ProCigar 2019: De Los Reyes Factory and Farm Tour
Wednesday, February 20th, 2019
On this day we participated in the tour of the De Los Reyes Cigar Factory and Farm in Bisono. Upon arriving at the farm we were greeted with a Patoro Serie P cigar and had the option of going into a tented area where coffee and some cookies were available. The coffee was being served in the traditional method where beans are ground in a large mortar and pestle. The ground beans and then inserted into a sock shaped filter and submerged in hot water to brew the coffee. This results in a very strong and thick brewed coffee. Did I mention the cookies! They were very tasty and I enjoyed quite a few. Also available was the Debonaire hangover bar equipped with all the necessities to help participants recover the prior evening.
This was my first time seeing a tobacco farm and while I have seen pictures, the in person experience is something that can’t be replicated. We toured the shade grown fields where they were growing wrapper leaves. They had tobacco that was at different stages in the growth process and did a great job of detailing the work that goes into growing and harvesting tobacco plants. There are many small details from how often it’s watered to when the plant is deflowered and finally harvested, and the curing. If anything goes wrong at one of these steps the crop can be lost. During the tour a story was recounted that one year it rained too much after new tobacco was planted and all of the younger plants were a complete loss. One thing that particularly impressed me was how this tour was presented in English, Spanish and French. Nirka Reyes presented in English, Leo Reyes (AKA Uncle Leo) presented in Spanish, and Jean-Michel Louis presented in French. We had a mixed group of language speakers on the tour and there was strong interaction/questions in all languages. Augusto Reyes was also there and added some great insights at various points throughout the tour. He also demonstrated how the flower is cut off the plant to encourage more nutrients go into the leaves.
After seeing the fields we toured a curing barn and looked at the tobacco as it was being cured. An interesting point that I learned in the curing process is that Reyes performs this without the use of artificial heat or humidity. They manage the heat and humidity in the curing barns by timing when fresh tobacco is added and being careful about when the barns are opened. Adding fresh tobacco to the barns increased the humidity and heat naturally. This means that each barn is typically filled with tobacco that is at different stages of the curing process.
After completing the tour of the farm we headed to SAGA for lunch. SAGA is owned by the Reyes family. After arriving at the restaurant we received a Saga Blend No 7 perfecto to have with lunch. It was nice to sit and enjoy a lunch and cigar after spending the morning walking around on the farm in the warm weather.
After lunch we headed over to the Reyes Factory for the factory tour. Upon arrival we took a large group photo out front and divided up into groups. Each group went to different stages of the factory and listened to presentations at each stage. I thought this was a great way to do the factory tour because there was too many people to be able to walk through as a single group. At the start of our tour we received a Debonaire Daybreak Corona Gorda to smoke at the Factory.
Pedro Almonte (Operations Managers for Reyes) presented the tobacco preparation process including removing the stem and the sorting process. We had the opportunity to touch and smell different types of tobaccos and compare young tobacco to aged tobacco. Reyes using machines to remove the stems from wrapper leaves and they remove the stems from filler leaves by hand. It was explained that this yields them the best results in efficiency and quality for production.
Patrik Martin (owner of Patoro Cigars) presented the bunching and rolling processes. A surprising fact that Patrick gave us was that the LEAST experienced employee working in rolling/bunching had been performing that work for 17 years. That’s an incredible statistic and shows that this is a great place to work, and also indicates the quality of constructions that comes along with that kind of experience. Tour members were able to try their hand at rolling cigars. I tried applying the wrapper to one of the Patoro cigars being made and quickly understood how difficult this is to perform. With a great deal of guidance and assistance I was able to successfully wrap a cigar that smoked later that day. Bunching proved to be even more difficult, despite the assistance of a lieberman machine. After spending some time wrapping and bunching I now have a profound appreciation for the skill required to perform this work.
Phil Zanghi (owner of Debonaire and Indian Motorcycle Cigars) presented the sorting and quality control work that occurs after cigars are completed and prior to aging. Every cigar is draw tested prior to having the wrapper applied in a drawmaster machine. After the wrapper is applied the cigars are sorted by color prior to aging. Phil noted that the color sorting is always performed by a woman because women can see many more colors than men. I could not tell the difference between some of the groups of cigars she was sorting on the table.
Nirka Reyes presented the the aging room at the factory where cigars sit until they are ready to be packed. I liked the way she explained that to her the aging room is not where cigars go to rest, but where they go to work. One of the tour members asked how long cigars typically age for, and Nirka noted that the cigars age until they are ready. The minimum time is 90 days but it normally takes between 6 months to a year. They test the cigars regularly to check on their progress and determine when they are ready for packaging.
Jean-Michel Louis (brand manager of Saga Cigars) presented the final packaging process where the cigars go through a final color sort after coming out of the aging room before being banded, placed in cellophane, and put into boxes. The precision required to consistently band every cigar is amazing to witness first hand. Once the cigars are banded the finesse it takes to put them in cellophane without changing the band location/facing is even more impressive. After being banded and put into cellophane the cigars go into boxes and then all the necessary labels are applied. Seeing all this packaging work being performed so quickly and accurately by hand was really incredible. Jean-Michael stressed the importance of this final step because the end consumer will judge the cigar based on how it is presented in final packaging.
At the conclusion of the tour we exited the factory and received two parting gifts. A very nice white guayabera shirt with the Saga logo on the collar and a sampler box featuring Saga, Patoro and Debonaire cigars made at the Reyes factory.