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Issue 18 - From seed to smoke - the making of hand-rolled Havanas

Whisky Magazine Issue 18
September 2001


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From seed to smoke - the making of hand-rolled Havanas

James Leavey takes us through the production of a cigar – from tobacco seed to cedar wood box

A unique blend of sun, soil, skill and painstaking attention to detail goes into the making of fine Havana cigars.

There are five main tobacco growing areas in Cuba: Vuelta Abajo in Pinar del Rio province, western Cuba, which produces the excellent Rubio variety; Semi Vuelta, also in Pinar del Rio; Partidos, just south of Havana; Remedios, in the centre of the island, mainly in Villa Clara, Sancti Spiritus and Cienfuegos provinces; and Oriente, in Holguin and Granma provinces, in the far east of the island. Just two, Partidos and Vuelta Abajo – Cuba's Burgundy and Bordeaux – grow tobacco fine enough for Havana's world famous Grandes Marques. Cuba's finest tobacco, widely acknowledged as the best in the world, comes from Vuelta Abaj – particularly from the San Juan y Martinez and San Luis areas.

No mechanical process is used in the farming or final production of Cuban hand-rolled cigars. The Vegueros, or tobacco farmers, use only oxen, horse or donkey power to plough the fields with a primitive wooden or metal plough. To ensure the best start for the crop, seeds are provided free by Cuba's Tobacco Research Stations to the Vegueros, many of whom own their land. The seed is then sorted and carefully graded before planting out in specially prepared seedbeds, around mid-September, during which each Veguero might typically plant out around half a million seedlings.

There are two seed varieties, each of which produces different tobacco plants. The Corojo plant, named aft...

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