In February of 2010 I and two colleagues were fortunate to be invited by Tabacalera Perdomo to visit their factory in Esteli Nicaragua. The trip was a an eye opening journey into the cigar manufacturing process from seed to finished Cigar. My travel companions were Kevin (That Turkey Attacked Me) McKenna and Micah Dennison. We were representing The Party Source in Bellevue, KY along with two other vendors. Our plane ride from Miami was pretty cool for me as I sat across the isle from Jonathan Drew of Drew Estate Cigars who was hosting a client trip of his own. We arrived in Managua to 98 degree tropical heat. Nick Perdomo and Arthur Kemper were on the same flight. There were SUVs waiting for us and Nick invited us to ride with him, Nick was filming a documentary of Perdomo Cigars on our trip. Juan Liranzo was taking care of all the production and photography. The trip from Managua to Esteli was about 2 hours steadily gaining in altitude; the higher we got, the cooler it got. It was 80 degrees by the time we got to Esteli. Some of us immediately went to see the fields and some went to the hotel. We stayed at a perfect little hotel on the Pan American Highway. The owner a citizen of Great Britain and his wife ( a local) took great care of us and fed us very well.
On the first full day of our trip we went to the fields were Nick Perdomo explained all the facets of caring for the plants and the painstaking measures taken to keep the plants healthy and free from insects and disease. We were right next to the Don Pepin’s newly constructed My Father Cigar factory. Arthur Kemper walked walked us over to the “Alpha Plants” that had hoods over the top of them; these are the plants used for seeds. Very Interesting! We then proceeded to the factory that had more bicycles out front that I have ever seen. Nick was eager to show us some new technology that he was pioneering in the cigar industry.
Perdomo Cigars had an agricultural machine that selected single seeds and placed them into trays. Perdomo also has a transplanting machine that carefully places the tobacco plants in the ground with water without shocking them. At the time , Perdomo was the only company using this technology. Nick said this technology drastically reduced his labor cost enabling Perdomo Cigars to absorb most of the SCHIP tax that hit the industry hard. Perdomo Cigars went as far as reducing the price on several lines while their competitors were passing on price increases. After our agricultural lesson we made it the curing barns where the Tobacco leaves are strung onto poles and hung up to cure. The leaves are harvested as a group from the same height of the plant because they produce the same flavor and burning properties. The tobacco goes from the curing barns to the fermentation buildings where the leaves are carefully layered into large stacks to begin the fermentation. The tobacco heats up to over 90 degrees then the stacks are taken apart and rotated. The temperature rises and the process is repeated until the temperature stabilizes indicating the fermentation process is completed. The fermentation rooms were hot and very hard to breath in. The amount of nitrates and ammonia in the air made us choke and our eyes water. Aristides Garcia is in charge of the curing and fermentation process. Aristides is a Cuban citizen once in charge of Cuban cigar manufacturing zones, Aristides showed us how he checked to see if tobacco was ready to be rolled into cigars in these two videos. I like the way Aristides used newspaper as the mold for the cigars.
We finished off our day with dinner and some cocktails back at the hotel. The food was good and fresh. We had fresh eggs and freshly killed poultry from the hotel’s supply of chicken, guinea hen and vicious turkeys. One day while filming, a turkey viciously attacked Kevin. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to piss myself. I was very fortunate to travel with Kevin and Micah, we had many laughs, shared great experiences and learned a lot.
On the second day we toured the factory and watched as the cigar rollers took great pride in their craft. The rolling tables were set up with three people per table. The Middle spot was the where the bunch was constructed with wrappers being on both sides. The Cigar Rolling process is quite efficient. The “Buncher” constructs the the binder and filler with the help of a machine widely used in the cigar industry. The bunch goes into a press and then rotated before being given to the people putting on the wrapper.
After lunch on the second day we toured the Perdomo box factory. Perdomo has their own state of the art mill and box factory where all their boxes are produced. I never knew how much time, effort and money went into the boxes. You should have seen Nick’s face when I told him I used empty cigar boxes as fire starters. That concluded the tour but the fun was not over.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and found that the young lady that was working at the hotel had gone into town and got us some local Nicaraguan coffee. The coffee factory was located very close and we could smell it all day if the wind was right. After dinner Nick Invited us back to his house for Rum, Cigars and Dominoes. We had a great time and even got to play dominoes. Cuban’s take dominoes very seriously. Nick’s Uncle Tony and Aristides were talking all kinds of shit to each other in Spanish and made everybody laugh.
The following day we returned home via Miami where I was detained as a suspected terrorist. We had a three hour layover so I made it to the next flight. All I could think about was getting some Cuban food from La Carreta with multiple locations inside the airport. I barely made it to La Carreta with Kevin and Micah just grinning from ear to ear. We made it back to Cincinnati without any more problems and tons of great experiences. I am very grateful to Nick Perdomo and Arthur Kemper for the opportunity to visit Nicaragua. Nick’s hospitality is unparalleled.