Crush & Roll Partners with Camacho Cigars to Create Cigar Nirvana
Attendees of California cigar and wine event experience a once in a lifetime cigar tour
[Editor's Note: Please CLICK HERE to see ENTIRE SLIDESHOW of PHOTOS of TRIP]
by David "Doc" Diaz
Thursday, April 11, 2013
As I awaited my return trip to Honduras and Camacho Cigars, I reflected on past excursions and realized that this one would prove to be precedent-setting. Though it would be my third tour, this trip would include a series of "firsts," not seen by any previous tour group.
Below: Tour group in bus
For starters, the trip was a result of the collaboration between Camacho Cigars and Crush & Roll West, a 2-day cigar and wine event in California. In March 2012, on an earlier trip to Honduras, myself and another member (Christina Fontecchio) of the Crush & Roll West management team talked with representatives of Camacho about the possibility of creating a tour that would raffle trips to Honduras while raising money for a school for impoverished children. So, leading up to Crush & Roll West 2012, we developed a raffle system and promoted the trip to Honduras. Tickets were sold and on the final day of the event, which occurred on September 15, 2012, several trips to Honduras were raffled-off. Those lucky winners would receive an expenses-paid trip to tour the factories and farms in Danlí, Honduras. The entire tour group consisted of attendees of Crush & Roll West and members of the Crush & Roll management team. So, in late March 2013, I found myself traveling once again to the cigar capital of Honduras and to the farms and factories of Camacho Cigars.
Photo: Patio at Hotel Mario Chávez
The second unique thing about this excursion involved the lodging for the tour. During my first two tours, guests stayed at the famous "Camp Camacho," residence of Christian Eiroa, former president of Camacho Cigars. However, after the brand was purchased by Davidoff and after other changes in the organization, the lodging for the tour was moved to a location in nearby El Paraíso named, "Hotel y Restaurante Mario Chávez." This would mark the very first time that Camacho had hosted a tour group outside of Camp Camacho.
Finally, the staff members representing Camacho were also new. In my three visits to Camacho, there have been different staff members each time who have planned and administered the tours. Camacho has always provided wonderful staff members to accompany the tour group, who are as knowledgeable as they are passionate about the premium cigar industry. This year's group continued that great tradition. Thanks to Senior Vice President Javier Plantada, Brand Manager Courtney Aiken and Private Label Manager Oscar Butler, we not only had a great time, but were also provided ample occasion to learn about cigars from seed to smoke. These folks were accessible throughout the trip and we were fortunate to partake in their fellowship and expertise.
Photo: Group after lunch in Tegucigalpa, Hotel Juancarlos
As always, the jet touched down in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. Landings in this airport always get your blood pumping as the jet’s wings go from nearly perpendicular to horizontal in what seems like just a few seconds. Successful landings always elicit applause from passengers who seem relieved to still be in one piece.
We were met by Camacho tour staff outside the airport and immediately whisked to our first stop of the tour. Lunch was served at an exquisite hotel named: Hotel Plaza Juancarlos. We were treated to cocktails and then a wonderful lunch with an eclectic view of the surrounding city. After the meal, we sat on the outdoor patio and had coffee and our first cigar of the trip: a Camacho Triple Maduro. What a cigar to start with! I have always loved the Triple Maduro. It is rich, flavorful and immensely satisfying, especially after a meal.
DANLÍ / El PARAÍSO
After lunch we embarked on the 2.5-hour drive to the location of our hotel. The Hotel y Restaurante Mario Chávez is a quaint and competent hotel and restaurant. I don’t mind telling you that the food was excellent and I rate it among the top that I’ve experienced on a cigar tour. Often times, groups are fed buffet style, but not at the Mario Chávez: we ordered from a menu at each meal. I was really impressed with the food and the service from this family-owned operation. Not only that, but there was an outdoor patio, bar and pool area that was just perfect for smoking cigars. We sat out there each evening until the wee hours and enjoyed the lovely tropical evenings along with our smokes and libations.
Our first full day took us to the tobacco farms and fields of Julio Eiroa whose family has been growing tobacco since the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, we were a bit too late in the season to see the tobacco in the fields since it had recently been harvested.
Sandra Ochoa was our principal guide during this day, which explored curing, fermentation and aging of the tobacco. Undaunted from the lack of tobacco in the fields, we proceeded to the curing barns and fermentation warehouses.
It’s easy to summarize these processes in a sentence or two, however, in reality, the process of curing and fermentation requires much care and attention and is much more complex than you might think. Each process will last approximately 8-weeks and in each stage the tobacco must be carefully monitored. Temperature and humidity are both recorded and the leaves themselves will reveal their progress to the experienced tabaquero.
The only real down time for the tobacco comes during the aging process. Over the course of 2-3 years and sometimes longer, the tobacco rests, but it does not cease its activity entirely. Micro-fermentation takes place within the bales along with a slow drying of the leaves. During this stage, the tobacco leaves concentrate in flavor and consistency.
We witnessed all of the steps in curing and fermentation and observed the myriad people that are required to handle and process the tobacco. It's a wonder that a finished cigar does not cost us twice what we normally pay. While tobacco taxes are draconian and arbitrary, the workmanship, care and expertise necessary to bring a premium cigar to market cannot be underestimated.
The last full day of our tour took us to the Camacho box factory and the cigar-rolling factory. The cigar box factory is quite an impressive operation. As a youth, I worked in a lumber mill in Oregon and I can tell you that the amount of wood Camacho has available to make boxes is substantial. Camacho not only makes their own packaging, but also makes boxes for other cigar brands.
One of the great strengths of Camacho Cigars is their ability to control the production of their packaging. Many cigar brand owners have shared stories of how their supply and distribution chains were frozen, due to delays in delivery of packaging. But Camacho has the ultimate control over their own packaging and can deliver what they want, when they want it.
In the box factory we witnessed every process in making boxes. All the equipment is on hand to mill, cut, plane, router, sand, lacquer, hot-stamp, affix labels, and to set hinges and hardware. You name it, they’ve got it.
After the box factory tour we headed off to learn and watch while cigars were being bunched rolled and packaged. The difficulty of bunching and rolling cigars should never be underestimated. It is an art as well as a science. And, as if to underscore that thought, members of our tour were invited to try their hand at rolling their own cigar. Having done this many times before, I politely declined. I have tried my hand at rolling too many times to think I could ever threaten any roller’s livelihood.
We watched the precision movements of all the skilled workers, who make each job seem so easy. I’ve tried most of the jobs from bunching and rolling to putting on the cigar bands and the cellophane sleeves. Believe me, there is no easy job in a cigar factory.
After the factory tour, we sat upstairs in the spacious lounge and enjoyed a cigar, basking in the glow that is always attendant to a cigar trip abroad. Many of the participants in this tour were new to cigars and from our conversations I knew that they were completely blown away by the experience. No matter how long you have been smoking cigars, taking a cigar tour in Central America is always a mind-blowing experience. Newbies come away with a greater appreciation of the complexities of bringing a premium cigar to market. Those that have been smoking for years also recoup that appreciation and come to a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the artisanal craft.
As always, leaving for home the next day was met with a certain amount of let down. But the group was still upbeat and full of reminiscences and stories they would tell when they got back home. The very first Crush & Roll West tour had finally come to an end, but its effects would resonate in the lives of the attendees in the weeks and months to come.
Thanks again to Camacho Cigars for playing host to the Crush & Roll West tour 2013. Thanks also to Javier, Courtney, Oscar, Sandra and all the rest, who made our trip the cigar experience of a lifetime.
Oscar Butler, Private Labels
Javier Plantada, Senior Vice President, Global Production
Hotel Plaza Juancarlos
About the Author
David "Doc" Diaz is the publisher and the editor of the Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA)blog comments powered by Disqus