Our visit to the cigar capital of the world went off without a hitch as we arrived at 11:30AM, October 21 and came back in the early hours of October 25. In between, we had a phenomenal 4 days, which featured the right balance of technical education and information on the industry and local Cuban culture and hospitality. Here is a little photo essay of the trip, our 6th in the past 5 years.

45 minutes after getting off the plane, we were welcomed at the legendary El Laguita factory, home of Cohiba. Our 2004 visit was particularly enjoyable as we were met and hosted by the new Manager of El Laguita, Osmar Fuentes. Osmar took over from Emilia Tamara upon her retirement earlier this year. (I had first met Osmar 5 years ago when we first toured the factory and he was production manager and was thrilled to hear that he was given the promotion of a lifetime). This trip we spent over 2 hours there as he took us through the entire operation including the moistening and stripping of wrapper leaf (view pic), the quality control procedures they have in place (view pic), while explaining how they insure the unique Cohiba taste via its unique blend.(view pic) One of our favorite areas in the factory is a visit to the color and hue sorting area where a worker insures that the color hue of every cigar in each box of Cohiba’s is a perfect match. (view pics)

Our visit to El Laguita finished with the mandatory group photo in their foyer and a drink and gift of cigars from Osmar. (view pics)

What a start to the trip!

In order to show Cigar Studio customers some contrast in cigar manufacturing facilities, we make time for a visit to one of the large, high volume factories and this time we returned to Romeo Y Julieta. Unlike at El Laguita where some aspects of production have been mechanized to insure very specific attention to blend and production detail, much of the labor component and processes of what occurs at this facility is as it has been done for many years.(view pics)

However what is the same in all factories, is what they start with – some of the best tobacco that is grown in the world today. (view pics)

The best Cuban tobacco is grown in the western part of the Island in a province called Pinar Del Rio. Each year we visit the area and this trip, we dropped into a sorting and stripping house where filler and binder tobacco is prepped before it is shipped to the main Ministry of Agriculture warehouses. (view pic) Here hands on, hundred year old processes are still maintained and while not cherished, these still insure that the factories receive the best of the best. (view pics)

Don Alejandro Robaina greets us every trip like we are his long lost relatives. His hospitality is internationally renowned as we always receive lots of rum and cigars. (view pics)

We arrived 2 days before his fields were scheduled for planting with almost 1 million seedlings. (view pic) A tour of these fields and the surrounding countryside, confirms what Habanos SA has indicated about the minimum impact that fall hurricanes have had on local farms and future tobacco crops. (view pics)

30 minutes from Robaina’s farm is the famous Vinales Valley. It is the perfect place to wind down with a cigar and view some of the most beatifull scenery in the world. Only a few miles from the ocean, the Valley oozes peace and tranquility. (view pics)

That is until a local funnel cloud drops in and pours rain on you. (view pic) But hey it’s Cuba!

We always have enough energy to get out at night and one of the stops for those who have never been to Havana is the Tropicana Night Club. (view pics)

Havana is a beautiful city, which is undergoing an incredible amount of re-construction and renovation. Nowhere is this more evident than in Old Havana. (view pics)

The city is a lot of fun and our group always have a good time. We smoke a lot of cigars over 4 days and get treated very, very well by Habanos executives and staff. One of the nights we enjoyed an all you can eat buffet and BBQ with open bar followed by a detailed presentation and analysis of the cigar Habanos gave us to smoke that night – the Trinidad Robusto Grande. (view pics)

And there are always lots to smile about in Cuba. (view pics)