Hoyo de Mena Farm in Vuelta Abajo, Cuba.
FAMILY. TRADITION. CUBAN CIGARS.
Every aficionado would agree that there’s no better feeling than opening up a fresh new box of Cuban cigars. But, have you ever taken a moment to think about the hard work and the dedication required to create that box of premium cigars? Cuba, a charming island, teeming with palm trees, plantations and lively locals. Here, the finest tobacco leaves are cultivated and grown to make the most impeccable rolls of cigars. Beautiful, with its cylindrical shape and tan outer-appearance, a Cuban cigar wouldn't be perfect without all the skilled labourers and workers that helped make it. Without these workers, you wouldn't have that fine box of Cohiba Lanceros or Montecristo No. 2 Cigar lying around your desk or shelf. So, to pay homage to all these workers, we are writing about the stories of Cuban cigar workers. In this article, we will be focusing on the family and tradition aspect of working in the cigar industry, as many of these farmers and cigar rollers actually work alongside their relatives!
"A CRAFT PASSED DOWN THROUGH GENERATIONS"
Many of today's cigar workers can trace their heritage all the way back to their ancestors who first joined in the whole cigar trade. In a report by CGTN, they interviewed a master roller working in the 'La Corona' factory, where all sorts of popular cigars like the Romeo y Julieta Cigars and Hoyo de Monterrey Cigars are made. The master roller works alongside his family, including his granddaughter and his wife. For Cuban cigar workers, it is totally normal for family members to be rolling cigars under the same company. Whether you're siblings, spouses or cousins, it is often encouraged by the cigar company. Just like the master roller said in the interview, "Just like an artist, you have to have it in your blood". It is the same for tobacco growers, their ancestors have also been cultivating tobacco for generations. Many of the recipes for fermentation, were actually passed down from their predecessors who were also farmers themselves. For instance, one family may use pineapple skin, guava leaves, honey, sugar cane and rum - alternatively - another family may use water, vanilla and rum. The recipe for fermentation is different in every family. This demonstrates how the recurring theme of ‘family’ and 'tradition' is extremely significant for Cuban cigar workers.
THE ROBAINA LEGACY - For nearly 200 years, the Robaina family have been growing tobacco continuously on their nutrient-rich fields in the San Luis district of the Vuelta Abajo region of Cuba. Alejandro Robaina, also known as the 'Godfather' of cigars, was a key figure in the Cuban cigar industry and was even seen rubbing shoulders with Fidel Castro. At one point, Fidel Castro wanted to create state-owned farms, but Alejandro refused. He argued that family-owned farms yielded much higher quality produce than tobacco produced in state-owned farms. Today, Alejandro's grandson, Hiroshi Robaina, has since taken over the operations of the farm, ever since his grandfather died. Hiroshi continues his late grandfather's footsteps as he sits on the front porch in September - waiting for the north wind to blow, signalling the end of hurricane season (just like Don Alejandro did!). In 1997, Habanos created a brand to honour Don Alejandro named ‘Vegas Robaina’ - just one of the dozens of Cuban Cigar Brands we sell on our site.
PRIETO AND TRADITION - The farm of Hector Luis Prieto is also considered to be one of the most famous cigar growers in Cuba, just like Alejandro Robaina's. For around 100 years, his family have been cultivating and planting tobacco leaves under the same traditions. According to Cigar Aficionado's interview with Prieto, despite using new strains of tobacco, they've maintained and kept the traditional methods of planting and harvesting tobacco. Today, many tourists visit his farm to learna all about tobacco cultivation.
MAXIMO PEREZ - Ivan Maximo Perez is a third-generation tobacco grower. Just like many other cigar farmers, his grandfather passed his knowledge about growing tobacco and left him with the legacy of their tobacco farm. Perez is an active learner, he spends a lot of his time at the Research Institute of the Experimental Station of Tobacco in his municipality, learning more than just what his grandfather had taught him. For instance, instead of using regular fertilisers, he has since changed to 'organic' alternatives, in which he believes, leaves a better carbon footprint on the climate.
With all these farmers and cigar rollers continuing the legacy of their predecessors, it makes us wonder, how long will it last? The reality is, in the words of Hiroshi Robaina, "Family traditions have been lost throughout the years" and that "There are still a few families that are keeping the traditions alive. But only a few are left." This not only applies to tobacco growers but also rollers. Many young people, all across the globe, are leaving the provinces to move to cities to get corporate jobs. The main reason? The wages are minimal, and on top of that, farmers are mandated to sell 90 per cent of their tobacco crop to the government for a set price, with only 10 per cent at their own price. To tackle this issue, there needs to a bit more encouragement and incentive for younger people to continue the craft.
Why not check our online store? We have many premium cigars for sale, including some of the best Cuban cigars in the market. And if you're interested in reading more articles about the world of Cuban cigars, do check out our blog:
- A BRIEF OVERVIEW ON WHAT'S HAPPENING BETWEEN THE FDA AND THE CIGAR INDUSTRY
- CIGARS IN MOVIES: A POWERFUL PROP
- EXPERIMENTING WITH CIGARS: 4 UNIQUE CIGARS TO TRY THIS 2020