Tabacalera Palma: Dominican Republic 2014
by David "Doc" Diaz
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
[Note: To see all the photos of the tour, visit the Tabacalera Palma photo album. During the article, I will refer to various processes that are illustrated in the photo album and I will place the image number in brackets.]
Traveling in the cigar countries of Central America and the Caribbean often brings unexpected and delightful surprises. My recent trip to Santiago, Dominican Republic and the Pro Cigar Festival provided me the opportunity to visit Jochi Blanco [images 2 and 3] at his Tabacalera Palma factory and this turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.
Jochi is the cousin of my friend José Blanco, formerly of La Aurora and Joya de Nicaragua. Because José and Jochi have been working together to build a new blend for José's soon-to-be-released Señorial brand, I contacted Tabacalera Palma to see if I might swing by for a visit. They were gracious enough to receive Stogie Fresh team members Christina, John and myself [image 12] on the day before the start of the Pro Cigar Festival in Santiago.
Many of my web site readers and podcast listeners may not have heard of Jochi Blanco and yet, he and his family have been a fixture in the in the Dominican cigar industry for generations. I learned that Jochi and his family have been growing tobacco for over 80 years and they have been handcrafting cigars since 1981. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Jochi has a mastery of tobacco and every phase of its development, from seed to smoke. He owns many acres of farmland in such places as El Potrero, Jacagua and La Canela regions and his factory produces around 4.5 million cigars per year including such notables as Aging Room and SWAG.
Jochi Blanco makes Aging Room cigars for Rafael Nodal and his Boutique Blends brand. I have been very impressed with the full line of Aging Room cigars. I have smoked the Connecticut (Havao), the Maduro, the M21, M356, and the F55 Quattro. All of these cigars are impeccably constructed and great representatives of their particular genre. I’m sure I will see a lot of Aging Room cigars in my future…
After a long travel day on Monday, we started relatively early, as Alexander Berezowski [image 8] picked us up at our Santiago hotel. I had worked directly with Alex to schedule our tour of the Palma factory. Alex, who handles marketing and various other tasks, filled us in on the history and some background facts as we drove to the factory.
When we arrived, we were treated to a customary cup of Cuban coffee and a cigar [images 4 and 5]. This is a morning ritual of many in the cigar industry and I can think of no better way to start a day than with a cup of strong coffee and a beautiful hand made cigar.
We sat together in the conference room with Alex and with Vinicio Cuello [image 6] and enjoyed our coffee and cigars. Vini is the VP of Operations and nephew of Jochi Blanco. Jochi also came in and sat and shared a cigar and conversation with us prior to us touring the facility.
Vini led the tour, showing us various parts of the cigar factory. Of course we saw the “sexy” parts, which would be the actual bunching and rolling of the cigars, but we also saw the necessary prerequisites of fermentation, leaf sorting, stripping the central vein, aging in bales, and quad-pressing, among others.
For the first time, I saw how cigars are quad-pressed [images 13-18]. You start by putting a round cigar into a quad-shaped tray [image 13]. The cigars are initially not as wide as the tray space and are a little higher than the sides of the tray. After filling the trays with cigars, the cigars are placed in a rack that holds two trays side-by-side. A flat board is place on the top of each set of trays [image 14] and then another row of trays is placed, another board, and so on. After 10 rows are stacked, the racks are placed into a press for two hours [images 15 and 16]. This allows the cigars to be spread within their spaces and take on the quad shape. Afterwards, during the aging process, the cigars will have bricks placed on top of the racks to help the cigars keep the same shape until it is time for banding and packaging. It’s a cool process and one that gives the cigar a different character.
We also witnessed the small machine-made cigars being rolled [image 28 and at left]. The machine rolls cigarillos [image 29], which are made using scraps from premium cigars, like Aging Room. The result is a tasty short smoke that is typically sold in tins [image 9].
Finally, we visited the PDR (Pinar del Rio) factory of Abe Flores. This factory is located in the Tabacalera Palma industrial complex, owned by Jochi Blanco. Inside this spacious warehouse there are tons of fermenting piles of filler tobacco [image 33]. After the tobacco is completely fermented, it is placed in bales [images 34 and 35], which are stacked in the warehouse and allowed to age for an extended period of time.
I always lose track of the time when I visit cigar factories and this time was no exception. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch and we were cordially invited to dine with Jochi, Vini and Alex at a local restaurant. We started with a smoke and an ice-cold Presidente beer in the outdoor patio [images 36 and 37] and then were treated to a traditional Dominican meal. I love sampling the regional food and I am always surprised by the creativity and diversity of the Dominican meal. While rice, beans and meat are staples throughout the Caribbean and Central America, each country and region within that country has its own way of preparing these ingredients. Other delicacies like plantains and yucca are also a favorite of mine. The meal we shared together was a fitting capstone for a wonderful experience and exemplified the generosity and grace of the Tabacalera Palma crew.
CIGARS I SMOKED:
• Aging Room Havao (Connecticut). Nutty, sweet, crisp flavors and finish, light-medium body.
• Aging Room Quattro (fresh from factory). Rich, natural sweetness, depth of flavor and long finish, medium-full body.
• Aging Room Maduro. Earthy sweetness, savory, long finish, medium to medium-full body.
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