This year's 5th annual Puro Sabor Nicaraguan Cigar festival took place January 12th - 16th and kicked off in the country's capital city of Managua with old and new friends alike. However, there was a group of people that arrived a few days early and took advantage of a tour to Granada and a visit to Mombacho cigar factory with an incredible tasting seminar by Claudio Sgroi and some of the most gorgeous views Nicaragua has to offer. I look forward to hopefully seeing this addition added to next year's official festival lineup.
Day 1 started with registration and check in at Crowne Plaza in Managua. Participants received a delightful Puro Sabor backpack stuffed with goodies along with a gorgeous orange humidor box filled with 32 Nicaraguan cigars! The evening festivities were a nice surprise as guests were invited to board ferry boat Momotombito and party with cigars, appetizers, and open bar. An incredible view of the city at night on Lake Managua or "Lake Xolotlán" as the native Nicaraguans call it. Aboard the boat, we commenced the "cigar moments"; a new idea this year with the intent of all attendees sharing the same cigar at the same time. I thought it was a great idea, one that really captured the essence of cigar camaraderie while affording the opportunity for guests to try all the different cigars rather than just the ones most familiar. Each "cigar moment" was prefaced by a full description of the tobacco, flavor notes and factory information, a first-class touch!
Day 2 began with a bus ride out to Chichigalpa where attendees were given the opportunity to tour the Flor de Caña factory and load up on goodies at the gift shop. Immediately following the tour was an amazing lunch, cigar and rum pairing, and equestrian show at the picturesque El Rosario horse farm in Chinandega. Cigar moments this day included Oliva (winner for the Centenario 18 year Flor de Caña pairing), Romocraft, and Padron. The evening's Cocktail Party or "Puro Humo" was back in Managua at the convention center of the Crown Plaza. There guests enjoyed dinner, open bar, live music and a plethora of cigars given out by all members of Nicaraguan Association of Tobacco Producers.
Day 3 we all headed up to Esteli with a half way stop in Sébaco to load up on appetizers, cigars and refreshments before finishing our drive out to the cigar capital of Nicaragua. Lunch was served in the curing barn of Tavicusa: Rocky Patel's farm in Esteli. A gorgeous display of freshly hung tobacco leaves provided a uniquely romantic ambiance as attendees filled their plates with gourmet food, premium bar options and more "cigar moments". Afterwards, participants set off for their next factory tour, depending on group. Mine was to the gorgeous facility of A.J. Fernandez, where we were shown the rolling floor, fermentation, sorting, aging and packaging sections of the factory. We finished with enough time to head back to our hotels and rest awhile before getting ready to party Nica- style at the all white party in the heart of Esteli. This time a menu of traditional Nicaraguan food was served, and of course a premium open bar with plenty of cigars!
Day 4 commenced the field tours, our group was fortunate enough to visit the Plasencia Farm where both Nestor Jr. and Sr, as well as the Plasencia brothers were gracious enough to host the tour. On their farm we had a chance to see the new water efficient irrigation system, unique thus far to Plasencia, the nursery with baby seedlings, the toddlers freshly planted in the fields (both shade and sun grown), the full size adults ready for priming, and the curing barns. Afterwards we were invited back to Nestor Plasencia's home where we enjoyed refreshments, snacks and a "Plasencia cigar moment". Next up was a stop at the oldest cigar factory in Esteli, Joya de Nicaragua. All I can say is all class, all the way. President Juan Martinez and all the JDN crew stood outside their historic factory to shake hands and greet our group before offering us refreshments and an open humidor of tasty cigars. Joining our group was Mr. Steve Saka, who's new Sobremesa cigar is also made at their factory. Mario led the way as the highly educational tour of Joya de Nicaragua began in the rolling room with a demo of cigar leaf placement, followed by sorting, aging and packaging. After a brief history and many humble thank you's from both Dr. Alejandro Cuenca Martinez and Juan Martinez, the JDN team very generously handed out gift bags containing, JDN polo shirts, hats, cutters, chocolates and of course cigars! The best part for me though was the surprise birthday cake and serenade from the entire Joya team! What a beautiful treat! Lunch immediately followed outside the Pensa Factory where again, participants had a chance to feast on wonderful food, open bar and more cigars!
This year, a fun Q & A with a cigar panel was added to the itinerary. Guests had the option of sitting in and discussing any and all things tobacco. The panel consisted of: Dr. Alejandro Cuenca Martinez, Jorge Padron, Jonathan Drew, Gustavo Cura, Nestor Plasencia, Don Pepin Garcia, Pete Johnson, Christian Eiroa and Nick Melillo. Needless to say it was a fun conversation and very informative. The main consensus being that Nicaragua is an incredible place to grow and produce cigars. All panelists agreed that Cuba is not a threat and I believe Dr. Cuenca best summed it up with "...it's only problematic if you're selling something that is said to be "like a Cuban", but we sell Nicaraguan! Let the consumer choose". Jonathan Drew added that "Nicaragua is the richest country in the world, with so much more to contribute than tobacco" and hopes to see the future of Nicaragua continue to prosper.
Some interesting topics (which should be shared with those in opposition of cigars) about the tobacco industry in Nicaragua included a few of the following bullet points:
- There are 51 cigar companies in Esteli
- Tobacco industry of Nica provides over 33,000 jobs
- Esteli is the 2nd city outside of Managua with highest employment rate, including 2nd highest employment rate of women
- Between 2007 -2014 there has been a 14% growth annually in production [80% exported to U.S. Market]
- Tobacco is among the 5 main exports for Nica (beef, gold, coffee, sugar, tobacco)
- Tobacco industry provides social, environmental, and community programs for Nicaraguan citizens.
After the Q&A, members of cigar industry press as well as local news stayed on to witness the signing of $30,000 check to fund the Conservation & Preservation River Basin Project. This project created a trust fund for sustainable efficient environmental programs for Esteli River Basin. Part of this money came from last year's Puro Sabor Gala auction as well as BanPro's contributions.
Our last event for the festival was the top notch Gala dinner hosted by the Drew Estate team. I did not think they could top last year's Gala, but the entire ambience, decor and overall hospitality was absolutely incredible! Although this year, we did not have any manufacturers hit the stage to sing with the band! A hand painted humidor from Drew Estate's very own Subculture artist, Jessi Flores was the main auction item and went for a whopping $6,600. All of which goes back to Esteli charity for local school programs. The evening was truly stunning. As always, I was sad to leave and look forward to next year's festival. Hats off to Juan Martinez and all ANT members as well as Maximiza for organizing a wonderful festival. Check out the video of festival below.