I Fell in Love with La Flor Dominicana
by Christina Fontecchio
Thursday, April 10, 2014
There are many cigar manufacturers that make wonderful cigars that we enjoy here in the United States. I have visited many of them in my travels to Honduras, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. But of ALL the tours I have taken to date, my visit to La Flor Dominicana was the one I’ll never forget. In the following paragraphs, I will explain how and why I fell in love with La Flor Dominicana.
Christina with Tony and Litto Gomez
If you are lucky enough to attend one of these tours, you will note that all the companies have similarities in their methods of growing, curing, fermenting, rolling, aging and boxing of their cigars and yet they will all do something just a little bit different. Each time I attend a factory or field tour, I learn just a little bit more about the processes that go into making a great cigar.
After my first ProCigar Festival, I came home with my head spinning. Not from all the stogies I smoked, but from all the notes that I had taken. As I sorted through my notes, I became more confused. Now, five years later, I still take away something new from each trip, but it’s more cohesive in my mind and more manageable to understand.
I recently attended the 2014 ProCigar Tour as one of the members of Team Stogie Fresh. Doc and John—our other team members—were taking hundreds of photos, while my duty was to take notes and capture the nuances and differences between how each company practices their craft. This was not an easy task. Luckily with Doc’s background knowledge, he was able to decipher my notes and put together a wonderfully detailed article for the cigar consumers. http://www.stogiefresh.info/journal-docs/articles/2014-procigar-festival.html
After attending this year’s Festival, I came away with a special feeling regarding one of the tours we attended. I wanted to write a special article about the tour that drastically changed my perspective. Since I began touring the cigar countries of the world, I’ve met many manufacturers and the one commonality that I have found, is they are all so down-to-earth and pleasant to talk to. They are so patient as they explain the processes they use to create such great smokes. One tour that we took this year at ProCigar Festival was over the top for me: La Flor Dominicana, with Litto Gomez.
Tobacco Fields and Curing Barns
On Friday morning, we took a shuttle to the Gran Almirante Hotel where we were directed to our tour buses. Festival attendees sign up for various tours each day and they meet at a central location to board buses to their tour destinations.
Doc, John and I were excited to get to the La Flor Dominicana fields. We had talked to some other attendees the day before and they had great things to say about this tour.
The shaded field of wrapper tobacco at La Canela
As our bus pulled up to the fields, we noticed a little cabaña that had a covered patio. Waiting for us at the cabaña, were Litto Gomez and his son, Tony. Litto gave us a brief talk about the fields that we were going to see and the curing barns. Of course, they offered everyone cigars and coffee or water before we began the tour. He mentioned that we were going to take a walk and quite a walk it was. As we walked along, Litto explained that we were in the La Canela region. This region seems to produce sweeter tasting leaves as well as leaves that are fuller in body.
Litto told us a story about purchasing his farm… He said he came to the Dominican Republic in 1997 to look at farms and when he found this one in the La Canela region, he knew immediately that this was the one. “So I bought the farm,” he said with a chuckle. The only thing he had to figure out was how he would break it to his wife. He felt so strongly that this was the farm for them that he bought it first and explained later. He said he went back home to Miami and took his wife to a really nice dinner and explained it the best he could. She was shocked, but now years later, she also believes this was the right decision. We all had a good laugh about that one. It proved to be a gutsy move, but also a smart one.
We arrived at a shade covered area of Criollo 98 wrapper leaves. Tony told me that the shade covering cuts out about 40% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays and protects the leaves so they can grow to be robust and flavorful while also preserving their pristine appearance.
Litto began working with the tobacco in 1994 and he knew Dominican tobacco was known for being mild. He wanted to figure out a process to increase the leaf strength so he could make fuller-bodied cigars. He toured countries like Cuba, Ecuador and Brazil to see how they grew, cured and fermented their tobacco. When he returned, he employed different techniques from each country and began changing the way he processed his tobacco. As a result, he was able to produce medium-full and full-bodied cigars with his Dominican tobacco.
Part of his new approach included building a type of curing barn that I had never seen before. It was all covered in palm leaves and the sides were closed but could be lifted up to allow airflow to get through and cure the tobacco. As we entered this new style curing barn I noticed the leaves all hung in a slight “U” shape off the poles. This is called a sarta style of curing filler and binder leaves. These leaves were hung in groups of 2-4 leaves—unlike the face-to-face style that I’m used to seeing—and were not rotated around the curing barn. Litto shared that he cures his filler leaves differently than his wrapper leaves. We then visited the curing barns where they hang wrapper leaves on cujes (instead of sartas) and rotate them from high to low and from the sides to the middle of the barns.
As we proceeded to the green house area, Litto explained that all his seeds are pelletized and calibrated to a uniform size to protect the seeds before they are planted in trays. We continued our hike through the fields and came across a temperature- and moisture-controlled curing barn used only for the best wrapper leaves. Litto had seen this type of barn in another country and wanted to build one on his farm because they yield more usable tobacco. Litto said his usable yield is currently about 80% and they will continue to fine-tune their processes with each annual crop to increase the yield as close to 100% as they can get. This is the only curing barn of this type in the Dominican Republic.
What impressed me was the extensive research Litto did in various countries to produce fuller bodied tobacco. He is putting to use what he learned and this is working out great for him. I appreciate his ambition and curiosity, which has enhanced his brands and has led to some fabulous smokes.
As we made the trek back to the cabaña, we took a break and were able to have a cigar and beverage before leaving for the factory. The weather was wonderful, about mid 80’s with 79% humidity. The humidity usually gets to me; I sweat no matter what and I look like I’ve poured water over my face. When the humidity in the factory and barns is high, it can affect you, but it’s for the sake of the leaves. This is to be expected in the Caribbean and you learn to carry on as usual.
The 40-minute ride back to the factory from the farm went by quickly. I entertained myself by talking to the people we had met and by discussing the innovations at the farms and fields.
Lunch and Factory Tour
Arriving at the factory, I noticed small ivy vines growing on the face of the buildings. How neat, I thought to myself. As we walked through the gates, we headed down a cement pathway that was bordered by factory rooms on both sides. I felt like I was entering a lush botanical garden. There were beautiful green trees with flowers lining the pathway. We passed a grassy area with a fountain and saw an incredible sight: they had planted short shrubs in planters in the middle of the yard that spelled out the letters “LFD.” What a great way to present your logo! This added an extra touch to the beautiful scenery.
To the right of the fountain was the most awesome smoking lounge area. It was rectangular in shape with tile floor and a thatched roof. Under the roof there were tables surrounded by 15 Adirondack chairs. I was in love! This was truly a beautiful, peaceful place for the employees to sit and take their breaks and relax. I would have loved to sit in one of the chairs and enjoy an LFD cigar and the pleasant, beautiful surroundings. But, we had more to do at that moment…
As we continued, we saw a chef tending 2 pigs on a spit and a beautiful tented area with draped material covering the sides. There were tables with linens and settings for each of us. There was a buffet table, full of food, to go with the pork luncheon and beverages for us to enjoy.
As we sat down to enjoy our special meal, I thought to myself: “Man it is the BEST lunch.” The pork was unbelievably good. I would say “to die for” and I know Doc would agree. Litto was kind enough to sit and talk with us and get our opinion of his tour. We were the second tour to ever visit LFD during the festival. La Flor Dominicana joined ProCigar just last year and this was their first go-around at having tours at the factory. It was absolutely superb for only their second tour.
Well my hat is off to you Litto for a fabulous job. The timing was right and the tours were so informative and I felt such a passion, not only from Litto and his son Tony, but the workers as well. If I had to give it a “star rating,” I would definitely say this was a Five-Star Tour and I would recommend the La Flor Dominicana tour to anyone. You will not be disappointed. (I may see you there next year!)
Sadly to say our lunch was over too soon, but Litto, like a true leader, gathered us up and we continued touring his factory.
The ambiance of the factory was very pleasing with taupe colored walls and windows, dark wooden shutters and a façade with trim painted in white. We entered the fermentation room and it was similar to other factories, but there were a couple of things that were unique. One thing that I had never seen was the sprinkler system on the ceiling of the fermentation area. They would add humidity to the fermentation room with a light spray of ultra purified water to increase the humidity when they needed it.
Litto ages his wrapper leaves in bales made of the bark of the palm tree. This is a traditional method that has been used in Cuba for many years. The wrappers age in the palm shed bales and once a month a few are opened to check on the wrappers to insure they are aging correctly. Litto has a fine-tuned factory and things flow very nicely. Like many of the factories they have checks and re-checks to insure that their tobacco is going through all of the processes with the best results.
On to the rolling room! I enjoyed the peach-painted walls that were painted with the LFD logo. This color scheme was so comforting and beautiful that it really changed my feeling of being in a factory setting. His factory is beautiful inside and out.
I was a bit perplexed as I looked around and saw ONLY men rolling cigars. In all the other factories I have visited in various countries, it has been a majority of women or all women rolling, but this truly amazed me. I am very curious, so I had to ask Litto, “What’s up with this? Where are the women?” Litto explained that, in past, they had many women rollers, but over time it has transitioned to only men. I asked if he would hire a woman if she wanted a position in the rolling factory and he said, with at smile, “Yes, if she was good enough.” Hmmm.
My thoughts are that perhaps since they were rolling larger ring gauge cigars, the men would have the advantage of larger hands to hold the tobacco that needs to be bunched into the binder for these larger smokes. Honestly, there may be no reason other than, as Litto said, “It changes with time.” It was very interesting; they were rolling some very big cigars and different shapes and, on some cigars, they were using two different tobaccos for wrappers. I could have stayed there for days and just observed.
While finishing the tour, Litto handed out a 5-pack box of cigars to each attendee and t-shirts that matched those that Litto and Tony were wearing. They were black and said, “La Flor Dominicana” on the front and “Crew” on the back. This was an awesome gift. I felt so connected and special, like we had just become part of the La Flor Dominicana Team!
As the tour was ending, I asked Litto to sign my Tobacconist University papers for the certification that I’m working on. In my hurriedness, I forgot my trusty notebook on Litto’s desk, though I did manage to walk out with my signed gift box of LFD cigars… Go figure.
My treasured notebook had all my notes, from all four tours that we had attended, throughout the week. Since it was Friday, all the factories were closed with no way to get in touch with Litto. I was so happy to find out that Litto had saved the day and grabbed my notebook. He was kind enough to have someone in his office mail it back to me. Thank you to whomever mailed my notebook back!
In closing, I left the Dominican Republic with a special place in my heart for the La Flor Dominicana brand. Litto has a dynamic personality. I admire his continual curiosity and his passion for making the best tasting cigars. To Litto, Tony and all the people in the fields and in the factories that made the La Flor Dominicana tour such a pleasant, beautiful memory for me, I thank you!
Litto, I wish you and your family well and thank you for your hospitality and candidness. My new favorite cigar is the La Flor Dominicana, Double Ligero Chisel. What a beautiful smoke and what great memories it brings back for me each time I smoke it.
Viva La Flor Dominicana!
About the Author
Christina Fontecchio is the owner of The Boss Cigars & Gifts in Arroyo Grande, CA. She has been smoking cigars since the 1990’s and has owned her own cigar store since January 2005. She is a Certified Retail Tobacconist (CRT) and has numerous trips to factories and farms in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Costa Rica. She has a passion for cigars and enjoys the people in the cigar industry.blog comments powered by Disqus