The Dominican Republic produces some of the finest cigars in existence, and the Tabacalera de Garcia factory in La Romana is the largest hand-rolled cigar making enterprise in the world. It is here that, over the course of many months, brands such as Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann, and Montecristo are painstakingly coaxed into being.
Even before you step into the factory, you detect the oily, pungent smell of tobacco leaves in the air. Indoors, it is heavy with the aroma, and the factory floor is a hive of activity. The air hums with the sound of dozens of electronic rollers shunting great stacks of leaves back and forth. Below that you hear the low murmur of voices coming from ladies who sit around long tables chatting, as their deft fingers smooth, bunch, and devein the leaves.
You learn that the factory only opened in 1971, but the manual processes lend it a much older atmosphere. If it were not for the employees’ brightly colored clothing, you might feel you had stepped back in time 100 years.
Your guide leads you through the factory as he explains the process of making top-quality hand-rolled cigars, from the initial cultivation of the leaves through to the finished product. Once picked, you learn, the leaves must be handled with great care. You visit the curing area—where men dip the leaves into liquid-filled bathtubs—and the well-ventilated drying area, where bunches of leaves hang from every inch of the ceiling and sway back and forth in the breeze.
As you watch factory workers spreading out individual leaves, eyeing them minutely under bright spotlights and discarding those that are less than perfect, your guide explains the process of leaf classification. Further along in the process, you come across the blenders at work, selecting leaves from different trays to create just the right mix of flavors.
Perhaps most fascinating is the art of rolling the perfect cigar. The women who do this have been practicing their skill for so long that their fingers are a blur of movement, layering leaves, rolling them to just the right degree—neither too tight nor too loose—and finishing them off by wrapping them with the darkest, glossiest, and most flawless leaves. Their skill becomes even more apparent when you observe the measuring table where each cigar is held up to a giant ruler to ensure it is of a uniform length and girth, down to the millimeter.
Beyond that, you pass huge banks of perfect, finished cigars waiting to be boxed, stored and ultimately shipped around the world. You now have a whole new level of appreciation for the amount of time, level of expertise and number of people in the fine art of cigar making.