With the night before ending at 4am for some people, the day got off to a bit of a sluggish start for some as the 8am meet time was earlier then the day before. This led to some confusion when it came time to leave, and to protect the parties involved we will leave it at that. We headed out to Licey al Medio which is like a suburb of Santiago. As we left the city and neared our destination you can tell we entered a province of poverty. The factory which we were visiting and the farm we would visit later was once owned by Copata before being acquired by General Cigars.
Hidden behind a set of large security doors and off the main road sits a large sorting facility that has roughly 400 employees. The facility which handles mostly long filler could of easily been relocated to General Cigars in the city, but they opted to keep it in an area where jobs are needed. So rather than putting 400 people out of work they transport the tobacco to keep a community happy which is very admirable. While on a small scale, some of the larger companies in America should realize this before sending jobs out of the country. The factory has been around for roughly 40 years and was obtained 8 years ago by General to increase quality control.
It was here before our tour of Copota that we got the best education on tobacco that I have experienced to date. Don Quico took the time to explain the basics and then some to us. Once tobacco is planted it takes about 50 days to begin harvesting. The real number depends on the variety of the leaf, and the priming as well as weather. After the plant has grown for about 30 days the lower 3-5 leaves are removed. Between 30-45 days the plans begins to flower which has the seeds for fure plantings. In 6 weeks time the plants are harvested, with the the exception of Ligero which is 80-90 days. Once the leaves are harvested they cure at 100-150 degrees. A candela leaf will cure for about 48 hours, where as a typical leaf will take 6 weeks. It doesn’t stop there though as there is 6 weeks of fermentation to follow as well.
After this the tobacco is sent to age before making its way into the cigars we smoke today. Aging time varies by factory but General allows there tobacco to age for one year before it returns to the Copata factory where the leaves they are using in the filler have the stem removed. The stem is later used in the soil as compost back at the farms. From seed to long filler in a cigar takes roughly two years.
Some other interesting items of note was the flavor of tobacco is mostly on the outer edges of the leaf. Also when blending a cigar and rolling a cigar, the ligero leaves need to go in the center of the blend otherwise a cigar will burn uneven. After we finished our tour we head back to the tax-free zone and the General Factory for another lunch fit for kings. After a brief tour of the factory hitting areas we missed the day before it was off to the farms.
The farm we visited was located in Mao which was roughly an hour and 20 minutes from the city center. The farm was originally used for long filler and candela wrapper but is being used also to experiment with other types of tobacco. While we were there the green houses had various stages of early growth for Piloto Cubano while in the fields Burley was being planted. General uses Burley tobacco in Cafe Creme but has not grown it in Mao in the past. The farms were filled with mostly Haitian laborers which I later found out is common. Seasonally, these workers cross the borders to work on the farms before heading home to their country at the end of the season. They are put up in barracks and fed by the company as well as paid for their time.
Once the plants are ready to be transplanted from the greenhouse to the field they are done so by machine to make sure to the proper spacing is used between plants to allow adequate growth and easier harvesting. The time spent in the fields is taxing with the strong Dominican sun beating down on you. As we toured we all exhaled a sigh of appreciation each time the sun ducked behind a cloud.
Dinner would be enjoyed under the gazebo which was built on the farm a few years ago. We once again got to mix with our hosts and talk with Dan Carr from General who took somewhat of a beating on our opinion of General Cigars. We all shared why the blogging community doesn’t review a lot of cigars from General and why the online community kind of shuns the company and embraces the boutique guys. I hope the social media aspect and the approachability aspect of things we relayed was taken into consideration. After all, we aren’t going to get them to change the process, so either you like the cigars or dislike the cigars. The only thing that can change is the visibility aspect. Let’s face it, at one time or another we all started smoking something from General. For me my first cigar was a Macanudo before I shifted and moved away. Over the years General has fallen off the radar for me, and this trip I found myself smoking a lot of Partagas cigars. Cigars I lost track with over the years because of the lack of visibility. I forgot how much I liked this particular brand.
As the sun began to set some creatures of the night began to make their presence known. There was a gecko present who had a hell of a deal on car insurance and when darkness fell there were a good 200 bats flying around outside the Gazebo. It would of been a situation had to power gone out and the gazebo went dark. But thankfully we survived and headed back to the hotel where once again we went poolside as Stephen from Cigar Network put on a drinking clinic of 2 bottles of scotch and half a bottle of rum.
Tommorow: General Puts Us To Work!