Last month I was able to spend an afternoon with Antonio Gomez at the La Flor Dominicana factory in Tamboril, Dominican Republic and I wanted to share our afternoon with you guys!
For a little bit of background, La Flor Dominicana was started in 1994 by Litto Gomez Diez, a former Jewler who decided to get into the cigar making business after his Miami based jewelry store was robbed at gunpoint. In 1996, their first full year of production, La Flor Dominicana produced 300,00 cigars and only 3 years later, their production grew to over 2.5 million cigars annually. Today, La Flor Dominicana produces nearly 3.5 million cigars annually, focusing on flavor, quality, and innovation.
Now, on to the fun stuff!
The La Flor Dominicana factory is located in Tamboril, a municipality of Santiago, Dominican Republic. The factory itself is a beautiful complex, which is an interesting contrast to the area surrounding it. You drive up a road filled with potholes with small houses and street-side shops to find an immaculate building on the corner.
Once inside, we were greeted by Antonio Gomez, the son of Litto Gomez, who presented us with a very special cigar from his personal humidor: an Andalusian Bull, Cigar Aficionado’s 2016 cigar of the year, in a Churchill format, which is an unreleased vitola of the cigar. Once we had our cigars in hand, we moved into the curing room.
Now the curing room is always interesting as every cigar manufacturer has their own methods of curing their tobaccos, each with unique practices which provide a distinct signature flavor to the cigars from the company.
Another thing that makes La Flor Dominicana so unique is that they actually produce much of their own tobacco on their 120 Acre farm in La Canela.
Once the tobacco arrives, it is kept in large bales wrapped in palm tree leaves; this is an old style way of aging tobacco and allows for the tobacco leaves to “marinate” in their oils as the palm leaves don’t allow for moisture to be released. After about 3 months, the tobacco is then placed in large wooden crates which are open on the sides and then rotated meticulously to allow for even curing.
Moving now into the sorting room, we see a number of women carefully sorting through the tobacco and arranging them by color/shade. Because tobacco is a natural product and La Flor Dominicana doesn’t artificially color their wrappers, it is inevitable that some tobacco will be a slightly different shade even when it is the same type and from the same farm.
After the tobacco is sorted, it moves over into the Rolling Room. The building we walk into used to be one of the hottest night clubs in Santiago and is now where the magic happens at LFD! Although they did renovate the building, the center dance floor remains as a beautiful smoking area.
The rollers here roll in pairs, one roller will bunch the binder and filler tobacco and put it into the mold which then moves into the press. After about an hour, the second roller will remove the cigars from the mold and place the wrapper and cap on the cigar.
Each roller has a quota of cigars that they must meet each day… well, except for one roller.
At the very front of the rolling room is the man who rolls LFD’s Salamones Unicos: the beautiful and unique Salamone cigars covered in intricate designs. He has no quota, no restrictions, only complete creative freedom using tobacco as his paint and canvas.
After the cigars have been rolled, they must go through an initial draw test to ensure they are not plugged. This is the first step in the meticulous quality control check process.
After the cigars have been tested for draw, they now move into the Quality Control room where a select group of veterans from the cigar manufacturing industry go over each cigar with a fine tooth comb, looking for any imperfections to the cigar. The staff in quality control are not allowed to befriend the rollers so as to avoid bias. On top of that, each cigar roller is assigned a random number which is labeled on their bundles to again avoid any bias. The significance to all this is that the cigar rollers are only paid for the cigars that make it past the quality control checks, so any cigars that are deemed unfit to sell will not count towards that cigar roller’s pay.
Once we leave the Quality Control room, we walked into one of the most beautiful spaces I have ever been in: LFD’s Aging Room.
When a cigar is rolled, the humidity in the tobacco used for the filler, binder, and wrapper are all at different levels at the time of production, which is why some rest in the aging room is needed. As the cigar sits in the aging room, it allows the humidity in all of the tobaccos to get to the same level which creates an even burn throughout the cigar. The time each cigar sits in the aging room varies depending on the blend as some tobaccos take more time than others depending on thickness, oiliness, etc….
Once the cigars have rested adequately in the aging room, they go through yet another quality control check before moving onto packaging. During this check, the cigars are also sorted by the shade of the wrapper as this will vary slightly between crops.
The current packaging room at LFD used to be the entire factory before they expanded. The cigars are packaged in their boxes and then boxed up to ship all over the world.
Too often do we pick up a cigar, cut it, light it, and smoke it without giving a thought to just how much time and effort is put into creating that one cigar. How many hands were a part of making it, how many eyes were on the cigars each step of the way to ensure quality, and how much passion and care goes into each part of the cigar.
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Sure, but most of the time a cigar is a work of art.
Special thanks to (the very tall) Antonio Gomez and the team at LFD for taking the time to show me around their beautiful factory.