Twelve years ago, Hendrik Kelner and Manuel Peralta started what was both an ambitious and complex venture. Their goal was to find the best conditions possible for the cultivation of tobacco on the island of Hispaniola, and to develop a completely new growing region for Davidoff.
Manuel Peralta, who is Head of Processing at Tabadom Holding, which belongs to Oettinger Davidoff, traveled to Cuba especially to examine highly praised climate conditions upon invitation by the University of Pinar del Río. Both men meticulously studied the topography of the Dominican Republic, analyzed the climate statistics and soil samples. They were looking for a patch of earth where minerals and trace elements were supposed to be present in the soil in natural form, and where the solar radia- tion and clouds, precipitation and soil moisture were ideally balanced.
Kelner and Peralta (on the right in the photo) were successful. In the region around Yamasá, a good one-and-a-half-hour’s drive north of Santo Domingo, the climate and soil were fitting … almost. “We found out that the soil was unbelievably rich in nutrients but was also somewhat sour,” explains Manuel Peralta. “Using calcium carbonate, we were finally able to maintain the PH-values between 5.5 and 6.5. That’s ideal for tobacco.”
In the beginning stages, the lime was manually distributed; in the meantime, this is done automatically. The irrigation was also optimized over time. Today, a high-tech system provides each individual plant with water and fertilizer. Hendrik Kelner explains: “This was important to me for the reason that the soil is relatively coarse-grained; that’s why the water and nutrients seep away.”
For years, the experiment-happy experts raised various kinds of tobacco together with their teams. Peralta says, “We carried out tests with 20 to 30 different seeds, observed their different growth stages, documented the development in the curing barns, record- ed the fermentation processes … It was a great deal of work, until, after about eight years, we were finally pleased with the results.” As is well known, in 2010, Oettinger Davidoff launched the Puro d’Oro Series, which also includes tobacco from this region. Over the course of time, around 100 hectares of land were acquired, of which 21 hectares are being farmed, respectively. “Why? Because the soil needs to be rested,” says Peralta. “The fields are used in rotation and then each one is rested for two to three years. We put livestock on them to make sure that it goes through a complete lifecycle. The livestock eats the weeds, digests it and then leaves it on the fields again. And that provides organic nitrogen supply.”
On many of the fields, pulses are planted during the resting phase, especially Mucuna pruriens, which likewise gives the soil nitrogen. In the Yamasá region, today Oettinger Davidoff produces mainly wrapper quality from three different types of tobacco. “We’ve now developed a new hybrid seed, which is more aromatic than anything we’ve grown up until now. We call it Aromática Dominicana,” enthuses Hendrik Kelner. “And luckily, this year’s harvest, now the twelfth, is the best we’ve ever had.” In order to optimize the earnings, that is, to cultivate the biggest, thinnest and glossiest tobacco leaves possible, all the areas being used were covered with tobacco cloth without further ado. All 21 hectares! “The nets absorb 30 percent of the sun’s rays. In this way, the leaves grow bigger, finer and have more gloss,” explains Peralta.
He is convinced that the tobacco leaves they produce in Yamasá today exhibit the best organoleptic characteristics that he has ever seen. “They are bigger, oilier and more elastic …” With the profit rate of around 50 percent of wrappers, 30 percent binder quality, and 20 percent filler tobacco, Hendrik Kelner is still not entirely satisfied: “Shade-grown tobacco is very work and cost intensive, not only when it comes to what’s done in the fields, but also during the drying process in the barns. I would be happy if we could still increase the share of wrappers. We have invested a tremendous amount of money and work into our Yamasá project. It was a long, arduous path that we pursued 12 years ago. But we know that nothing is easy when it comes to tobacco.”