The first weekend of March, I could not wait to arrive, ever since I booked my plane ticket to Santiago, DR. You see, that was the weekend of the 5th annual DBL Cigars, Dominican Factory Tour. Even though I have been to the DBL factory before, it was a private tour for just a short part of the day on a previous visit to the Dominican Republic back in 2016. This time it was a group of 36 fans and retailers of DBL cigars primarily from NY, NJ, and PA. Yea, 4 days of some good old northern Americans being shown some fine Dominican passion and love.
The first day started with me landing in Santiago around 9 PM and being picked up by the DBL team to head over to the evening party. I was one of the last to arrive, along with 3 others. Once we got to the party location, the party had already disbanded back to Hotel Los Jardines, the event hotel. Damn, we missed the party but we indulged in some Presidente cerveza and were introduced to Mafu, the man that the latest DBL cigar line is named after. He is a jubilant old Dominican man who reminded me over and again, that he is Mafu! Even with my lack of Spanish speaking ability I was able to share some cerveza with him and appreciate his happy nature. Fransisco Almonte, had told me about this man and now after meeting him I can fully appreciate why he named a cigar after him.
After a few drinks and a half dozen hand shakes with Mafu, we loaded back into the company SUV and headed back to the hotel and got checked in. This is the same hotel I stayed in 3 years ago, when Swinger Cigars owner, Ryan Gallimore and I trekked down to the island nation. I will say, the city of Santiago has changed a lot in the past three years. The roads have all be repaved and there is a lot of development going on both in the city and along the roads from the airport and up into the mountains. You can see that the country has begun to prosper over the years. I looked up some facts and found that the DR is one of the fastest growing economies in the Western Hemisphere with a real GDP of 4.6% in 2017 and 6.6% in 2016.
Once checked in, we all convened on the rooftop of the hotel and smoked the best that DBL Cigars had to offer. We indulged in a few bottles of Brugal rum and even a bottle of Red Breast Irish whiskey which I brought as a gift for Francisco. Of course that bottle was opened, shared, and the evidence eventually disposed of. This was more of a meet and greet with some of the brothers and sisters of the leaf that were attending the event.
As the midnight hour approached – a few of us night crawlers decided to venture out to a club. I will leave it at that, other than then we got back to the hotel about 3 AM and somewhere along the way there was more rum, whiskey, and cerveza. Oh yea there was a visit by the local Policia on the road back but with the graceful words of our driver we were on our way.
Finally my head hit the pillow, only to hear the knock on my door that it was 30 minutes to board the bus. Arhhh, a quick shower was in order, as I managed the hot and cold water. Yes, this is an island nation, don’t expect things to work exactly the same as in the US. I made down to the hotel restaurant in time for some eggs, toast, and coffee and onto the bus we went – 36 cigar loving men and women from NY, NJ, and PA. Oh yea, and me too who was born in NYC, lived in Boston for 3 years, and now call FL home.
Off to the DBL Tobacco Fields
The trip to the DBL fields has begun – a nice Korean tour bus and plenty of DBL cigars to go around. There was music to make the trip easy and plenty of conversation. About an hour plus ride up the mountain we stopped at a road side cafe to enjoy some pastries, coffee, and some fresh goat cheese. After 30 minutes or so getting our fill we continued up the mountain to the farm. I have to say, the goat cheese did not sit so well with some on the bus, thankfully I was not one of them.
The group deboarded the bus and loaded into a string of 2 passenger three-wheeled motor scooters that reminded me of the taxi scooters in India. We drove down the rugged dirt roads to the tobacco fields rolling and bumping, back and forth, as we took in views of road side shacks that housed many of the worker families. Even Disney can’t create an adventure like this!
Finally, we arrived at the fields, and what a beautiful farm it was. Francisco pointed out how big some of the leaf was and though the island had no rain since October, he seemed pleased with the crop. He did note to us, that it would be a smaller crop than expected. In fact, we learned that the average Dominican tobacco crop was down about 25% of the normal yield. I would say the price of Dominican tobacco will increase in a couple of years once it hits the market.
As we walked though the fields we were embraced by the swaying leafs of the plants as a warm mountain breeze blew across the field. The plants stood about chest high and the the leafs were large, ripe, and ready for priming.
The Curing Barn
We proceeded to the curing barns where the early leaf primings were hanging to dry, offering a sweet and pleasant aroma as they varied in color from green to yellow, to brown. Francisco then brought us to the area of the barn where they do the first fermentation before transferring the leaf to the factory where the final fermentation occurs. He noted this is the old way to do it, laying the leaf out in a long pile in the barn covered with burlap and then covered with dried palm fronds.
Drive Back to Santiago
As we left the plantation we proceeded to head back to Santiago but Francisco figured we were all hungry and made a call to a local water park. We diverted to the park and were treated to a late afternoon meal of traditional Dominican food and some relaxation. We ordered up some more cervaza and relaxed in the afternoon sun. Although there were bathing suits available for rent – nobody decided to partake in the pool and water slides. Instead we gathered to smoked cigars and carried on more conversations. It’s kind of what we do as cigar enthusiasts. There were a couple of hammocks available which I got to use before we left. A short siesta recharged my batteries. Others played dominoes, which seems to be the national pastime in the DR along with baseball.
As the sun began to set we finally departed for Santiago, sang songs and enjoyed more DBL cigars as we made it back to the hotel. Now I will say, some decided to venture deep into the city again – while others, like me, visited the local casino where I donated a few pesos then back to the hotel I went calling it a night.
More to Come
Stay tuned for days 3 and 4 of the DBL cigar tour, meanwhile enjoy the gallery of happy faces.