Milestones | Tobacconist magazine

Milestones

Procigar celebrates its 25th year, holds its 10th annual festival

By Stephen A. Ross
Photos courtesy of Procigar

Since 2008, the annual Procigar Festival has become a favorite event for cigar lovers worldwide. Each February, guests ditch their winter coats, pack their sunscreen and flock to the Dominican Republic for a nearly weeklong celebration of Dominican history, culture and cigars. In the 10 years since the first celebration, the Procigar Festival has become synonymous with living the good life—guests enjoy world-class hospitality, lavish entertainment, wonderful Dominican food and drink, and exciting excursions to some of the Caribbean nation’s most breathtaking landmarks. They also experience in-depth tours of their favorite cigar factories and the tobacco farms that produce some of the world’s best-known cigars, meeting the men and women who make the cigars they love so well.

Procigar, the association of Dominican cigar manufacturers that hosts the annual festival, proudly proclaims that the Dominican Republic is “cigar country,” and the Procigar Festival provides plenty of ammunition to support the claim. The festival and the Dominican Republic’s status as the world’s biggest producer of premium cigars, however, might never have happened had it not been for the foresight of a few top Dominican cigar makers who agreed to put aside their differences and work together to promote their industry.

In the early 1990s, the Cigar Boom in the United States was just heating up, and competition among factories was fierce. Manufacturers were not only fighting for shelf space in retailers’ humidors, but they were also raiding each other’s workforces, poaching the hardest-working bunchers, rollers, tobacco agronomists and managers. New cigar factories were also springing up everywhere, started by entrepreneurs with no experience in making cigars but who had high hopes to earn quick money on its rising popularity. More often than not, their products were hardly worth smoking, and the poor-quality cigars were damaging the reputation of the established Dominican manufacturers.

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Conditions within the Dominican cigar industry became so ugly that it alarmed some of the country’s top manufacturers enough to try to find a solution. In 1992, Manuel Quesada from Quesada Cigars, Hendrik Kelner Sr. from Tabadom, General Cigar’s Daniel Nunez and Carlos Fuente Sr. from Arturo Fuente met and formed Procigar with the idea of establishing a set of high quality standards for its member companies, promising to work together to promote the Dominican Republic and its cigars internationally. Since then, Procigar has grown to include 12 companies: Quesada Cigars, Tabadom, General Cigar Company, Arturo Fuente, Tabacalera de Garcia, La Aurora, De Los Reyes Cigars, Tabacos Quisqueyanos, La Flor Dominicana, Tabacalera La Alianza, Tabacalera Palma and PDR Cigars. The dozen companies form the backbone of a vibrant industry that, according to figures provided by Kelner at a press conference during this year’s festival, exported 149 million premium cigars to the United States in 2016, making the Dominican Republic the largest exporter of premium cigars to the United States.

“Tobacco is at the root of our society,” Kelner, Procigar’s president, explains. “Dominicans, especially those who live in Santiago, the heart of cigar country, are very proud of their country and their involvement in the cigar industry, which employs 120,000 people in and around Santiago. The Procigar Festival has become the event of the year for Santiago. Its people enjoy sharing their culture, food and tobacco with their friends from around the world. Dominican people are great ambassadors, and the Procigar Festival has become the perfect event for them to display their hospitality and proclaim their status as the world’s best cigar producers, and the festival just keeps getting better every year.”

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Better indeed. The 10th installment of the Procigar Festival was the biggest yet, with more than 800 people from more than 20 countries attending the event. Everything about this year’s festival seemed larger than previous years, yet the festival still retains a level of intimacy that continues to allow unfettered access to each of the participating manufacturers. Got a question regarding your favorite La Flor Dominicana? Just ask Litto Gomez, who quite possibly could be sitting at your table during lunch. Want to know about the newest seed strain that Jose Mendez & Company is developing? No problem, Siegfried Maruschke, the company’s president, will happily answer it during the tour of one of his family’s farms. The intimate nature of the Procigar Festival has long been one of its biggest charms, and it has been a feature that Procigar organizers have worked hard to maintain.

“We’ve always wanted to keep the festival small enough so that guests can interact with Procigar members,” explains Guillermo Leon, La Aurora’s president. “It’s very humbling to think that people would want to spend their hard-earned money to come to the Dominican Republic to visit our factories and farms and learn about how we make cigars. We owe it to them to make ourselves available to them and show them as much hospitality as we can provide.”

Part of that hospitality has been to treat guests to multitudes of cigars, including special releases, access to rare limited editions and new cigar launches. At this year’s festival, Quesada Cigars launched the Manuel Quesada 70th Anniversary, Altadis gave guests a sneak preview of the Montecristo Artisan Series, and La Aurora introduced its ADN cigar. At registration, each guest received a goody bag containing 12 cigars, a cutter, a lighter, a Stinky Cigar ashtray and other gifts. At each of the nightly parties guests received yet another box of cigars, and during the tours attendees could enjoy as many cigars as they wanted. Visitors to Procigar can easily surpass the festival’s registration fee through all the food, drinks and cigars available to them throughout the week. Add in the memories of a lifetime that each Procigar Festival seems to enable and the value of the experience attains pricelessness.

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Kelner explains that the Procigar Festival breaks even most years. The rare profit that’s made is always invested into the next year’s event to make it even better. Like a retailer who hosts an event at his or her store to thank his or her customers, the Procigar Festival is a way for the Dominican manufacturers to thank their loyal customers, showcase their hardworking employees and give back to the community. Procigar members donated 13 items that raised more than $150,000 for children and senior citizen charities in the Dominican Republic in an auction during the last night’s gala dinner. In the 10 years of the Procigar Festival, Procigar has raised more than $750,000 for Dominican charities.

“It is a big success for us when people enjoy the festival and we raise a lot of money for charity,” Kelner explains. “I feel prouder of my involvement in Procigar than I am of Tabadom. Tabadom is a company; Procigar is a country.”

“Procigar is all about family,” Quesada adds. “Like any family, we’ve had our differences, but at the end of the day, we all have the same goal in mind—to explain to the world that Dominican cigars are made with world-class quality and to showcase our country on an international stage. We want people to become aware of the hard work people do in the Dominican Republic to make wonderful cigars.”

Procigar will host its 11th annual festival from Feb. 18–23, 2018. For more information, visit procigar.org.

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