Welcome to Part 4 of our 6-week journey of the tobacco growing regions of the world. The first leg of our travels (Part 1) took us to the African nations of the Republic of Cameroon and Central African Republic. In Part 2, we then moved on to the Asian countries of Indonesia and The Philippines. In Part 3 last week, we visited the Caribbean, which included Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. This week we will cover continental North America, which really only includes two regions of interest: the Connecticut River Valley of the United States and the country of Mexico.
Disclaimer to the geography geeks:
It is understood that North America encompasses Canada, the United States, and Mexico; however, it also includes the nations that comprise what we now refer to as Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama), as well as the islands of the Caribbean (the Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico) and the Arctic nation of Greenland. We were deliberate in how we separated the coverage of the tobacco growing regions, and included Puerto Rico in our discussion of the Caribbean, and will discuss Central America as a distinct growing region. OK...so just work with me here!
Connecticut River Valley
Well, we know that the United States does not have the consistent and predictable climate or rich, fertile volcanic soil that can rival the legendary Vuelta Abajo region in Cuba, or the Cibao River Valley of the Dominican Republic, or the Jamastran Valley of Honduras. However, there is one area of land in an unlikely geographic location that is a major source of some of the world's most highly regarded and finest cigar wrapper leaves - the Connecticut River Valley.
Located just north of the city of Hartford, Connecticut lies a fantastic tobacco growing region within a river valley that runs through the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Unlike the rich, volcanic soil of the Caribbean, the Connecticut River Valley soil is of glacial origin, which was deposited after the last ice age. Tobacco grown in this region only occurs earlier in the year, between May and September, due to its northern geographic location. There are two tobacco varietals grown here - Connecticut Shade and Connecticut Broadleaf.
Well over a century ago, Sumatra seed wrapper tobacco was being imported into the United States; however, attempts to grow this wrapper tobacco in the Connecticut Valley failed. Around 1900, the Hazelwood varietal of Cuban seed was brought to the valley in attempts to emulate the Sumatra wrapper tobacco. It was found that this seed grown under muslin or cheese cloth shade produced excellent wrapper tobacco - hence, the birth of the Connecticut Shade wrapper. These plants grow quite tall, measuring over 10 feet and create brownish-yellow leaves with small veins, a high degree of elasticity, and mild- to medium-bodied flavor.
In contrast, Connecticut Broadleaf tobacco is sun-grown, and is small with enormous, heavy leaves with thick veins. These leaves are coarser and darker, and contain more oil, which is why they are commonly used for maduro wrappers. They typically require more fermentation than their shade-grown counterparts.
Notable premium cigar brands currently on the market with Connecticut wrappers include:
Alec Bradley Occidental Reserve
Ashton Classic Series
Ashton Cabinet Series
Carlos Torano Reserva Selecta
Cusano 18 Double Connecticut
Don Tomas Special Edition
Gurkha Grand Reserve
Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur
La Flor Dominicana Suave
La Vieja Habana Connecticut Shade
La Zona Connecticut
Macanudo Cafe/Vintage/Gold Label/Robust Series
Montecristo Yellow/Classic Series (Dominican)
Perdomo Reserve 10th Anniversary
Rocky Patel Vintage 1999
Sancho Panza (Honduras)
Ashton Aged Maduro Series
Gurkha Black Dragon
Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur Maduro
Macanudo Maduro/Vintage Maduro 1997
Romeo y Julieta Aniversario (Dominican)
Sancho Panza Double Maduro (Honduras)
Mexico's primary tobacco growing region lies within the San Andres Valley in the state of Veracruz, which borders the Gulf of Mexico in the southeast. The valley is rich with fertile volcanic soil (the valley is flanked by two dormant volcanoes) that is said to resemble the Vuelta Abajo region of Cuba - and the region's mild and humid climate allow for tobacco to reach its ultimate quality. Cigars have been rolled here since the middle of the 19th century - decades longer than in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua, whose industries were pretty much jump-started as a result of the historic Cuban embargo.
Many Mexican cigars are puros, produced from 100% Mexican grown tobacco. This was a country tradition, as the Mexican government enforced law that all Mexican cigars produced must be puros. As a result of this law, experimentation with blending by cigar producers was significantly limited, thus limiting output of few successful brands. However, in 1996, the law was lifted and manufacturers began to create unique blends from tobaccos of other countries, peaking the interest of cigar buyers abroad. San Andres Negro is one of the most notable types of Mexican tobacco grown. It is a relatively small plant with dark silky leaves, and is harvested mostly for use for binders and fillers; however, also produces maduro wrappers. It is the sun-grown variety of Sumatra tobacco, called Mexican Sumatra, that may be Mexico's greatest contribution to the cigar industry and used widely as binder and filler, but mostly as a maduro wrapper. This varietal provides a mild, but distinctive sweet, peppery, light texture. Connecticut Broadleaf is also successfully grown within the San Andres Valley. Interestingly, the San Andres Valley is comprised of three different types of soil: a sticky, heavy clay-type (most similar to that found in Cuba); a very sandy and light soil (within which the Sumatra grows best); and a combination of the two types (within which the Negro grows best).
Historically, Mexican cigars were very inexpensive in the United States market. Although they were handmade, they were less than desirable as they were perceived to be too harsh and too dry. In addition, over the years, there had been some criticisms of the quality of Mexican cigar construction. This perception changed when the Te-Amo brand was introduced in 1968.
Notable premium cigar brands currently on the market with San Andres wrappers include:
Alec Bradley Tempus Maduro
Illusione Maduro Series
La Aroma De Cuba Mi Amor
Liga Privada Undercrown
Montecristo Platinum (Dominican)
Montecristo Reserva Negra (Dominican)
My Uzi Weighs a Ton
Padilla Miami Maduro
Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Maduro (Dominican)
Room 101 San Andres
Te-Amo World Selection Series (Mexican-Connecticut Shade)
Next week, in Part 5, we will cover Central America which will include Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica. Stay smokey my friends!