Robaina's plantation

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Hector Luis Prieto Tobacco Plantation (San Juan y Martínez - Pinar del Rio) March 2017

                  As with every trip I take out to Pinar Del Rio I always stop in and visit my friend Hector Luis Prieto. He owns one of the finest Tobacco Plantations in the Country and has not forgotten his friends after winning the Hombre Habano award in 2007 becoming the youngest man to have ever done so, he was 36. He was busy but relaxed, things were winding down on his farm. Most of the leaf except for a small patch had already been stored in the barns and was at some stage of curing. They were, however, awaiting a very large group of French Tourists to descend onto their property . There is a continuous caravan of foreigners that come to this farm from all over the world, large groups & small groups, regular tourists and cigar aficionados & Hector is happy to receive them.
                   We sat and chatted for a while when he finally was able to break away from the daily chores. He told me he had only planted the one time and not 2 or 3 times like many of the other farmers in the area taking advantage of the bumper crop. The feeling I get from everyone, Hector included, is a sense of relief that they've finally gotten a good harvest out of the ground. The last few years have been horrendous for tobacco growers in Cuba and although exceptional farmers like Hector can always get a decent harvest off their land, it must be a good feeling to get a great one without hitch. We smoked a cigar, had a couple of drinks and then I was off to my next stop. It was great to see everyone in good spirits and hoped in advance that the following year would be the same.

PS.....don't forget that Hector has recently built a guesthouse that sleeps 4 people for anyone interested in spending time on the farm. It has it's own bathroom and a balcony that overlooks the tobacco fields.

Smoking Lounge overlooking tobacco fields

Guesthouse sleeps 4

Friday, 24 March 2017

Al Carbon (Restaurant) Havana

                  I had just left ChaChaCha where I had an appetizer, Al Carbon was around the corner. I was on a mission to visit 4 restaurants in about 4 hours. This would be restaurant number three, where I would have my main course. I had mentioned on the Post for ChaChaCha that it was a non-smoking environment. This restaurant would be the opposite, my custom rolled cigar would be allowed, and lit. The restaurant is owned by Ivan Chef Justo who also owns the restaurant that goes by his name (upstairs) where they don't allow smoking. The place was packed and noisy, not a table in site, we sat at the bar. I love sitting at a bar of a restaurant, you get a bird'e eye view of the place and a personal bartender. The cocktails came in very funky glasses but this wasn't a cheap place. By our standards the place is a bargain but compared to the norm it's about 30% more expensive on avarage. The espresso (cohiba) coffee is $3, Bucanero Beer $3. I'm happy to be able to smoke my cigar in such a funky atmosphere (Cuban Roadhouse with an eclectic mix of artwork and memorabilia) and don't mind paying the extra especially when the food is good....and it was. I only had the pork ribs, which were succulent and very delicious, but I've got my eye on a couple of other items. I'll return with the intention of having a full meal & with my spouse. They specialize in traditional Cuban Cuisine and use charcoal, you can see the cooks though the glass facing the dining room. The menu changes according to what is in season or available at the time. Apparently the signature dish is the Pulled Lamb, that's going to have to be my main course on the next visit. I didn't get a chance to see the wine list but I read somewhere that it's mostly Spanish which is fine by me. Besides, a Spanish wine would go best with Cuban Cuisine as it's influence comes from Spain. The service was professional but may come off a little snobby, I myself was fine. I loved the place, make a reservation, the pictures below were taken around 3:30pm and it was jammed.
PS........check out the bed that's been converted into a 4 seat table.

Al Carbon
Calle Aguacate No. 9 Esq./ Chacon
53 7863 9697

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Salvador Carbajal Rodriguez (Tobacco Farm) Pinar del Rio (March 2017)

                    As I always do when I travel to Cuba, I went to visit my friend Salvador who owns a Tobacco Farm in Pinar del Rio. I was extra excited this time because a friend of mine who visited a couple of weeks earlier had told me the plants were quite tall, meaning it was close to harvest time. I was so lucky, nine barns had already been filled but the last two were still empty....or almost. These last two barns would be filled with mostly wrapper leaf, which was the last to be harvested, they were beginning that day....Wowwwwww. This year's crop was amazing, a bumper crop, some farms had 3 plantings, many had 2, but Salvador and other prominent growers were happy with the one good one. They were even able to grow some medio tiempo this year. I know nothing about farming but how good could the 3 plantings be. This was the first time in my life, in the 14 years traveling to Cuba, that I've witnessed this part of the process. I've seen tobacco in the barns many times when I've traveled in April or May but I've never seen them string up the leaves. I've seen plants in the ground almost every year when I travel in November but they would have just been planted and usually look like pitiful rows of seedlings struggling to survive. The only time the plants have been over my head was on my first visit to the Robaina farm in 2005....but I've never seen a harvest. What a wonderful experience.
                      Salvador seemed very relaxed for a change while mingling with the workers & paying certain people for their services, he was actually happy to do it. If he's paying them it means there's production going on. He's near the end of a long road that started back in late November. He would have planted in stages as he's now picking in stages, it would take the seedling 45 days after being transplanted to reach maturity. They were even able to get some medio tiempo this year. They will pick the bottom 3 leaves of the plant per day, the plants have about 21-23 leaves each. While spending time with me he often went off to delegate or supervise, this is his busiest few weeks of the year, not just for him but for everyone who lives here in this part of Pinar del Rio. His Rachon is ready to receive guests as he's now part of the 'Tobacco Route' as designated by the government. Pay him a visit, the kitchen is operating and he's open for business. They're a wonderful bunch of people and would be very happy to receive you...tell them I say hello.

PS......I never understood why they wrap themselves up as you see in the photographs (it's certainly not cold), some even wear gloves. Now I know. As I made my way through a thicker part of the field, moving the plants to the side, my hands became sticky from the resin coming off the leaf. I imagine they cover their heads so not to get it on their hair. It doesn't wash off that easy, even with soap.


Shade Grown Tobacco for Wrapper Leaf