Welcome back to Cigar Coop’s coverage of Puro Sabor 2023, the Nicaraguan Cigar Festival. This took place in Nicaragua from January 23-27, 2023. The Nicaraguan Cigar Festival is split between two cities: Granada (Jan 23-24), and Estelí (Jan 25-27). Today we take a look at day four of Puro Sabor 2023.
Day four took place in Estelí, Nicaragua, the defacto epicenter of the Nicaraguan cigar industry. Describing Estelí is quite difficult unless you have been there. It is about 100 miles north of the capital of Nicaragua, Managua. It is situated along the Pan-American Highway. The land is exceptional for growing cigar tobacco. This led many who fled Cuba to settle in this area. As tobacco growing grew, so did the need for cigar manufacturing, and many services to support a growing area. Estelí would develop into a city that has over 120,000 people and is the third largest in Nicaragua – much of that growth has been for the cigar business. Today the farms still are very much a part of the landscape of Estelí – even though other aspects are growing.
I’ve been to Estelí six times in 11 years. Each year it grows. It still very much is a city that has Central American charm, but it’s no surprise I see some Pizza Hut and Little Caesars in town. Still, it’s that Central American charm that sets Estelí apart. You will hear roosters crowing every day as the sun rises – no matter what part of Estelí you are in.
The morning of day four saw me head over to Oliva Tobacco Company’s Procesadora de Nicaragua S.A. – a facility that handles the pre-industry side of tobacco.
You might be surprised to read that Oliva Tobacco Company has no family relationship with Oliva Cigar Company. Oliva Tobacco is an operation that includes not only tobacco processing, but farming, tobacco brokering, and some manufacturing. The company has farms in Ecuador and Nicaragua. In Ecuador, they focus on wrappers, while in Nicaragua they focus on binders and fillers. Chances are if you smoke cigars, you have smoked tobacco that has been processed and/or grown by Oliva Tobacco.
Oliva Tobacco does its own cigar line called Doña Lydia (named after a farm in Ecuador), but it’s important to know that is not Oliva Tobacco’s focus. As for Oliva Cigar, they are a vertically integrated operation where the focus is on production of the Oliva Cigar brand.
The tour was hosted by Angel “Trey” Oliva III. Angel is the grandson of the founder of Oliva Tobacco, Angel Oliva. Angel tells a wealth of stories and you can see he truly loves what he does. The pre-industry facility we visited was founded when it got too expensive to continue in Ecuador.
The meat of the tour focused on pre-industry activities such as fermentation, sorting, steam removal, and packing tobacco. He also discussed some of Oliva’s Tobacco operations around farming and brokering.
After wrapping at Oliva Tobacco it was off to Plasencia’s factory for lunch. I haven’t received attendance numbers yet, but both the evening galas and lunches seemed to have quite a few industry people – I believe industry people make up about 50% of the attendees. During the lunch, AJ Fernandez Cigar Company, Drew Estate, and Plasencia Cigars received an award for contributing to environmental sustainability.
The afternoon consisted of a visit to Tabacalera Perdomo, the operations of Perdomo Cigars. There was something significant about going back to Perdomo on this trip. Back in 2020, I was invited to be on the Perdomo Factory Tour – which was my last visit to Nicaragua prior to the world going on lockdown for COVID-19. It seemed natural to visit this place on my first visit back to Nicaragua since the lockdowns.
Our host was the always entertaining and knowledgeable Nelson Cuba, who serves as Perdomo Cigars’ Director of Operations.
The Perdomo Factory Tour is exactly as described – it’s a tour of Perdomo’s operations hosted by Perdomo. It’s an in-depth four-day visit that gets you as deep into the cigar-making process as I have seen. It covers the whole spectrum of vertical integration including seed agronomy, farming, pre-industry, production, quality control, packaging, and merchandising. For Puro Sabor, it simply would not be possible to go through the in-depth tour of the Perdomo Factory Tour. Therefore, the focus was on pre-industry through packaging – which was a condensed version of Day 3 of the Perdomo Factory Tour.
The evening dinner was hosted at J.C. Newman’s PENSA (Puros de Estelí Nicaragua S.A.) and is dubbed the White Dinner.
Like ProCigar, the White Dinner is on the penultimate night of the festival. Basically, it’s a partially-formal event where everyone is asked to wear white. The evening consists of dinner and music. Again, bravo to Puro Sabor for keeping the majority of the seating open for all (this is something I talked about on my Day Three report)
Entering the White Dinner at the J.C. Newman PENSA factory, we were greeted by Nicaraguan folklore characters which I believe are from the famed literary work El Güegüense. Many cigar consumers are familiar with the name as the first brand of Foundation Cigar Company. El Güegüense (which means The Wise Man) is one of the oldest literary works in Latin America dating back to the 16th Century during the rule of the Spanish Conquistadors.
It’s timely for El Güegüense to be performed at the Nicaraguan Cigar Festival. The cigar festival coincides closely with the feast of San Sebastián in Diriamba which takes place at this time of the year in Nicaragua. It is common practice to perform El Güegüense at the San Sebastián festival.
Probably one of the big moments of the night was when Puro Sabor honored the one and only Don José Pepin Garcia, the patriarch of My Father Cigars, with a lifetime achievement award.
With Day Four in the books, Day Five marks the final day of the festival. I’ll be back with a recap of that final day
Thanks for the update and dedication to the cigar industry. Come up and visit Mr. J’s soon. You are talked about often