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"Cuban Soil, Cuban Sun Equal Cuban Cigars?": Myth and Facts


 
 
Some devotees of modern Cuban cigars insist, "Only tobacco grown in Cuban soil and Cuban sun can be called Cuban." They refuse to believe our tobacco, grown in Costa Rica from genetically pure pre-Embargo Cuban seeds could approach, much less surpass the flavor and aroma of $20 Cuban cigars.

Some even say the seeds are unimportant, and our claims are a m"marketing gimmick." They say curing and fermenting are more important than the seeds in producing choice leaf.
cuban soil
 
 
Magnified vew of tobacco seeds
Magnified vew of tobacco seeds, as they
break through to sunlight. Seeds are the
 size of fine grains of sand.
These simplistic opinions are made without rational, supportive facts or documentation. Virtually none of the detractors have read our story, much less actually tried our cigars. Though their criticisms may sway impressionable new smokers, they draw curious readers to our site, who then try our cigars. How do they compare our cigars to Cuban cigars? See Reviews.

We can't open closed minds, only provide information to help you determine the facts for yourself. John Vogel, our director, sums it up: "We're looking for intelligent smokers." Like other tutorial pages in this site, this page discusses the issue of Cuban cigars, Cuban soil, and Cuban sun.

 
     
   

 

 

 

 
  "Cuban" Soil: Myth & Fact  
     
 
Soil consists of a rock, decaying organic matter, air and airborne gases, water, microorganisms, and living roots. Soil varies with the type of vegetation, climate, and parent rock material. Soil fertility is determined in part by texture, chemical composition, water supply, and temperature. It can be maintained or improved by fertilizers or by cultivation practices, such as cover crops and crop rotation. tobacco plant
Tobacco plant at 3-4 days after emergence.
 
     
  The rock matrix supports the plant physically, and allows penetration of roots through spaces between the rock particles, along with the components listed above. Going from the finest to the coarsest particle size, we have clay, sand, loam, or a combination of them, e.g., sandy loam. Tobacco prefers sandy loam. The chemical nature of the rock particles can determine the "pH"(acidity vs. alkalinity) of the soil, and often must be adjusted with applications of minerals.  
     
  The organic material that makes up the humus is important in providing the natural nutrients the plant needs. Fertilization is almost universally needed for the soil to be capable of providing all those necessary for tobacco's growth and health.  
     
  Rainwater is distilled water, but it can carry airborne dust and other particulate matter to the plants, albeit temporarily and in minute quantities. Ground water, though, can carry dissolved underground materials from distant sources to the plant's roots, helping or hindering its growth.  
     
  Air and naturally-occurring gaseous elements, e.g., chlorine, in contact with the root system can also affect the plant's well-being.  
     
  The farmer faces all these variables when he begins the planting process, when selecting the microcosm that will best suit his plants' needs. This is where the concept of "Cuban" soil fails ... Cuba has no patent on its soil. Worldwide, micro-regions have soils that are essentially identical to the soil in places in Cuba. Also, just as different brands of Cuban cigars can taste different, one can find different soils in different Cuban provinces, different farms, and even different locations on any given farm. Since soil is not uniform from place to place, how can anyone define "Cuban" soil?  
     
  The once-prime tobacco-growing regions of Cuba ... notably Vuelta Abajo, Santa Clara, Pinar del Rio, Artemisa ... underwent the most epochal change in their soil composition in 300 years of development, when the Cuban regime plowed tobacco under and grew sugar for Russia for 20 years after the Embargo. Sugar, a perennial, is avaricious in stripping nutrients from the soil, and it is estimated that these growing regions may need another 50 years to return to prime tobacco land. If Cuban soil had magical powers for plant growth, why must Spain supply the island with thousands of tons of fertilizer annually?  
     
  Few, younger smokers have any idea what damage the Marxist regime really wreaked on Cuba's tobacco industry in the 1960s and beyond. To them, the revolution and embargo are vague concepts. In addition to degrading the farmland, Castro also disbanded Cuban Land, the island's leading tobacco research institute, along with all others, and reassigned tobacco researchers and farmers to the production of sugar. Virtually none of the voluminous agricultural archives were considered valuable, and therefore discarded. Luckily, some researchers and growers had the foresight to personally retain some records. In his ongoing associations with these peer specialists, Vogel succeeded in obtaining some of those data. These records, and his decades of experience as an agronomical engineer and geneticist, enabled him to use this priceless soil analyses. Vogel now had the information he needed to replicate the optimal growing conditions for his unique bank of pre-Embargo Cuban seeds.  
     
 
What Really Counts: Matching the Soil to the Plants

Vogel explains that whether soil is "Cuban" or not is far less important than engineering that soil to provide the nutrients for each specific strain of tobacco plants. Certainly, many soils are simply unsuited to growing tobacco, and no amount of modification can correct their deficiencies. Incorrect pH (acidity/alkalinity), permeability to water drainage, the presence of disease viruses or mold, etc., prohibit successful cultivation. But in soils that are not inimical to tobacco, the nutrients can be added and balanced ... the plant thinks it's in Cuba.
the use of natural fertilizers avoids safety concerns of toxic
The use of natural fertilizers
 avoids safety concerns of toxic chemicals.
 
     
  But, providing fertilizers isn't the full solution. It's equally important to know whether a given strain of tobacco has the ability to take up enough of the nutrients for proper development. See "What Does Tobacco Eat?" for more information on tobacco nutrients.

rich red color soil like in cubaIn 2001, following decades of testing soils in 20 countries during his career, Vogel found the ideal soil in the Puriscal area of Costa Rica. It had Cuba-like iron- and copper-rich red color, and was loose enough for drainage, due to its volcanic origin. The amounts of sun, cloud, and rainfall from the original Cuban records matched the local Puriscal meteorological conditions. Rainfall was optimal for photosynthesis. Knowing the rainfall amounts told him how to adjust the pH of the soil, to prevent the water from leaching carbonates from the soil, turning it acid.
 
     
  Working from his records, Vogel corrected the soil's deficiencies with natural fertilizers. From test plants on his 2-acre experimental plot, he compared the results in plant growth; stalk size; leaf size and shape; vein structure; and resistance to pests, diseases, and mold. Cured and fermented sample leaves were test-smoked exhaustively for flavor, aroma, and burning properties ... usually, but not always, the fun part.  
     
  Vogel had another, important asset ... his palate's memory of the flavors and aromas of the great, Golden Age Cuban cigars, from years of smoking them.

Vogel's development efforts required five to six generations of cross-breeding spanning 2-1/2 to 3 years, plus detailed and exhaustive record-keeping, guided him in optimizing the match between specific plant strains and growing conditions. Only then did Tabacos de la Cordillera have commercially-viable tobacco for its cigars.

Though analytical work is essential, a trained and experienced eye can look at the plants and tell how they're doing. Vogel's expertise, gained over 40 years of tobacco research, can identify virus, pest, and mold damage, and adjust the growing conditions accordingly. Cross-breeding can also introduce other desirable characteristics, including the shape of the leaves. For example, long, somewhat rectangular leaves yield more wrapper than oval leaves for large cigar wrappers; leaves that point skyward don't hold droplets of water, which leave spots on flatter-lying leaves when the sun shines through the "magnifying-glass" droplets.
 
     
 
tobacco leaf indonesia
Genetically-induced rectangular leaf used for larger cigars
tobacco plant
Raindrop-shedding vertical-standing  leaves
 prevent "magnifying-glass" sunburn.
 
     
  "Cuban" Sun: Myth & Facts  
     
  Cigar tobacco of various types and grades grows throughout the western world, from the Equator to the Canadian border. Connecticut shade tobacco, for example, used as wrapper on some of the finest cigars, has its origin in Cuba, and Vogel's seed bank includes samples pre-dating the Cuban Revolution. But, Connecticut farmers needed to adapt it to the seasonal and diurnal cycles of the Connecticut sun, as well as their soil, temperature, and humidity.  
     
  In the case of our tobacco, Puriscal's cloud cover and subtropical latitude match Cuba's, as does the duration of daily sunlight. Tabacos de la Cordillera's farm sits at 700 meters elevation, not widely variant from Cuba's low mountainous growing regions. Beyond that, it's the same sun.  
     
  What's equally important is that the environment be harmonious with each strain. The quality of the cigars from Tabacos de la Cordillera's naturally-grown tobacco speaks for itself in the reviews by the cigar media as well as by our customers, as mentioned above.
 
     
  "The Seeds Aren't Important:" Myth and Fact  
 

The short answer to this statement: Call some local nurseries and ask if the type, condition, and quality of seeds is important to good-quality plants.
cuban tobacco seeds
1 gram of tobacco contains 16,000 seeds
 
     
  The complete answer: Every plant and animal, other than single-cell and spore-procreating fungi, is created by the union of a male component entering a female receptacle, and conjoining genetically into an offspring. Thus, there exist analogies throughout these species. One can see the evidences of genetic violation (inbreeding) in our own species, especially in remote rural or sectarian communities. One can hardly watch the news for a week, without seeing a report on a new genetic breakthrough in disease or other fronts. Why should tobacco be any less dependent on the quality and condition of its life-creating seeds?  
     
  The genetic blueprint for each variety of tobacco is locked within its seeds. Each seed has the potential to fully recreate another tobacco plant that is "true to type." This means their offspring will carry the same genetic message, if the plant that grows from this seed self-pollinates or cross-pollinates only with an equally genetically-pure identical strain. Being "true to type" is what growers strive to maintain in a seed strain, usually with only limited success through successive generations.  
     
  Over time, the grower's seed stock degrades, due to one of two causes. First, cross-pollination from neighboring, dissimilar strains introduces "foreign" DNA from the intruders that co-mingles genetically, creating a less-than-identical offspring. Secondly, even if tobacco seeds are controlled by isolation of the parent plants, over successive generations, it spontaneously degrades and no longer is true-to-type. This is especially true if the seeds from each individual plant are not kept separate. It develops its own taste, aroma and burning properties, different from its original characteristics.  
     
 
yavis tobacco plant
Flowers on selected plants are bagged
 to induce self-pollination to maintain
true-to-type characteristics.
Tabacos de la Cordillera has the advantage of being able to dip back into the original ancestral seed bank, to replenish the seed stocks with original true-to-type genetic stock. Moreover, we maintain genetic purity in successive generations by segregating our seeds by individual plant selection, rather than by obtaining them from the parent plants and then mixing them, as mentioned above. The seeds from each isolated plant are collected and cached separately, along with extensive records on its genetic lineage.
 
     
  "Leaf Processing, Not Seeds, Determines Quality:" Myth & Fact  
     
   
Expert leaf processing ... curing and fermenting can only preserve the desirable qualities ... flavor, aroma, and burning properties ... in tobacco that has been grown from top quality seeds. It can not improve tobacco grown from inferior, damaged, or improperly stored seeds. Just as it is fruitless to store bad wine in hopes it will improve with age, aging will not improve inferior tobacco ... you only end up with old, inferior wine or tobacco..
tobacco leaf curing
Proper, adequate curing insures
smooth, mellow-smoking cigar tobacco.
 
     
 
aged tobacco
In addition to "marrying" flavors, curing of tobacco releases last of impurities from tobacco.
If the leaves are not aged (cured) long enough and at the right temperature, undesirable organic compounds in the leaves remain. These impurities cause harsh taste, burning on the palate and throat, and can even cause dizziness and a queasy stomach.

 
     
 
Inadequate fermentation also yields harsh, bitter or acid-tasting tobacco, due to the residual unwanted plant compounds in the leaves. On the other hand, if the temperature during fermentation is not watched closely, and exceeds the desired limit, the tobacco can become "spent" (overly fermented), with a resultant straw-like, tasteless character.

tobacco leaf fanning
"Fanning" leaves between successive fermentations aerates leaves for better results. Note completed fermentation "bulks" in background.
 
     
  SMOKE Magazine's Stunning Admission by a Fermentation Consultant to Cubatabaco  
     
 
In an interview with industry giant Emilio Reyes for an article in SMOKE magazine (Summer, 2007), he revealed an astounding fact about Cuban cigars and tobacco. But first, to introduce the Reyes family, of Santiago, Republica Dominicana, they have been a major tobacco grower continuously since 1840, They supply cigar producers with over 70% of all of the tobacco grown on the island ... some of the world's most prestigious brands included. Beginning with Don Emilio's grandfather Julio, they have been selling tobacco to Cuba for the past century. (This revelation in itself should cause some head-scratching among those who insist, "If the tobacco isn't grown in Cuba, they aren't Cuban cigars.") Don Emilio, a fifth-generation tabacalero with 48 years experience, is a world authority on leaf processing. In 1991, he was invited by Cubatabaco ... the island's government agency that produce tobacco and Cuban cigars ... to straighten out their ailing tobacco production. For 5 years, he stayed on as a working consultant in all aspects of tobacco cultivation and processing, as well as the production of Cuban cigars. A statement he made in the interview merits special emphasis:
 
     
  "Except for two years wen I was working in Cuba ... 1993 and 1994 ... Cubatabaco did not, and does not now, ferment any of their wrapper tobacco."  
     
Wha-a-at? That explains the performance of modern Cuban cigars. Residual, ammonia-producing alkaloid impurities in their unfermented wrappers burn the throat and even the corners of the mouth, lay a gnawing trail of impurity-laden saliva down the gullet into the stomach, sometimes start the hiccups, and can even cause an uneasy stomach and a spinning head. It seems modern devotees of Cuban cigars have categorically mistaken the effects of alkaloid toxicity for a nicotine buzz ... both render about the same physical sensations. Rare is the modern smoker who has truly experienced what Cuban cigars once were ... and still should be. Castro may well be the world's greatest counterfeiter of Cuban cigars. And, why should Cubatabaco take the pains to ferment their wrapper, when smokers accept the harshness that typifies today's Cuban cigars, calling them "spicy" or "peppery?"
     
  Emilio Reyes' explanation confirms the same, prior statement made by our director, John Vogel. Excessive examination and evaluation of smoking characteristics led Vogel to conclude all of Cubatabaco's product uses raw, unfermented wrapper tobacco.  
     
  "Pre-Embargo Seeds Are No Different Than Today's Cuban Seeds:" Myth & Fact  
     
 
As a closing observation, our claim that we grow all our tobacco from pre-Embargo Cuban seeds is sometimes met with the statement, "So what? All tobacco is grown from Cuban seeds." Well, yes, but there are differences in seeds, as your local nurseryman can corroborate. pinar del rio 1941
Developed by the Cuban Land tobacco research facility
 in 1941, Pinar del Rio was the archetype for much
 of today's Cuban tobacco.
 
     
  Virtually all tobacco nowadays is grown from only a handful of seed strains, mostly from modern seed development on the island. Criollo, Corojo, Habano 2000 ... these are almost the only seed strains that tobacco growers throughout the Caribbean and Central America are planting. This results in a sameness in the taste and aroma, with the only variation resulting from differences in growing locations, treatment with fertilizers, and subsequent leaf processing. With over 45 different pre-Embargo Cuban and Cuban-derived varieties in Vogel's seed bank, Tabacos de la Cordillera has a virtually limitless number of existing and newly-created seed varieties through his ambitious cross-breeding program.  
     
  But Are They Cuban Cigars?
We at Tabacos de la Cordillera originally referred to our tobacco and cigars as being "Cuban." Based on criticism of this claim, we now say our cigars contain tobacco we grow exclusively from our pre-Embargo Cuban seeds, which is more specific and factual. We're the only company in the industry to be able to say this.
 
  To us, though, they are more representative of the classic havanas than are the products of Cuba's communist-regime industry. Vogel and his chief tester, a professional cigar reviewer, each have over 40 years of smoking premium cigars ... including pre-Castro Cuban cigars. Not just us, but any other old-time Cuban cigar smoker will tell you modern Cuban product can't compare.  
     
 
tobacco-crop-vuelta-abajo
Director John Vogel inspects crop of Vuelta Abajo plants, from Cuban Land 1940 seeds.
So, whether our tobacco is technically Cuban or not, it is the result of the efforts of a tobacco scientist with impeccable credentials and extensive experience, grown naturally from the genetically-pure classic seeds of old Cuba, matched to solar, climatological and soil conditions that faithfully reproduces those of Cuba's legendary growing regions.

Not everyone likes our cigars, just as there were smokers before the Embargo who didn't like the classic Cuban cigars back then. We also don't say our cigars are better ... they're just different than what you're smoking now. They span the spectrum of flavors more than modern Cuban or non-Cuban cigars, due to the genetic diversity of the seed bank. We offer an alternative to today's tobacco that bridges the missing link to Cuba's Golden Age of tobacco and cigars.
 
 
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