As you’ve probably already heard, I was recently blessed with the opportunity to spend a few days down in the Dominican Republic, touring the Arganese fields and factory. In many ways it was like a field trip back from back in my school days, only better. A field trip with adult beverages, smokes and night clubs. The kinds of things we tried to smuggle on field trips back in the day were the focal part of this education outing.
But let’s not get sidetracked with fond memories of Snapple martinis and mangled clove cigarettes behind the forestry conservation center. My point here is that in addition to being an absolute blast, my trip was both incredibly educational and eye-opening. Because Gene Arganese owns and controls the process beginning with the plants in the fields up to the packaging of the final product, I had a rare insight into the entire process of creating a premium cigar.
You probably wouldn’t realize just how much effort goes into just planting tobacco. It isn’t as simple as sprinkling seeds into the ground and watching for little green signs of life. The plants begin their days in tiny squares of dirt inside a small greenhouse right there in the field. Many of these little plants won’t even make it to the field. Perhaps they’ve grown too quickly. Or maybe they just aren’t keeping up. Either way, the name of the game is consistency. Because out in the field a plant that’s too large will steal sunlight from other plants, and a runt just will just languish in the shade of other plants.
La Flor Arganese: A Pretty Nuisance
Once in the ground, the plants have to be monitored and pruned to optimize the quality of the leaf. Lower leaves on each plant are cut away to maximize the nutrients and growth of the upper leaves. The buds that form likewise need to be removed before they open into flowers to focus the plants growth and energy on the leaves.
Inside the barn
Another thing you might not be aware of is that the majority of tobacco-aging barns in the Dominican Republic are the same. Generally, they’re little more than a roof with supports and bars to hang tobacco leaves for aging. As a result, much of the tobacco coming out of the Dominican Republic tends to be very similar. Gene decided to do things the Cuban way. Instead of using the standard, breezy umbrella design, his barns have walls. And instead of stringing together a single long level of tobacco leaves, he uses a multi-leveled approach to aging. As the tobacco leaves age, they move through the levels from bottom to top. This process ensures both consistency in the fermentation, and cleverly dries and then rehydrates the leaves naturally.
And the drying begins…
I’ll be honest with you. The process of fermenting the leaves is so involved, that even though I saw it from end to end, I couldn’t tell you how to reproduce it. There were just too many stages of sorting, aging, rotating for me to accurately report. I was surprised and impressed by the care and attention paid to the leaves as they made their way to the bale. I counted no fewer than four different aging areas the tobacco visits before it is pressed into a handy little cube and delivered to the rollers.
These leaves still have a way to go!
This might sound excessive, but then you probably haven’t stepped into one of these aging rooms. In the factory, Cristobal, Gene’s right hand man, has a running bet with all visitors. He’ll give you a hundred dollars if you can stand in the final aging room for five minutes. About 30 seconds into it, you’ll understand why. The air is thick with ammonia that is slowly leaving the leaves as part of the fermentation process. Standing that room for even a minute is a little like trying to polish your lungs by inhaling Windex.
A master roller creates rolls blends we created!
The Rolling Floor
Of all the stages of the cigar creation process the actual rolling of the cigars is the part that people are most familiar with. The Arganese rolling process is much the same as you have probably seen before in videos or rolling demonstrations at your local smoke shop. The filler leaves are bunched and wrapped with the binder leaf. The cigars are put in trays and pressed into shape. Then the wrapper is applied and set aside for inspection.
Oodles of Double Wrap Chairmans…
But there’s one thing that makes this process a little unusual. Gene is very protective of his blends, and as a result, the rollers don’t actually know what tobacco they’re using to create the cigar! That may sound hard to believe, but it’s true. Each roller (torcedor) is given a measured allotment of leaves in a bag that’s good for a certain number of cigars. When the torcedor has finished making the designated number of cigars, he or she returns with the bag and the unused tobacco. In addition to keeping his blends a secret, this process functions as part of quality control. If the torcedor brings back too much tobacco of one kind of tobacco or another, there’s a good chance the cigars rolled will be incorrectly blended.
Hard to beat having a fresh smoke on the job!
Once the cigars are rolled and approved by the master Torcedors who monitor the rolling floor, the cigars are sent to yet another two again rooms to allow the blended tobacco to marry flavors before they are cellophaned and boxed. These additional two stages of aging may seem like overkill, but they’re absolutely necessary. To begin with, a surprising amount of ammonia and other unpleasant chemicals are still in the leaves, even at later stage. Though walking into these aging rooms wasn’t quite as hard on the respiratory system as earlier ones were, the air is still very full of these unwanted elements. Additionally, the humidity levels of the different tobaccos (filler, binder and wrapper) are very different when they are rolled.
Estimated Tobacco Humidity on the Rolling Table
Filler – 35%
Binder – 80%
Wrapper – 95%
The much anticipated CL3‘s
After viewing the lengthy process of transforming a the large green leaves of the tobacco plant into the a fine handmade cigar, one can’t help but have a great deal of admiration to the lit cigar in your hand. And I had plenty of opportunity to admire the end product. I’m incredibly grateful to Gene Arganese for putting us up and taking the time to show us his facilities.
I went to the Dominican Republic knowing next to nothing about Arganese cigars, and I returned a diehard fan with boxes (and some newfound knowledge) in tow! And now, I believe it’s time for a Maduro Chairman. Long ashes!
The CigarLive Group