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Photo by Luc Monnet
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Photo by Luc Monnet
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Photo by Luc Monnet
By Eric Piras
Years ago, the number of cigar factories in Nicaragua could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Now, Nicaragua is the new place to be for most manufacturers.
From the boutique producers to the best-known brands, Nicaragua is now acknowledged for producing some of the top tobaccos in the world. The rich volcanic soils paired with ideal climate conditions and decades of hard work and experience make Nicaragua the country everybody is currently looking at.
But the vegueros and cigar producers of this Central American country have had to endure a number of hardships.
As it often does, the history of Nicaraguan cigars begins in 1959 with the exodus of the great Cuban cigar makers. Cigarette tobacco had been cultivated in Nicaragua for years, but cigar tobacco had not been supported until the Somoza government decided to finance it as a new industry for Nicaragua.
Up until the fall of the Somoza’s dictatorship to the Sandinistas in 1979, Nicaragua was producing some of the finest premium cigars able to compete with the top Cubans brands. During the Sandinistas’ reign, the farms and factories of the tobacco region were liquidated and the property redistributed under the new socialist government. In 1984, the US imposed a commercial embargo on Nicaragua, making it impossible to sell cigars in their largest market. Most of the production was redirected toward burley cigarette tobacco for Eastern European markets.
With the end of the civil war, when Violetta Barrios de Chamorro won the elections in 1990, the great cigar families started working again until 1998, when Hurricane Mitch devastated the country and affected the tobacco farms and cigar factories. But the farms started over again, with the impressive results that we see today.
Nowadays, thanks to its tradition, social peace, economic growth, and geological diversity, Nicaragua is becoming a strong and essential actor in the cigar industry.
Nicaraguan cigar manufacturers come from different horizons: Cuban roots, European tradition, and North-American production, making it one of the most interesting environments boasting a wide range of choices, from cheap and common cigars, simple in taste and quality, to the most sophisticated blends of richness, character, and taste.
Generally perceived in the past – with the exception of a few brands – as cheap and of poor, the trend is now of a strong growing quality for Nicaraguan cigars.
In the last few years, Nicaragua has firmly become the second premium cigar producing country in volume, after the Dominican Republic. In third and forth positions are Honduras and Cuba, with roughly the same amount produced. Nicaragua and tobacco are now inseparable: the tobacco industry is one of the largest employers in the country: about 30% of the people of Nicaragua depend on the industry for their living.
Moreover, Nicaragua is becoming an indispensible producer of raw materials as Nicaraguan leaves enter into many blends of other countries’ cigars.
Aside from its strong cigar tradition, the reason for Nicaragua to acquire such a vital position in the industry is the huge surface of fertile soils adapted to tobacco culture, including a rare variety of geological characteristics, soil profiles, and microclimates.
Estelí is the capital of cigar production and houses a few major cigar factories, the largest being Joya de Nicaragua, Padrón’s Cubanica, and Plasencia’s Segovia. Estelí produces corpulent and tasty tobacco leaves with spicy, strong, and rustic notes.
North of Estelí, Condega’s tasting specificities are quite similar to those of the former but with a slightly different leaf texture partly due to the difference of altitude.
Far north, on the Honduran border, lies Jalapa. Often compared with Vuelto Abajo in Cuba and Jamastrán in Honduras, Jalapa is world-renowned for its production of high quality wrappers.
Further south, Ometepe is an island formed on the Lake Nicaragua by volcanoes. A unique place in the world for tobacco, it produces leaves expressing sweet and chocolate scents and a typically Nicaraguan aromatic strength.
Joya de Nicaragua was established in 1968, making it one of the first premium hand-made cigar manufacturers in Nicaragua. With a rich tumultuous past linked to that of Nicaragua, it was considered as one of the finest brands in the world in the 70’s, and is now returning to its glory days.
One of the best-known names from Nicaragua is Padrón, whose history closely follows that of the country, from its creation in 1964 by Jose O. Padrón through several bombs during the civil war, relocation in Honduras during the US embargo, and the destruction of their Paso Real farm by typhoon Mitch. It is now thriving and enjoying a strong recognition of quality and consistency.
Today, though, the founder Jose O. Padrón is still involved in the business, his scion Jorge Padrón runs the company, which is very much a family affair involving all of Jorge’s siblings and numerous family members. Padrón is frequently voted Best Cigar of the Year by Cigar Aficionado Magazine, and has recently launched a very special 50th Anniversary Limited Edition: limited to 1,000 individually numbered humidors, with each humidor containing 50 cigars and a certificate loosely modelled after the title of a car, giving its owner the right to refill the humidor.
Another of the Nicaraguan pioneers is Plasencia, rolling about 35 millions cigars by hand every year, half of this coming from Nicaragua. The Plasencias have been growing tobacco for decades and have helped pioneer the vision of other cigar brands including Rocky Patel and Alec Bradley.
Cumpay, created in 1999, was one of the first to offer aficionados a taste of the volcanic tobacco leaves grown in Ometepe. This cigar was also one of the first being composed of 100% Nicaraguan tobacco, blending tobacco from the three main regions of Jalapa, Estelí, and Ometepe. Cumpay is part of Maya Selva Cigars, a collection of three brands that is gaining extensive popularity worldwide and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In the native language of the Tawakha tribe, which used to live on the land, “cumpay” was the word for the rolled tobacco leaf. Showing a strong character with cocoa notes, it profited from the knowledge held by the Plasencia family as tobacco grower and of Maya Selva as blender.
Nicarao is another great expression of the Nicaraguan tobacco: its owner Didier Houvenagel holds a degree in agricultural engineering with a specialty in black tobacco and has studied in Cuba. He visited Nicaragua during the first steps of the reconstruction after the civil war and, amazed by the country’s rich cigar tradition and geological diversity, decided to launch a brand of cigars from Nicaragua, at the time when Nicaraguan cigars were almost unknown and not recognized. It was a challenge at first but he is now the proud owner and master blender of two successful boutique brands, Nicarao and La Ley.
Based in Estelí, Fabrica Nicatabaco is a boutique factory run by a team of Cuban experts with years of experience in leaf processing and factory operations.
Their philosophy is the evolution and progressive flavor (EPF) construction method, the old Cuban tradition of cigar making where the flavor gains strength and intensifies from beginning to end. The Roberto Duran brand combines the best quality tobacco fillers from Nicaragua and the Latin American region with their super-premium Habano Criollo Colorado wrapper, produced in Ecuador. From the same producer, the Azan White Line showcases a combination of specially selected leaves from Jalapa and Estelí in its long filler.
If all of the above was not convincing enough, major names are now strongly interested in Nicaragua: in 2013, Davidoff released its first Nicaraguan cigar. The volcanic soil of Ometepe is one of the defining components of Davidoff Nicaragua, though the brand is a blend of tobaccos from the Estelí, Condega, Jalapa, and Ometepe regions, creating a right balance of sweet and bitter notes that combine the Davidoff refinement with the intriguing intensity of Nicaraguan tobacco. Interestingly, Davidoff has chosen to roll these cigars at their Davidoff factory in the Dominican Republic. Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, Oettinger Davidoff AG’s ce.o., explains the decision by the fact that Davidoff can guarantee everything that comes out of its factory, ensuring total control from crop to shop.
Originally, Davidoff Nicaragua was intended to be a limited-edition release but the company has decided on a regular-production brand. And a few months ago, Oettinger Davidoff has announced the acquisition of over 150 hectares of tobacco farmland in the Condega region.
The recent developments have shown that Nicaragua can hold a proud place in the list of best cigar producing countries; let’s hope it can keep its momentum and continue to amaze aficionados as we move further into the 21st century!
Davidoff Mini Cigarillos
Davidoff Master Blenders, having searched the fiery, rich, volcanic soils of the Esteli, Condega, Jalapa and Ometepe regions of Nicaragua, crafted a blend of the finest leaves to create mini cigarillos that struck the perfect balance between bitter and sweet notes to tantalise the palate.
“This exciting new Nicaraguan Mini Cigarillo is geared to delight aficionados who are searching for more intense and flavorful experiences,” notes Charles Awad, senior vice president global marketing & innovation at Oettinger Davidoff AG. “Being time poor and experience rich is possible, even in a five-minute escape during a hectic day.”
The new Nicaragua Mini Cigarillos are made with 100% high-grade tobacco and are a bitter-sweet, medium to full-bodied variant of the Davidoff Mini Cigarillos range which includes the silver, gold and newly introduced platinum variants and are packed with thrillingly deep, rich aromas. Expertly blended in the Dominican Republic, they deliver the very refinement and subtlety expected from Davidoff, created and produced by Davidoff master blenders in the Dominican Republic: These Nicaragua Mini Cigarillos combine a wrapper of Habano Jalapa, a binder from Sumatra and a filler of Dominican and Nicaraguan tobaccos.
The new Davidoff Nicaragua Mini Cigarillos will be available worldwide from July at selected tobacconists and Davidoff Flagship Stores in black matt boxes of 20 or 5 cigarillos. The 5-cigarillo packs are limited to the initial three-month launch period.
Numbers show the incredible growth of Nicaragua in the past few years and it might well become the leading country for imports to the United States and elsewhere.