From Farm to Humidor: A Cigar’s Journey and the Smoking Experience
Smoking a cigar is about time. Cultivating the tobacco. Aging the leaves. Rolling the cigar. All these take a painstaking amount of patience. So, as I ignited my Grand Cru No. 4, seated comfortably in Davidoff of Geneva’s brand new Brookfield Place smoking lounge in Manhattan, I realized that what I was perceiving as the beginning, is really the end. From farm to the humidor, this cigar had reached its final act and I lit the fuse, only this fuse had no urgency.
For the seasoned cigar smoker, this is no great revelation. The cigar is a very deliberate object with each blend, length, gauge and style determining the duration and flavor of the smoke. Therefore, the act of smoking a cigar is also very deliberate because you are surrendering yourself to that time. But considering the era in which we live, where time is placed at such a premium; sitting back, indefinitely puffing on my cigar and engaging in casual conversation felt significant.
“Over the years, smoking has become less of something one would just do during the day, to become more of an occasion,” Jeffrey Stone, U.S. Brand Ambassador for Davidoff, told me over the phone. “I think people have learned that the occasional moderate enjoyment of cigars is something that’s very pleasurable to do. They tend to have less time in which to do it, so this has brought the aspect of quality and complexity to the table more.
Davidoff of Geneva is perhaps the largest luxury cigar brand in the world and according to Stone, while the cigar industry as a whole has been more or less stagnant, Davidoff has experienced 20 percent annual growth and doubled its business in the last four years. Smoking a Davidoff cigar, you can tell why. That quality and complexity Stone talks about is analogous to the way we appreciate a fine wine, spirit or creative microbrew. It can even be compared to a well-constructed meal.
Seated across from me in the lounge was Luis Torres, U.S. Director of Retail for Davidoff. When I got there, he was already smoking a Davidoff Chefs Edition, one of the brand’s limited edition lines. This cigar is the outcome of a collaboration between Davidoff and five Michelin Star chefs in Europe to create layers of flavor that develop as you smoke.
“The cigar is supposed to be a journey,” said Torres. “In order for it to captivate you and keep your attention, the flavors have to change, they have to get a little more robust, and the expectation is that if it’s a good cigar you’re going to taste different things as you go along.” Where does this complexity come from? These particular cigars started their lives in the Dominican Republic, where a majority of Davidoff’s tobacco is grown and manufactured, though the company also grows tobacco in Nicaragua and Honduras. In the Dominican Republic, Davidoff uses three seed varieties: Dominican Olor, a tobacco native to that country, and the one given to Columbus by the Natives when he landed, a transplant called San Vicente, and Piloto. Of these three seed varieties, there are 28 hybrids, each of which can produce a slightly different flavor outcome.
While seed types certainly offer their qualities, the tobacco’s real flavor comes from the soil composition and microclimate. This is called terroir, the environmental factors that influence the traits of a crop. “The main factor that we’re concerned with in cigar production is in the soil,” said Stone. “The mineral content will give the outcome of the flavor in tobacco. From that we will determine what seed variety we’re going to plant.”
Different minerals influence the tobacco’s flavor in a variety of ways. Nitrogen, for example, determines the strength of the cigar because a higher nitrogen content means a higher nicotine content. The ratio of calcium to magnesium in the soil determines the tobacco’s sweetness. The higher the ratio, the sweeter the tobacco. Low pH content in the soil causes the tobacco to have a longer aftertaste when smoked, something that heavily influences the flavor of Cuban cigars.
Microclimates affect this mineral content. “In the Dominican Republic, our master cigar maker Hendrik “Henke” Kelner, has identified 14 different microclimates in the central Cibao Valley, which is the main growing valley for tobacco in the Dominican Republic. In the last 12 years, he discovered an area outside of Cibao Valley in a non-traditional area for growing tobacco to create a 15th,” explained Stone. Each microclimate is so influential on mineral content and growing condition that the same seed grown in different microclimates can produce significantly different flavors.
Once the tobacco grows to maturity, the leaves are harvested from top to bottom. This process is exceptionally important for creating different flavor profiles across cigars and layered flavors within one. Top leaves receive the most sunlight and wilt first, giving them the fullest body. Flavors become milder going down the tobacco plant. “We have four major strength positions on each plant, producing as many as 12-14 leaves so we can have as many as 10-14 flavor outcomes out of each plant,” explained Stone.
After this the tobacco is cured in ranchos, where they dry age. Once they’ve cured for the desired number of years (a minimum of ten years), they are fermented. All the while, these processes are controlled by shifting the tobacco around so that each batch is uniform. Once fermentation is complete, the cigar makers blend the leaves to create a specific product. Reflecting on this entire process, the number of possible combinations is overwhelming. What is most impressive is how Davidoff is able to control these factors and create consistent products.
“Your key goal is to maintain the quality and consistency of your product over time, so you maintain the integrity of your brand,” said Stone. “That’s job number one through 100.”
Knowing this, I could not help but be amazed at the artfully-crafted cigars lining the walls of Davidoff’s walk-in humidor, each one requiring years of labor, each one made with purpose. Above us—a reminder of where they came from—tobacco leaves hang from the ceiling. “There’s no greatness without passion,” said Stone. “I mean, people just gravitate towards that.”
By Sebastian Krawiec