Procigar, the association of cigar manufacturers in the Dominican Republic, hosted its 11th Procigar Festival from Feb. 18-23. More than 800 people from around the world—consumers, retailers, suppliers and manufacturers—flocked to the island paradise to learn how some of the world’s most loved cigars are made and to tour cigar factories and lush tobacco fields. They discovered new blends expected to be released in the coming year. They met the men and women behind their favorite brands and, of course, they celebrated the Dominican Republic and its fabled cigars. Throughout the festival, guests enjoyed world-class hospitality, lavish entertainment, samplings of some of the Dominican Republic’s favorite national foods and drinks, and excursions to some of the country’s most beautiful natural resources.
Procigar began 26 years ago when Carlos Fuente Sr. from Arturo Fuente, Hendrik Kelner Sr. from Tabadom, Daniel Nunez from General Cigar Company and Manolo Quesada from Quesada Cigars agreed to work together to share their love for the Dominican Republic, its culture, and its tobacco and cigars. Procigar would establish a set of high quality standards for its member companies and would promote the Dominican Republic and its cigars internationally. Since then, Procigar has grown to 14 member companies with this year’s announcement that Royal Agio Cigars, American Packaging and the tobacco processing company Manojos Tobacco Process have joined the association. The other companies in Procigar are Arturo Fuente, Davidoff, De Los Reyes Cigars, Quesada Cigars, La Flor Dominicana, Tabacalera de Garcia (Imperial Tobacco), Tabacalera La Allianza (EPC Cigars), General Cigar Company, PDR Cigars, La Aurora and Tabacalera Palma.
According to figures released by Procigar, Dominican cigar manufacturers, tobacco processors and associated suppliers employed 120,000 people in 2017. The industry exported approximately 220 million premium cigars last year. The cigar industry is the Dominican Republic’s most important agricultural product, with cigar sales accounting for more than $600 million to the Dominican economy. Even as governments worldwide make it more difficult and expensive for people to enjoy premium cigars, the Dominican cigar industry is proving to be quite resilient.
“It’s amazing how well the industry is doing right now,” says Francisco Batista, general manager of Royal Agio Cigars.
Tabacalera La Allianza’s Ernesto Perez-Carrillo agrees. “This has been a very good year for us and a very good year for Dominican cigars as a whole,” he says. “We continue to get new customers in new markets all the time, and I’m sure the same is true for everybody else in the Dominican cigar industry.”
Water, Water, Everywhere
While the Dominican cigar industry has experienced growth since last year’s festival, its members expressed some concern about the frequent rainfall affecting much of the country. Festival goers experienced periods of sunshine interrupted by rainfalls—some of which were significant—on every festival day. Water stood in the tobacco fields, and one grower admitted to losing about 15 percent of this year’s crop during the early stages after the seedlings were transplanted into the fields. However, he was confident that the rest of the crop would be fine as long as he and the rest of the Dominican growers watched out for blue mold and black shank—potentially devastating diseases thatcan affect tobacco when there is too much rain.
Despite the rain and its potential harm to this year’s crop, there was still much to celebrate. This year’s Procigar Festival began at the prestigious Casa de Campo Resort & Villas in La Romana with a nighttime golf event, which was held at the resort’s famous Teeth of the Dog golf course’s driving range and hosted by Tabacalera de Garcia, one of the world’s largest premium cigar factories. Guests vied for a host of prizes of Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and H. Upmann cigars by competing in longest ball, closest to the pin and putting contests. Tabacalera de Garcia also hosted a cigar smoking cruise along the nearby Alton River and a beachside dinner before granting guests exclusive access to the factory on Feb. 20.
The festival started in earnest on Feb. 21 in the heart of the Dominican cigar industry, Santiago de los Caballeros. Over the next three days, guests toured the factories and fields of La Flor Dominicana, De Los Reyes Cigars, Davidoff, General Cigar Company, Tabacalera Palma, PDR Cigars, La Aurora, Tabacalera La Allianza, Tabacalera de Garcia, and the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation and the House of Dreams at Chateau de la Fuente. Attendees could also spend a day at the beach in Sosua or tour the Monte Alegre coffee plantation in Juncalito, attend a wine and cigar pairing seminar, participate in the Dominican qualifying round of the World Cigar Smoking Championships or compete in the Procigar charitable poker tournament.
The festival ended each night with celebratory dinners. The traditional Dominican welcome dinner was held at the Gran Teatro del Cibao. The Monumento a los Heroes de la Restauracion in central Santiago hosted the white attire dinner party. The closing dinner was held at Centro Espanol. At each of these dinners, guests received a box of cigars containing a cigar from each of the Procigar members. Some of the cigars that guests received included Arturo Fuente’s Don Carlos Eye of the Shark, Saga Short Tales III by De Los Reyes Cigars, PDR Cigars’ El Trovador Diadema, Davidoff’s Master Blender Selection No. 1 and Year of the Snake, Quesada Cigars’ Quesada Limited Edition 2018, Tabacalera de Garcia’s Montecristo Artisan Series Batch 1, General Cigar Company’s Macanudo Gold Label and La Aurora’s Preferido Double Barrel Aged. Not including the cigars freely given out during the tours, participants received more than 40 premium cigars during the week.
Good Times While Doing Good
The closing dinner held on Feb. 23 included an auction to benefit charities helping sick children and providing housing for low-income senior citizens. Hosted by Nat Sherman’s Michael Herklots and Quesada Cigars’ Manolo Quesada, the auction included 12 lots of items, such as rare cigars and special humidors. A humidor made from exotic African woods and Central American cedar filled with 150 special De Los Reyes cigars fetched the highest auction price, at $35,000. In all, the auction raised $135,000—the second-highest figure in Procigar Festival history.
Charity, celebration and cigars have been elements of the Procigar Festival since its inception in 2008. The festival has something for everyone—from the serious cigar connoisseur intent on learning more about his or her hobby, to the person merely seeking an escape from winter—and anyone connected with the premium cigar industry should consider attending the festival at least once. The 12th annual Procigar Festival is scheduled for Feb. 17-22, 2019.
This story first appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– Story by Stephen A. Ross, senior editor of Tobacco Business Magazine