With its history of tobacco stretching back centuries, it's hard to imagine a cigar world without the Dominican Republic. Surprisingly, the country hasn't been a market leader for long. In this article, we take an in-depth look at the history and meteoric rise of the cigar industry in the Dominican Republic.
How Cigar Production Started in The Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is considered to be one of the birthplaces of the cigar. As a matter of fact, the natives were rolling and smoking tobacco centuries before Columbus set foot on the island.
Historians believe that the first tobacco leaf variety originated in the Andes regions of Peru and Ecuador and made its way to the Dominican Republic thousands of years ago through the indigenous Caribbean ethnic groups.
By the time the European invasion of the Americans kicked off in the last 15th century, tobacco was primarily a wild plant that grew freely in the fields.
However, Spanish settlers soon discovered that tobacco had multiple benefits and versatile uses besides smoking—it could be chewed or even used on the body for medicinal purposes. They began growing tobacco commercially on farmlands and exporting it back to Europe.
As the demand and profitability of tobacco grew, it fuelled a shift in the colonies to a slave-based labor force. This is because tobacco is a labor-intensive crop, requiring a considerable workforce during cultivation, harvest, and curing.
Over the next couple of centuries, tobacco was mainly grown on small farms of 1-3 acres. The first local cigar factory wasn't opened until 1903 by Eduardo León Jimenes in La Aurora in Guazumal, near Santiago. The brand La Aurora Cigars is still operational to date.
How The Dominican Cigars Industry Went Global
Ever heard of the maxim, "one man's loss is another man's gain"? This couldn't be truer for the Dominican Republic Cigar industry.
Before 1959, Cuba was the world's leading cigar exporter. But all that changed in a matter of a few years. First, when Cuba nationalized its cigar industry during the 1959 revolution, many of the top growers moved to the neighboring island, Dominican Republic.
This coincided with the 1961 assassination of General Rafael Trujillo, who had monopolized the production and commercialization of tobacco for several decades.
Then in 1962, U.S. imposed a blanket ban on all Cuban imports (this included all Cuban cigars). This was a retaliotory move to Fidel Castro's nationalization of all American Companes in Cuba . As a result, all cigars producers in Cuba automatically lost their access to the thriving American market.
This embargo that still holds to date is probably the #1 catalyst that propelled the expansion of cigar tobacco growing and cigar manufacturing in the Dominican Republic.
When the tobacco producers in Cuba could no longer sell their cigars to the United States, they migrated to the Dominican Republic. And they brought with them all the experience and know-how they gained working in the tobacco fields in Cuba. They also began to cultivate the 'Piloto Cubano' seed they brought with them as the country had a similar climate to Cuba.
However, it wasn't until the 1970s when the first free trade zones opened, welcoming companies that would make cigars strictly for export. By the 1980s Dominican Republic had overtaken the Canary Islands and Jamaica to become the leading cigar producer for the United States.
Just like that, Dominican Republic became a major player in the tobacco and cigar industry!
Santiago, The Cigar Capital of The World
Every enthusiast knows that the tobacco produced in the Dominican Republic has an exceptional flavor profile. Some of the world's best growing regions for premium cigar tobacco are located around Santiago, which has been dubbed the 'cigar capital of the world'.
Here you'll find more than 600,000 acres of farmlands and plantations of Tamboril, Gurabo, Navarrete, and Villa Gonzalez, all famous for their fertile lands and excellent weather conditions perfectly suited for tobacco growing.
The soil of the Dominican Republic has high iron content and a good ratio of calcium and magnesium, making it ideal for growing the flavorful tobacco used in every part of the cigar, from the binder to the fillers.
The afternoon breezes originating in the mountains of the region provide the delicate tobacco plants with relief from the scorching daytime heat.
Another major reason for the Dominican success is the concentration of cigar-related businesses in the city of Santiago.
Here you'll find manufacturers for packaging material, cigar factories, greenhouses, high-tech fertilizer companies etc. Basically, everything you need to get a cigar from a seed into a finished product is within a few miles radius.
Today's Biggest Dominican Cigar Brands
The Dominican Republic is home to many of the world's best cigar-makers. These brands apply rigorous quality control to ensure only the best cigars get to the international market. Here are the Top 10 Cigars produced in the Dominican Republic; bear in mind that this isn't an exhaustive list.
- E.P. Carrillo Pledge Prequel - Cigar Aficionados' top-ranked cigar of 2020 is the brainchild of master cigar-maker Perez-Carrillo who's had a long-running 50-year career in the industry
- Arturo Fuente Opus X - arguably the most heralded Dominican cigar. In 1995, it became the first Dominican puro (a cigar that is made from 100% percent Dominican tobacco).
- Arturo Fuente Hemingway - another Fuente Family icon that's rolled using only the finest Dominican tobaccos and Cameroon wrappers.
- Ashton Classic - a premium cigar that's easily one of the best Dominican Republic cigars. It's sold in over 60 countries.
- Montecristo White - creamy, smooth, and well-rounded cigar that's made with a blend of the best Nicaraguan and Dominican long-fillers and wrapped with Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade.
- Romeo y Julieta 1875 - another household name among cigar enthusiasts. It's named after the popular play written by Shakespeare.
- Cohiba - one of the most recognizable names in the cigar industry. The brand originated in Cuba in 1966 as Fidel Castro's personal blend. Today, a Dominican version of Cohiba is sold in the U.S. market.
- Macanudo Cafe - flagship cigar from the General Cigar Company (the largest manufacturers of premium cigars in the world).
- Davidoff Aniversario - creme de la creme of premium cigar from premium cigar brand Davidoff
- La Flor Dominicana La Nox - handcrafted premium cigar blended with well-aged Dominican Tobacco by boutique cigar-maker, Litto Gomez
Arturo Fuente Opus X
Dominican Republic Cigars' Impact on the Local Economy
In the past decade, the Dominican Republic has consistently held the position of the world's largest cigar producer. Cigars have now become the nation's fifth-largest export after gold, electrical products, textiles and medical devices. In 2020 alone, the Caribbean nation recorded $1 billion worth of tobacco exports.
The growth has been fueled by the enormous increase in the export of machine-made cigars in the last number of years.
Currently, there are at least 50 cigar factories in the Dominican Republic, and more than 120,000 people work directly in the cigar industry. As you can see, the cigar industry is vital to the country's economy.
Did you know that thousands of cigar enthusiasts travel to the Dominican Republic every year to sample the local cigars and engage in cigar factory tours? Dominican cigars are that popular! What do you love the most about the Dominican cigar? We'd love to hear your thoughts.