Vuelta Abajo: The “Holy Land” Of The Cigar

Vuelta Abajo, in the Pinar Del Rio region, Southwest of Havana, is where the best cigar leaves in the world come from

It just wouldn’t be a trip to Cuba without visiting the tobacco fields, which are usually full of plants from December until the end of the harvest in March

The rich red soil of the Vuelta Abajo that produces the best tobacco, both for filler and wrapper. Nothing compares with the tobacco from such towns as San Luis and San Juan y Martinez. The hundreds of farms dotted around these small towns together make up what is the Holy Grail to cigar smokers. Names like El Corojo, Hoyo de Monterrey, Esperanza, and El Pinar are to cigars what Margaux, Latour, Mouton, Lafite and Haut-Brion are to wine¿they are some of the best in their fields

Each year, thousands of acres of tobacco are planted here. The entire process takes about nine to 10 months, from planting the tobacco seeds to picking the fully grown leaves and drying them in large wooden barns, called casas de tobaco

A large part of the tobacco in San Luis and San Juan y Martinez is grown for wrapper, the leaves used for the outside of cigars. This tobacco is grown under immense cheesecloth tents called tapados. The cheesecloth diffuses the sunshine and allows leaves to grow larger and finer in texture. Until recently, the only tobacco used for wrapper was a type developed in Cuba in the 1920s and ’30s called El Corojo, after the farm where it was developed. But today, Cuban farmers are using hybrids such as Criollo 98, which is more resistant to disease. Another recent hybrid, called Habana2000, has been almost completely discontinued, since it has become susceptible to blue mold and growers did not like the quality

The other category of tobacco is tobaco del sol, sun-grown tobacco. These are the leaves grown for the cigar’s filler and the binder that hold the bunch together. Sun-grown tobacco plants do not grow as high as their shade-grown cousins. In addition, the leaves are not as large or fine, and the farmer is paid less for them. It’s less expensive to farm sun-grown since no cheesecloth is needed, and the cultivation is much less rigorous.Since the revolution, the government has been the only buyer of Cuban tobacco. Most of the hundreds of farms in the area are now privately owned; some of the families have been plantation owners for hundreds of yearsThe Francisco Donatien cigar factory in the center of Pinar del Río. It’s a small factory, with about 100 rollers, that produces its own cigar brand, Vegueros, as well as a few sizes for Montecristo. A former prison, the factory is open to visitors, and it has a very good cigar shop, Tabaco en DisenoIn San Luis are located the plantations of the most famous tobacco cultivator of the island, Don Alejandro Robaina. Vuelta Abajo extends through most of Pinar del Rio province, except its north part which is occupied by the region know as Semi VueltaThe terroir that obtains the best harvesting results are dedicated to the export production, most of this terroir is placed in a region known as Partido, in Havana province, south the capital and especially in Vuelta Abajo

According to some experts the secret of Vuelta Abajo relies on the fact that “in the crown”, (top point of the tobacco plant), the leaves have a high concentration of nitrate, providing strength, powerful taste and above all strong and well armed structure to those made out of them, qualities that distinguish a good cigar. The climate of this region permits to obtain these unique characteristics

Semi Vuelta Abajo is the second tobacco region in Pinar del Río. Its tobacco, of thicker leaves and stronger aroma than the one in Vuelta Abajo, is destined mainly to the national production of cigarettes.

The covered plantations are located in the Partido region, in other words, these plantations are covered with cloth permitting to obtain lighter leaves and with a finest texture, the raw material for export luxury cigars.

The Remedios region occupies almost all the central province of Las Villas; it is one of the richest tobacco regions of Cuba. The leaves of its harvests are thick and aromatic.

Finally, the Oriente region produces the low quality tobacco for the local consumption and to supply the cigarettes industry. It extends to the area of Bayamo, Mayarí, Alto Songo, Jiguaní and Sagua de Tánamo

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