reflected on the day.
Tomorrow: Mao, The Farms.