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by Giovanni Fernández and Ailyn Martín
Talking to Héctor Luis was not easy. Going back and forth between his horses and the tobacco fields keeps him pretty busy most of the day. But still, talking about cigars, his great passion… there is always time for that.
As he told us, tobacco runs through his veins, a legacy inherited from his Canary Island grandparents. “For as long as I can remember, my family has always planted tobacco and smoked cigars; that’s our life.” The Quemado del Rubí Plantation is in the province of Pinar del Río, the mecca of tobacco. He has devoted most of his life to it and it is the talk of the world of cigars.
Many cigar smokers really don’t know all that much about how the whole process ending up with cigars goes. From your experience, could you explain it to us?
Many people would give their eyeteeth for a good cigar. Tobacco requires a process that takes in 536 activities: from preparing the soil, watering seeds, planting, weeding, pruning, picking, sewing the leaves, deveining, rolling…
How does your plantation select the seeds it uses?
Here in our San Juan y Martínez municipality, we have a laboratory where the best seed is selected. We have made some strategic decisions in this regard because climate problems have affected the crops to a great extent: the seeds we use these days are climate-resistant, but they maintain their aroma and flavor. Everyone, peasants and the Cuban government authorities alike, is very zealous on this subject,
At this time we are in the first picking and sewing stage of what we commonly call the filler of the cigars. Plants grow their leaves in pairs and the ones closer to the ground are the ones we are sewing right now. Also, we are planting sun grown tobacco, which is used for the filler.
What is the principal challenge faced by tobacco growers today?
The climate. This year has been fantastic but we have had other years that were very bad. We have to concentrate our efforts on improving the seeds, making them more resistant.
The tobacco houses or barns seem to be overrun with women: what part do they play in production?
The history of this crop has always been very much connected with women. They work with the seeds, taking tobacco from the fields, sewing the leaves…it is very unusual to see a man sewing leaves; that’s a job almost exclusively for women, because of how delicate it is.
Who smokes more? Men or women?
I don’t think there is that much difference. I have seen many women smoking cigars, not just in the countryside but also in cities and in other countries. They like cigars and, especially, they know how to smoke them. But for sure they have different preferences. For example, it is usual for them to prefer thin cigars because they handle them more easily and are smooth on the palate. We men usually prefer cigars with a higher caliber and, logically, stronger flavor.
What is your preference among cigars?
Caliber 60. I don’t have any specific time of day for smoking, I’ll start early in the day and I’m always holding a cigar.