Chronologically, this was our second day in Esteli, Nicaragua and probably the most mind blowing. The pictures probably won’t do AJ Fernandez’s operation justice, so I’ll just summarize it right here: his shot group is tight!
After the tobacco is air cured in the drying barn, it’s then moved to the warehouse to ferment. The tobacco is neatly stacked into pilons (pronounced pee-lons) and the pressure of the leaves create the heat necessary for fermentation. Temperatures of 100-120 degrees are common during this process, and it’s monitored very closely. You can see the picture of the chart where a temperature gauge is used every day and recorded.
The leaves closest to the center of the pilons are affected the most during this process, and therefore workers carefully rotate the tobacco bunches to attempt an even fermentation process. Even so, some leaves will become darker than others naturally. @governorscigars explained that if you examine the tip of the leaves, the color will tell you the potential of the rest of the leaf during the fermentation process. Kind of like the paw of a puppy foretelling the size of the dog.
Once the pilons are stacked, they’re covered in a burlap sack and plastic to keep humidity in. Humidity is also closely monitored, and we saw a few that had the plastic removed to reduce the humidity percentage.
The ammonia in these warehouses is a beast unto itself. Imagine retrohaling 8-10 cigars back to back and you have the feeling of walking through these rooms. All the impurities being released in the fermentation process aren’t friendly to the nostrils.
Once the leaves are ready to be rolled into cigars, they’re sorted visually and by hand feel to determine which are wrapper grade leaves and which aren’t. Many seeds may start out determined to be wrappers, but not all will pass the mustard. Women are purposely used over men because they can see more colors and have greater attention to detail.
It’s still amazing to me just how much of this process is done by feel and looks. From the untrained eye just about all of these leaves look very similar, yet these ladies were quickly removing leaves from the pile that would eventually become binders instead of wrappers.
Also noteworthy, AJ had a badass room where he reconstituted tobacco that was shipped in. It was hard getting a good picture inside a dark room, but leaves are hung and a fogging machine is used to evenly rehydrate the leaves as opposed to a person wiping it down and transferring oils to the tobacco.
Next, we moved on to probably the coolest part of the whole trip: watching the cigar come together.
Again, everything is by hand feel at this point. The only measurement that I saw being used was the mold for length. A Bunchero creates the ‘bunch’ of specified leaves and uses a Lieberman machine to place the binder around the leaves and create an even roll. @governorscigars also explained that too often a hand roll creates plugged draws because one side was rolled faster than the other.
Traditionally, cigars are rolled by two person teams: a Bunchero and a Rolero or Torcedor. A Torcedor is a highly skilled Rolero. Most of the Buncheros that we saw were male, and most Rolero’s or Torcedores that we saw were female. At AJ’s factory, Buncheros used the Entubado method of rolling the cigar: creating tiny tubes for proper air flow as opposed to the Accordion method more commonly used in Cuba. Entubado seems to be common to Nicaragua.
Another thing that was really impressive was the cleanliness of this factory. It was well air conditioned, music played in the background, and the floors were immaculate. AJ runs a tight shop.
Here you can see the Torcedor apply the wrapper to a cigar. The whole process takes less than a minute, and this team produces approximately 500 cigars per day! Incredible.
If there aren’t enough cigars to complete the mold, thin wooden slats are placed inside the mold to restrict freedom of movement. These molds are then moved to the contraption you see in the background where pressure is applied.
The Quality Control
I never knew there was such a thing as a Draw Master before – until this trip! AJ has so many failsafe’s in his operation, from mechanical to personnel. The gentleman pictured here tests the draw using a machine that I failed to get a video of. Super cool though.
This Senora here has worked for AJ for over twenty years, and is a One-Woman-Army when it comes to determining which cigars should be placed into the seconds pile or not. She’s giving everything the look and feel test.
Lastly, everything that comes out of this factory is frozen to kill off any possible tobacco beetle larva so that we don’t have to worry about it later in our humidors. Excellent practice!
In case you missed it:
Latest posts by Dave West (see all)
- Providencia Cigars Announces La Mision Lancero - October 12, 2018
- Black Works Studio Ships Boondock Saint! - September 24, 2018
- Sombrero de Copa Releases in Collaboration with R/Cigars - September 23, 2018