A PAPPY VAN WINKLE CIGAR ROLLER AT DREW ESTATE
We’re all about family at Pappy & Company. That’s why, when we partnered with Drew Estate to make our Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented Cigars, we were thrilled to see that they treat each employee like family. At La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate in Estelí, Nicaragua, Cyntia Salmerón is one member of their 2,000-employee family.
From high temperatures to heavy rains on any given day, the weather in Estelí can be quite unpredictable. A few fortunate people take motorcycles to work, but for the vast majority of people in Estelí, they have no means of transportation other than taxis or walking. At La Gran Fabrica, more 20 buses are deployed every morning to safely bring cigar rollers, like Cyntia and her neighbors, to and from work. Cyntia rides the bus every day arriving early, starting her day with the focus of making the best cigars possible.
Upon entering the rolling floor, she takes her blend card off of her rolling table and walks it to the storage desk at the rear of the factory. Drew Estate has tobaccos from all over the world. From Nicaragua to Indonesia, a vast variety are flavor-aged and prepared for the rolling floor.
Cyntia hands over her special card and is handed back a pile of fragrant, raw ingredients that make up the Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented blend. The aroma of the smoky Kentucky fire-cured tobacco is created via a 200-year-old process that’s only utilized by Drew Estate for premium, hand-rolled cigars.
Cyntia returns to her table and hands several stacks of binder and filler leaves to her bonchero, Miguel. The rolling pair is an age-old idea, pairing the strong masculine hands required to bunch and place the binder and filler tobaccos with the graceful touch of feminine hands required to carefully apply the delicate cigar wrapper. Together, Cyntia and Miguel share a sibling-like bond, having spent more than a year as a pair working in tandem making cigar after cigar.
Noise fills the air as more coworkers arrive and begin placing the raw cigars into molds to be pressed. The clamor from the rolling, cutting, molds cranking and music playing on the overhead speakers fills the factory floor with energy. After the cigars are pressed in the mold, Cyntia goes to work cutting the Mexican San Andres wrapper with her chaveta, a shiny half-moon blade used to slice the delicate leaf. Carefully, she applies the wrapper to each cigar with a delicate but deliberate motion. She then applies the secondary Kentucky fire-cured wrapper to the cap, adding the Tapa Negra, giving the cigar another level of complexity. Every 25 cigars are bundled into newspaper, which creates a pyramid of cigars called a half-wheel that is measured and weighed for accuracy.
A supervisor takes one of the recently finished cigars, examining the wrapper for imperfections and then lighting the cigar to inspect the flavors of the blend. The tobacco placement in the binder and filler is critical to maintaining the true power, flavor and aroma of the blend, and it must be consistent across every cigar. The supervisor gives a thumbs up as approval.
A little while later, a blaring siren fires off, signaling a morning coffee break. The beehive of activity comes to a screeching halt as hundreds of rollers stroll to the outside courtyard for their morning coffee. Cyntia sits near a group of her friends, sharing jokes and asking about their upcoming class this weekend. She is studying accounting, hoping one day to graduate from the factory floor to work in the offices at Drew Estate. Coffee is an essential part of the Nicaraguan day. It helps the workers relax and re-energize.
Returning to the floor after her break, she begins work again, rejuvenated. As her day progresses, again her cigars are inspected. This one is rejected for a small flaw in the wrapper. It is this attention to detail and quality that separates Pappy & Company and Drew Estate from the rest of the pack. Cyntia takes pride in her work and strives to craft a flawless product. By the time the lunch siren sounds, three half-wheels of Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented cigars are ready for inspection. She’s on track for her goal of 200 by the end of the workday.
Miguel and Cyntia sit together outside for lunch, enjoying the cool breeze with the mountains in the distance. Today she has brought chicken and gallo pinto to eat. After finishing, she joins a group kicking around a soccer ball. These break times are important for building bonds and commonality between employees of all ages, neighborhoods and job levels.
After an hour break, they return to the table to begin the process of perfection again. The sounds of the factory never quiet down, but Cyntia is only concerned with rolling. Skillfully hand-rolling each cigar, she continues to increase her production rate as the team gets into a rhythm. She notices a tear in the wrapper of one of the cigars. Rather than throw it away, she lights it and begins to smoke. It reminds her of her grandfather, who used to smoke cigars as he watched her play with the other young children in her neighborhood growing up.
Her thoughts return to the factory room as the siren echoes throughout the room, signaling the second coffee break of the day. Cyntia treasures these breaks, because La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate is her second family. This is time to enjoy the small moments in life, to socialize and to make plans to go dancing with her girlfriends this weekend. By the end of the day, she has masterfully rolled exactly 200 Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented Cigars. While others in the factory roll more, Cyntia and her team are paid more to make less – a testament to their skill and precision.
As Cyntia boards the bus to return home, she has a smile on her face, knowing she worked hard today for her family. The Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented Cigar is truly graced by the hard work and dedication of the Drew Estate family. And as members of the Van Winkle family, we are honored to be able to share them with you.