21st Festival del Habano: Visit to the Hoyo de Mena Farm
With the 21st Festival del Habanos all done and dusted, we had once again the privilege to attend this year’s new product launches, glamorous events, and inspiring visits that the hosts had planned for us. Amongst this year’s highlights is certainly the visit to the Hoyo de Mena farm in the Pinar del Rio territory, where farmers cultivate high-quality tobacco leaves used for some of the most premium Cuban Cigars Online.
ARRIVAL - We arrived in Hoyo de Mena at harvest time. The weather was lovely so we looked forward to our adventure there. Soon after our arrival, we came to learn that tobacco is grown in two cycles in this farm. The first one lasts from November to mid-February and serves for the cultivation of the so called Tapado - the shade grown tobacco that is used mainly for wrapper leaves or capa, while the second cycle usually starts in mid-February or, in some cases, at the beginning of March and finishes by the end of May. However, the progression of these cycles depends mostly on the weather conditions in the territory and, as a result, these dates can be severely altered.
Left: Fields of tobacco plantations in Hoyo de Mena, Right: High-quality tobacco leaves in Hoyo de Mena
“QUALITY CAN ONLY BE DETERMINED AFTER CURING PROCESS”
IMPORTANCE OF CURING PROCESS - The Hoyo de Mena farm covers approximately 10 hectares of land, and the varieties of tobacco grown there, are the Havana 2010 for capa leaves and the Criollo 98 for tripa and capote leaves, respectively. Our trip there proved to be highly educational. What we found to be the most interesting is that the overall quality of tobacco can only be determined after the curing process. That been said, someone might start with a healthy leaf, nevertheless, there is an incredible amount of things that could go wrong with just the curing process. From what we gathered, mould, tobacco beetle outbreaks, and rot are only a few of the reasons that could damage a healthy tobacco leaf before even cured. That is why the curing and drying processes are as crucial as the growing itself.
CULTIVATION PROCESS – Tradition is important in the Hoyo de Mena farm. Everything is still done as it used to 200 years ago. Oxen are exploited to plough the land while the drying process remains completely natural to this day - taking place in three cabañas scattered all over the farm. For start, extremely skilful female workers hand-pick all of the leaves, one by one, wearing gloves as to protect their hands from the resin that lies all over the leaves. Once picked, leaves are laid on top of long rudimentary wooden crates. Soon after that, they are taken inside the cabaña, where they are being threaded through cotton strings which are fixed onto wooden poles and then left hung there to dry naturally. The amount of tobacco leaves curated there is beyond overwhelming. Some of these cabañas are over 10m in height with tobacco leaves hanging from the top of the ceiling all the way to the bottom of the cabañas with skilful men climbing all the way up wooden scaffoldings as to place or remove leaves.
Top Left: Tobacco leaves left to dry inside a cabaña, Bottom Left: The process of collecting tobacco leaves in Hoyo de Mena, Top Right: The oxen used to cultivate the land in Hoyo de Mena, Bottom Right: Campesinos carrying a stack of wooden crates, where tobacco leaves are piled once picked
“FARMERS ARE ALLOWED TO RETAIN A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF TOBACCO”
MOVING INTO PRODUCTION - Having successfully undergone the cultivation, curation, and drying process, most of the tobacco is then passed on to Tabacuba - the state-owned company responsible for overseeing the whole tobacco production in Cuba. Overall, Tabacuba is responsible for sorting the tobacco and quality classifying the leaves before moving into production. It is worth noting that farmers are allowed to retain a certain amount of tobacco for their own consumption and it is fair to say that they tend to keep the best leaves for themselves. And who could possibly blame them for doing that?
LUNCH TIME – We finished our visit to the Hoyo de Mena farm with the most splendour way - by being treated to a nice, mouth-watering lunch. Our courses included roast chicken, the staple black Cuban beans and rice, and fried cooked plantains, all sided by fresh seasonal salad. After our lunch, we sampled some locally produced Laguito No.6 custom rolled cigars and we sat in utter delight for almost an hour, sipping on Cuban coffee and puffing on these indulgent smokes.
Returning from our visit, we brought back with us a limited amount of custom made Habanos, exclusively handmade for our costumers. Crafted with some the best tobacco leaves from the Hoyo de Mena farm, the Elefantes Custom Blend Cigar guarantees one of the best smokes on the market. Hand-rolled in a Hermosos No. 4 vitola, this unique puro is part of our Cuban Cigars Samplers, measures at 127 mm by a 48 ring gauge, and has a medium to full flavoured profile. However, we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to try the Laguito No. 6 Custom Blend Cigar we smoked on our visit. Made by hand exclusively for EGM Cigars, the Laguito no. 6 Habano offers a well-balanced yet long-lasting smoke, perfect for those who prefer a smooth yet flavoursome cigar. Coming in the same size as our custom puro, we couldn't leave out the excellent Cohiba Behike 56 Cigar. The largest from the Behike line, this puro is specifically handmade with Medio Tiempo leaves and is capable of producing both strong and complex flavours, typical of the Cohiba Cigars.
Top Left and Bottom: Tobacco leaves hung to dry inside cabañas in Hoyo de Mena, Top Right: Dried tobacco leaves ready to move into manufacture
Besides the fascinating parties and the exciting new cigar-related products that we got to try for the first time, the XXI Festival del Habanos offered us a chance to visit the prominent Hoyo de Mena farm and see, first hand, all the amazing work that happens there. At this point, we would like to thank our dear friend and chaperone, Anibal Urquiaga, for the tour around Hoyo de Mena and for being incredibly generous with his time. Why not read more from our latest articles and find out now what makes Cuban Cigars the best smokes on the market?