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 five of Puro Sabor, the final day of the festival.
Each time I go to Nicaragua, time seems to speed along and the days go quite fast. This was absolutely the case with Puro Sabor 2023. It seems like yesterday that I touched down in Granada for day one, so it was hard to believe the final day of Puro Sabor had come. There was an exciting lineup for me personally as I would be paying my first visits to the Padrón Factory and one of the farms. This would be followed by a visit to STG Estelí, which is Scandinavian Tobacco Group’s Nicaraguan production facility. Things would wrap up with the closing gala being hosted by Oliva Cigar Company.
The Padrón visit would kick off the day. We started off by arriving at Tabacos Cubanica S.A. This is the factory where all Padrón cigars are hand rolled. Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted by Jorge Padrón, Jorge Luis, and nephew A.J. – all of whom would be our hosts.
Just about every time I have met Jorge Padrón – whether it was at an event or trade show, he always would be dressed in a very dapper suit and tie. I almost did a double-take when I saw Jorge in a polo shirt and jeans. The tour also showed me another side of Jorge. I’ve always been used to Jorge either selling at a trade show or promoting an event. In this case, I saw Jorge in the trenches – whether it was production at the factory or walking around the farm. As Jorge led our tour, there was no doubt he is proud of what he and his family accomplished – and he still very much loves what he is doing.
The tour started at Tabacos Cubanica S.A. in the rolling room. Padrón’s operations are spread out across Estelí. Tabacos Cubanica S.A. is located in Central Estelí. There are some other pre-industry operations in other parts of town – which we would go visit later. The rolling room isn’t nearly as large as AJ Fernandez or even Joya de Nicaragua. Jorge Padrón told us when they opened the factory in 1990, they thought the size was overkill. Now they realize they have outgrown it and are planning expansion.
On these factory tours, I look for some things that aren’t seen across different factories. One thing that was very noticeable is that the rollers and the bunchers did not work as a team. There was no special reason for this other than given the way things operate at the factory, this worked out best for them. In addition, Jorge Padrón pointed out they put the wrappers on wet (except for the Padrón Damaso) to the cigars. What I found diffrerent that Padrón will submerge the wrapper leaf in water as opposed to spraying the leaf.
From that point, we took a short bus ride in Estelí to one of the Padrón farms which is adjacent to the pre-industry facility where activities such as fermentation and sorting take place. Jorge Padrón pointed out that while they don’t own the farms outright, the tobacco is pretty much grown exclusively for them. We managed to see the farm at the beginning of the growing season. You can see a lot of the soil cultivated, and one thing that is noticeable is the dark color of the soil. This dark soil is indicative of the volcanic soil found throughout Nicaragua.
Once the raw tobacco is harvested from the farms it goes through Padrón’s pre-industry facility (which they do own).
The tour wrapped up as we visited the Padrón box factory.
With the Padrón visit complete, we took a short drive to AJ Fernandez’s San Ramon farm for lunch. On the way there we passed by the location where Arturo Fuente is constructing its Nicaraguan factory. The bus moved too fast to click a picture. While I had been to several of AJ’s farms before, this was my first visit to San Ramon. This is a farm that was well set up for social gatherings and hospitality.
Normally I save the food posts for social media, but readers may be interested to know that the lunch at AJ Fernandez was highlighted by a pig roast. AJ’s hospitality events are well-known for their pig roasts. The pigs come directly from AJ’s farms.
The final tour for me of Puro Sabor 2023 was to the location of the STG Estelí factory. On day three, this was the location of the evening gala event. This time I would get to see the inside of the facility.
STG Estelí is the Nicaraguan facility of Scandinavian Tobacco Group. It’s best known as the production home for most of the CAO and Toraño brands. Scandinavian Tobacco Group has three factories: STG Estelí, Honduras American Tobacco S.A. (HATSA – located in Danlí, Honduras), and General Cigar Dominicana (located in Santiago, Dominican Republic). Of the three factories, STG Estelí is the smallest. The STG team referred to it as its “boutique factory.” By STG’s standards, this is a smaller, more intimate operation. At the same time, this is still quite a large factory – producing 11 million cigars per year. These are produced by approximately 80 pairs.
One thing I have enjoyed about some of the ProCigar festivals I have been to is when they bring entertainment to the factory. Shortly after entering the factory, we were treated to some Nicaraguan song and dance right on the factory floor. This was the first time I had seen this done at a factory during Puro Sabor 2023.
In terms of pre-industry, this is not handled at STG Estelí. The company does leverage its pre-industry facilities at its HATSA factory in Honduras. The processed tobacco arrives at STG Estelí where the focus is on rolling cigars as well as sorting, quality control, aging, banding, cellophane, and packing.
One thing that is done at STG Estelí is deveining (removing the vein from tobacco leaves). This is particularly important with wrapper leaves. In many factories, this is a hand-driven process. STG uses machines for this process. I had seen these machines at General Cigar Dominicana a few years ago and this is only the second time I’ve seen such machines.
The grand finale was a big formal gala hosted by Oliva Cigar Company at its Las Mesitas which is located north of Estelí. This is a newer facility by Oliva used to process, ferment, and store tobacco. According to Oliva Cigar Company, this facility will hold four football fields of tobacco. While we didn’t go inside, the location hosted what was the biggest event of the festival.
With this evening, Puro Sabor 2023 came to a close. It was a wonderful experience, and I’ll be back one with one more installment for a final recap.
Photo/Video Credits: Cigar Coop