Our Cigar Team recently hit the road to Santiago to visit the La Aurora factory in the beautiful country that is the Dominican Republic. As we drove through the city of Santiago after we arrived in the evening, the city was alive with motorcycles and traffic. Congested narrow streets with daredevil bikers weaving in and out of traffic. Although, we would rather be stuck in Dominican traffic then on I-90 during rush hour. Our bus began the arduous task of climbing the steep winding roads leading up to the top of Camp David. The bus carried all ten of us up to the top and when we reached the peak we were speechless looking at the view over the top of the city. After the long flights and our perilous ascent we all welcomed the sight of Manuel’s travel humidor full of Sapphire, Ruby, and Diamond robustos.
The next morning we were up early to grab a quick bite at the Camp David restaurant for some fine Dominican coffee and some La Aurora Cameroons. Soon we were picked up by the bus and headed to the factory. The La Aurora factory has recently opened the La Aurora Cigar Institute. The first of its kind, the Institute is focused on educating people on the history of cigars in the Dominican Republic. La Aurora is the oldest factory in the Dominican and their dedication to the history of the company and tobacco education is remarkable. From the warm entrance to the factory featuring a couple classic cars we were directed into the museum. This small museum has exhibits that show the entire process that the tobacco has to go through to be rolled into a premium cigar. The exhibits included seeds to fully grown plants, the inside of an aging barn, and the giant press used to bundle the bulk tobacco. Once we exited the museum we were in the middle of the processing area. The workers diligently worked on separating leaves to be used in blends. One of the leaves they were working with was Andullo. Andullo is normally used for pipes and is an extremely difficult tobacco to work with. Andullo and the process is native to the Dominican and La Aurora has taken on this difficult process to in order to produce the DNA. We were then ushered into the barrel aging room and the aroma was simple divine. Given the opportunity to open lids and see tobacco that was aging in old rum barrels was very cool.
We left the barrel room and headed straight to the rolling floor. Here we were shown how skilled the rollers are at La Aurora and the multitude of different brands being produced in this modest space. The rolling room was impressive. We watched bunchers hard at work producing several bunches a minute, only to be placed into the press for a short while and then transferred to the roller responsible for the wrapper. We took a quick look at the packaging facility as each individual band is meticulously placed on every cigar by hand and then slid into the cellophane and finally the box. We visited a small room above the rolling floor where Manuel Inoa, the Master Blender for La Aurora, was waiting with a presentation. Everyone was provided a La Aurora DNA training kit including small puros of the Five tobaccos that make up the DNA, a lighter, a cutter, and a DNA toro. During the presentation Manuel would give us cues to light up and taste the individual components of the DNA while asking us to describe the flavors. In between samples of the different tobaccos we would sip club soda and smell coffee to help cleans our pallets. When we had smoked through the small sticks it was time to light up the DNA toro. Once the toro was lit everyone in the room could see how the different tobaccos worked together to make this delicious cigar.
The next morning we awoke early and headed to the fields and the fermenting barns. The fields this time of year are bare and the last of the tobaccos are being processed out of the barns and put into the massive pilons. One glance around the fermenting room and you could see the scale of the production at La Aurora. Massive bundles of tobacco just waiting its turn to be crafted into the perfect cigar.
Back at the factory it was our turn to attempt to blend a cigar. Once we selected our blends it was time to get to work. Every person in our group was paired up with a rolling team and given a small crash course on bunching. Our dedicated cigar consultants were tasked with rolling ten robustos. We found out that bunching a cigar is an art and looks easier than it truly is. Additionally, so is wrapping the cigars. The wrapper leaves are delicate and thin and the process of applying a wrapper is very difficult.
With a few of our consultants taking time to work on this craft, we were greeted by Guillermo Leo, the owner of La Aurora. One of our consultants had to perform under the watchful eyes of Guillermo. In true Binny’s style that consultant took care of his work and got the stamp of approval from the third generation owner. We all posed for pictures in the halls and were out for our final night in the DR. Back at Camp David, it was a bittersweet meal as we knew it was our last chance to take in the culture and share a meal with our new friends.
We would like to thank La Aurora for their hospitality and urge all who read this to try their DNA. It is true representation of the Dominican DNA.