Thursday, August 7, 2008

Harvest Time

(Below): Shade tobacco pushing up the tents, in Enfield, Connecticut.

VB arrived back to the USA two weeks ago. The area where she lives is full of tobacco fields. Harvesting season lasts throughout mid- July and August, since growers plant sequentially throughout the spring and summer. It looks like harvesting has started among some of the early plantings. Here's a few pics and a bit of information on the area where VB lives in Connecticut. Other than the seasonal putrid smell of cow manure, it is a veritable garden here, with an assortment of farm stands selling a multitude of fruits, vegetables, and plants.

How, you might ask, did VB get so interested in tobacco farming? One day, she received a call regarding a cigar order for The Boss Man. When she told the very southern sounding man on the other line about tobacco farms in her small town, he said, "that's where the finest wrapper tobacco is grown." She says, "Huh!" (Like a true dumbass. VB was new to the town, and had never lived in Connecticut before.) He goes on, "No other tobacco in the world, matches up to the wrapper tobacco from Connecticut." So VB's interest was piqued, and that was all she needed.

VB hopes to post more on this farming community during her stay. For now, inhale the smoke filled information and accompanying photos. And, if you're like The Boss Man, you might want to light up a stogie, and sip on a stiff drink too.

From New York Times:
"Around July 1 the harvesting begins. Approximately three leaves per plant are harvested every week until the plants' 18 or 20 leaves -- dark green, silky and slightly sticky -- are stripped off the stalks by the end of August.

Workers are trained to deftly snap off the leaves at the very base of the stem with thumb and forefinger. The leaves are so easily bruised that too much finger pressure is enough to reduce a leaf to interior binder material rather than the top-grade wrapper. Even the tiny pink flowers that bloom atop a plant can damage a leaf simply by falling on it and resting there until it causes a fatal blemish."

(Below): Harvesting tobacco in Suffield, Connecticut (Click to enlarge for a better view.)

(Below): Shade Tobacco growing in Enfield, Connecticut. From Connecticut Valley Tobacconist,
" ...Between 1900 and 1910 there was a new development in the tobacco industry here. Experiments in Windsor, CT had proven that it was possible to grow Cuban tobacco in Connecticut by reproducing the tropical climate of Cuba and Sumatra artificially. This was done by enclosing the tobacco field in a "tent" of very loosely woven cloth. The resulting tobacco had a thinner leaf which had previously been imported into the US by local cigar manufacturers. Several of these "shade grown" plantations were successful enough to survive until the early 1970's when the market for this once important crop declined dramatically. The resurgence of shade tobacco growing in this area is solely attributable to the efforts of the Enfield Shade Tobacco Co. Enfield Shade Tobacco grows solely for ALTADIS USA...the manufacturer of brands such as Montecristo Don Diego. Enfield Shade plans on increasing it's current acreage of 300 acres in 2002."

From Cigar Aficionado:
"Made in the Shade, For A century, Connecticut farmers have grown some of the world's finest cigar wrapper tobacco."

"...The leaves of Connecticut shade hanging above him are considered by many to be the finest cigar tobacco in the world. Connecticut shade is wrapped around Macanudo, Davidoff, Montecristo, Ashton and Fonseca cigars, among many others.

The uninitiated are amazed that cigar tobacco grows so far north of the Caribbean, but native Americans grew tobacco in Connecticut before the arrival of Europeans, and historians say locals have grown cigar tobacco there since the 1600s. Tobacco is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. Seedlings a few inches tall are placed in the soil in May, and by Independence Day the plants will have soared to nine feet. By the end of August, when the final priming is harvested, a Connecticut-shade tobacco plant might stand 12 feet tall."

From The New York Times:
A Premium Crop From the Shade
WHAT do the jungles of Sumatra have in common with the Connecticut countryside? Not much -- unless you're talking about growing tobacco for cigars. It all began in the late 1800s when Connecticut tobacco farmers faced stiff competition from Southeast Asian imports. Researchers and farmers came up with an ingenious idea: Why not grow tobacco here under cotton netting to approximate Sumatran conditions, meaning perpetual cloud cover and high heat and humidity. Thus was born Connecticut shade tobacco, with its cured leaf with its kid glove smooth texture and distinctive taste is used worldwide to wrap expensive, hand-made premium cigars.

Connecticut shade is a hot player in the new cigar boom that is sweeping America....

Tobacco quality comparable to ours may be found in other places like Cuba or Sumatra where our seed originally came from,'' says Angel Daniel Nunez, a senior vice president of General Cigar. ''But you cannot duplicate our taste anywhere else.''

He points out that the wrapper is only about 5 percent of the weight of a cigar, ''But it accounts for most of the taste. A Connecticut wrapper cigar smokes cooler, longer, more evenly and with a delicate taste....''

Connecticut shade, according to Ms. Martin, is now cultivated, for example, in Ecuador and marketed as ''Connecticut seed'' leaf. ''But one puff and a smoker knows it is not the real thing,'' she says.

Don't just take Connecticut's word for it. Gordon Mott, managing editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine, says: ''Connecticut shade is considered, simply, the finest wrapper tobacco in the world with its high degree of suppleness, consistent golden brown color and flavor that's not overpowering.''

For detailed information on harvesting shade tobacco, check out these excellent articles: Shade Tobacco Days, and A Day in the Shade.

(Below): Broadleaf tobacco hanging out to dry (so-to-speak).

More from the Cigar Oficianado article:
"The first Connecticut tobacco was grown in the open sunlight, which makes a leaf thick and dark, with veins like ropes. That variety is called Connecticut broadleaf, a brawny tobacco known for its heavy flavor and less than elegant appearance. Today, broadleaf is used on brands such as Henry Clay, on many maduro varieties of premium cigars and on a host of cigars made by machine, which include Muniemakers, Backwoods, Marsh Wheelings and Toppers....

Wrapper is the most expensive type of tobacco, and no wrapper costs more to grow than Connecticut shade. "It's the most expensive, most labor intensive, most risky type of tobacco to plant," says Folz. The highest-grade shade tobacco from Honduras retails for around $20 to $25 a pound, while top-quality Connecticut wrappers sell for $45 to $50 a pound."

(Below): Connecticut broadleaf tobacco.

(Below): The flower of Connecticut broadleaf tobacco.

More Links:
The Secret Life of Shade Tobacco

Brown's Harvest

At WAR In the Valley

From Tobacco To Cigar

A Connecticut Leaf in Cuba: "Cuba is Growing Hundreds of Acres of Connecticut Seed Tobacco for Shade Wrappers"

"Others who have tried the Cuban-grown Connecticut shade are less impressed. "It isn't bad. It isn't good," says one tobacco specialist familiar with the Cuban project and the global market for tobacco. "It doesn't taste like Cuban leaf and it doesn't taste like Connecticut. If you want to do Connecticut, why do it outside [the state]? There is so much land out there still to be planted in Connecticut, but everybody around the world is copying Connecticut. You can find it in Ecuador or wherever, even in Indonesia."

Chapter 4 - Agriculture in Enfield: the tobacco story (page 74 - page 82)

Connecticut River Valley: Fields of Gold

One tough leaf, Dark cigars are hot, and that calls for dark, rugged Connecticut broadleaf

Hung Out To Dry? The Connecticut River Valley Is Fast Losing Its Picturesque Tobacco Sheds To Development And Neglect

Cigar trend makes tobacco barns in New England hot property


  1. That was truly delightful. I have seen some tobacco farms in Bangladesh,but the pictures and the information was truly enjoyable. I had no idea that a leaf could get bruised so easily, or that they were seperate leaves for wrapping and filling.
    So VB did you bring back some? Should we have a light up. I dont drink but I can make a nice cuppa.

  2. Kaya: Thanks. My son's friend did some picking as a summer job, and said there's a special way to deal with it.

    I'm still in the States and probably won't be getting anywhere near the stuff, except photographing it. The Boss Man prefers Cubans, so he'd be more interested in it than I would be.