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From Seedling to Packaging - The Cigar Odyssey with Rocky Patel

There is no question that the Rocky Patel Premium Cigar Company has distinguished itself as one of the most prestigious premium cigar brands in the world. With 19 lines in their portfolio, the majority of which have been consistently rated 90 and above by Cigar Aficionado and Smoke magazines, as well as various other reviews, Rocky Patel has become a dominant brand in the industry since the mid-1990s.

There are a plethora of cigar-related videos on the Internet that cover anything from "Cigar 101"-type instructions to the various aspects of cigar manufacturing. However, I've found the "Rocky TV" videos from the company website to be the most enjoyable. These videos demonstrate the dedication, persistence, and attention to detail that is instilled into each and every step of the manufacturing process. This labor of love made me truly appreciate the craftsmanship of fine premium cigars, particularly the Rocky Patel lines which I enjoy so much. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did - and check the glossary below to help understand some of the terminology that Rocky uses throughout the series!

Video 1 - Introduction

Rocky introduces the video series by briefly describing the basic differences of how tobacco is grown and the importance of the soil mineral content.

Video 2 - The Nursery

Rocky describes the meticulous work of the nursery where the tobacco seedlings are planted.

Video 3 - The Curing Barn

Rocky shows the work that occurs in the curing barns, where the tobacco leaves harvested from the farms will be hung for curing prior to fermentation. He also describes the quality control standard employed for curing.

Video 4 - Fermentation

Rocky details the time-staking process that occurs once the tobacco has left the curing barns and prepared for fermentation, the laborious and critical step during the manufacture of premium cigars.

Video 5 - Sorting

Rocky describes the sorting process and the strict standards he implements before the tobacco leaves are brought to the production floor.

Video 6 - Production & Quality Control

Rocky on the production floor describing what occurs after the fermentation process - the construction of a fine cigar. From the bunching of the tobacco, the rolling of the cigars, the multiple inspections, to the aging room...another tedious process to ensure the utmost quality.

Video 7 - Packaging

Rocky in the packaging department. This final stage includes yet another meticulous set of cigar inspections of the cigars prior to the banding and box packaging. Rocky also describes the process of box pressing cigars.

The next time you pick up a cigar, take moment to admire it and think of its journey...from seedling to the marvel that you are about to enjoy!


Glossary of terms used in the videos*

Binder- The tobacco leaf (or leaves) that is wrapped around the filler tobacco, holding the core of the cigar together. The combination of a binder (known as a banda in Spanish) and filler tobacco is known as the the bunch. With the wrapper and filler, the binder is one of three main components in a handmade cigar. Many binders were grown with the intent of being wrappers, but defects in the leaf caused them to be graded as binders. Some cigar factories use more than one binder leaf, to add complexity to a cigar blend.

"Calfrista"- A system to regulate the humidity and temperature of tobacco leaves to a very precise level during the curing process; allowing control of the curing of the leaves to get 30-40% more wrapper out of the crop.

Corojo- The most famous variety of Cuban-seed tobacco. Named for the famous old plantation where it was first developed in the 1930s, El Corojo Vega outside of San Juan y Martinez, Cuba, this shade-grown plant leaf was used to wrap Cuba’s finest cigars. Descendants of the seed are now grown in Central America and the Caribbean, but Cuba no longer grows Corojo.

Draw- The amount of air that gets pulled through a lit cigar. It can be too easy (hot) or too tight (plugged).

Filler- The blend of tobacco leaves used in the body of the cigar, surrounded by the binder and and then the wrapper. A fine cigar usually contains between two and five different types of filler tobacco. Handmade, premium cigars are typically made entirely from long-filler tobacco, which are whole leaves. Machine-made cigars are made from short-filler tobacco, chopped up leaves, which are the leftovers from handmade cigar production.

Ligero- One of the three basic grades of filler tobacco. Ligero is the strongest variety (seco is the mildest, viso is stronger than seco but more mild than ligero). Ligero lends body to a blend. The name means light in Spanish, and these leaves—which come from the top section of a tobacco plant—receive the most sunlight of any tobacco leaf. They are noticeably thicker than other leaves, and are more oily and burn more slowly. Ligero grown in the Estelí region of Nicaragua is known for being one of the strongest varieties used in the cigar industry.

Pilón- The term for a large pile of tobacco, arranged for fermentation. Pilónes can be enormous, weighing 3,500 or even 4,000 pounds or more. After curing in a curing barn, or casa de tabaco, the tobacco is brought into a warehouse and assembled in bunches of leaves called hands, and made into a pilón. The leaves sit flat in a pilón, one on top of the other, with boards, cardboard or old tobacco stems beneath. The weight of the tobacco and the moisture in the leaf (as well as moisture that is added by workers before assembling the pilón) creates heat, which causes fermentation to begin, changing the chemical structure of the tobacco, removing impurities such as ammonia and rendering the tobacco smokeable. When the desired temperature is reached, workers break down the pilón and rebuild it. This process is repeated again and again, and can last for months or longer.

Priming- The rows of leaves on a tobacco plant. The number of primings vary, but six is average. The first priming is closest to the ground, the sixth is near the top. The higher the priming, the stronger the tobacco. Most fine cigar tobacco is harvested by priming. Workers always harvest from the bottom of the plant up, taking two to three leaves at a time. The lowest level of priming, known as sand leaf, or libre de pie, is often discarded. A few days go by between priming harvests, allowing the plant to further mature.

Seco- The mildest grade of filler tobacco and comes from the middle of the plant. It is also the thinnest, but has mild to medium flavor with a steady burn. Viso is stronger and thicker, and ligero is the strongest, thickest grade of tobacco.

Viso- A grade of filler tobacco. Viso leaf is more powerful than seco and less powerful than ligero. It also tends to be thinner than ligero and more thick than seco.

Wrapper- The finest-quality tobacco leaf wrapped around the finished bunch and binder of a handmade, premium cigar. Wrapper leaves need to be coddled and treated with the utmost care to avoid blemishes and tears. Wrappers, when purchased, are the most expensive type of tobacco. Wrapper can be grown in many countries from a wide varieties of seeds.

*References for glossary terms:

  1. Cigar Aficionado's Glossary of Cigar Terms. Cigar Aficionado Online website. Available at: Accessed September 28, 2012.

  2. Lande N, Lande A. The Cigar Connoisseur. New York, NY: Clarkson Potter; 1997:215-217.

  3. Resnick J. International Connoisseur's Guide to Cigars. New York, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.; 1996:181-185.

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