“I used to not like tobacco smoke, but after having met Larry I started appreciating it, and now I love smoking.” Kathie Carlos and Larry Lawson from Alaska are sitting at the bar in La Casita, one of the fine restaurants at Casa de Campo, outside La Romana in the Dominican Republic. They’re two of 250 attendees at the seventh ProCigar Festival. “I’ve been a cigar smoker for about 19 years, and I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” Larry says.
Before the bus leaves for Santiago de las Caballeros, the Dominican cigar capital, we get a chance to see Tabacalera de García, the world’s largest factory in which cigars are hand-made. It’s an impressive operation, with around 5,000 employees. Visitors to the festival come from all over the world, like the US, Canada, Europe, Israel, Russia, Singapore and China.
The four days in Santiago begin with a press conference, where a well known name in the business, Tabacalera Palma’s Jochy Blanco, is welcomed to the organization of Dominican cigar manufacturers ProCigar. This is followed by three days of cigar pairings with rum and whiskey, factory and field tours and large dinners.
At the white dinner on Wednesday night, every visitor is presented with a box of ten, in some cases, limited edition cigars from almost all the members of ProCigar, and at the final dinner, I meet up with Larry and Kathie again, after a week jam packed with new experiences and impressions. “When I thought of the Dominican Republic before, I mainly thought of baseball players, but now I realize how big the cigar business is here,” Larry says.
“I didn’t know how many steps there were to the process, from seed to packaging and getting the final product. It makes you appreciate it even more,” explains Kathie. And they both agree upon what constitutes the highlight of the week. “The tour at La Flor Dominicana,” Larry says without hesitating.
“Litto Gómez has an incredible product, and if I were a plantation owner I would want to be like him. He was such a nice, cool guy and, I’m assuming, humble.” “It was his first tour ever and it wasn’t scripted,” Kathie adds. “He spoke from the heart, and even the factory didn’t feel like a factory. Because of him, I think those are my favorite cigars now.”
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Spring Edition 2014. Read more