How are the R&J characteristics obtained?


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Hello everyone!

So I lit up an R&J Churchill this morning and have just been marveling at it's beautifully unique flavors and spice. I've come to associate most cigars in this marca with that distinct spice.

I can't say that I've had another CC marca or certainly NC that also has that distinct spice. It isn't necessarily peppery like other cigars but it does have a kick and it lingers.

So my question is, does anyone know what they might do with the R&J tobacco to give it this unique aspect? Is it the way it is fermented or do they use a specific seed that exhibits these characteristics? I mean one of the obvious possibilities is just due to blending but like I said, I don't really pick up this specific type of spice outside of the R&J marca. What are your thoughts?

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I think the cornerstone of cigar blending is astringency, or tannic sour qualities.    Especially with Cuban cigars, that hallmark of 'tang' or 'twang' that enthusiast refer too, can be wonderfully en

I'm going to preface the rest of my comments by reminding everyone of the country and location within the country that most of these farmers live. PdR ain't Havana, by a long shot. Even Havana is stru

for cuba, i mentioned micro and macro climatic conditions so absolutely agree. the human influence on terroir comes down to all manner of things. take bordeaux, if not for massive human inte

CC flavor is determined by the specific area where the leaf is grown. Processing practices are uniform for all leaf except Cohiba and Maduro.

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I’m sure the terroir of the various plantations has an impact as well, at least to some degree. 

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Thanks for the feedback everyone! I find it so fascinating that the environment in which the plants are grown can have such a profound effect on the flavors in a cigar. Specifically, that the different locations within a single island can be so unique and different!

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3 hours ago, MrBirdman said:

I’m sure the terroir of the various plantations has an impact as well, at least to some degree. 

I believe terroir is almost everything. I think the strain of the plant and priming of the leaf has marginal impact. We're talking flavor profile here. I believe this is also the case for wrapper. I have come to believe that certain wrapper leaf is in fact dedicated to certain cigars. Like the filler, the rosado wrappers on RyJ are designated for them. There is certainly variation but I don't see that thin, rosado wrapper with nice sheen on many other cigars other than RyJ. Just like San Cristobal wrappers have that unique rusty color and QdO has that golden tan color.

3 hours ago, Spaceman Spiff said:

Specifically, that the different locations within a single island can be so unique and different!

There can be significant difference in different areas of the same farm. Keep in mind nearly all of the filler for premium brands is grown in the areas of San Luis and San Juan y Martinez alone. 

Vuelta Abajo is very small. Tobacco grown just a few miles outside of it is considered second-tier and tastes completely different. 

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3 hours ago, Spaceman Spiff said:

Specifically, that the different locations within a single island can be so unique and different!

I guess I’m not surprised because I’m familiar with some wine regions, especially Champagne, where the terroir is incredibly diverse, even within sub-regions, to say nothing of how the grapes are grown. I see tobacco as basically the same principles, except I’m gonna smoke the results! 

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lots of talk about terroir but how much do we include man's influence and impact when it comes to terroir. i know with wine, some will say not relevant. others believe very much so (i am in the latter camp). 

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Terroir is everything, just look at Burgundy. I would think it’s no different for tobacco. I don’t discount Ken’s point, but it would seem to me farming and the processing of tobacco are more homogeneous in Cuba than Burgundy. Very hard for anyone to say because of the lack of transparency with regard to where components of the blends are sourced and what attributes are important to the ligadors. For me, this is the most interesting of all topics related to Cuban cigar production, but I don’t hold out hope we’ll ever get greater insight. 

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1 minute ago, shortsqueeze said:

Terroir is everything, just look at Burgundy. I would think it’s no different for tobacco. I don’t discount Ken’s point, but it would seem to me farming and the processing of tobacco are more homogeneous in Cuba than Burgundy. Very hard for anyone to say because of the lack of transparency with regard to where components of the blends are sourced and what attributes are important to the blenders. For me, this is the most interesting of all topics related to Cuban cigar production, but I don’t hold out hope we’ll ever get greater insight. 

my point is certainly agreeing that terroir is utterly crucial.

but terroir is more than just land, which is why we don't have a word in english for it. so it is the land, the aspect, the slope, the micro and the macro climatic conditions and more and then also the involvement of man. for me, man plays a serious contribution to terroir. how much that is the case in cuba, i have far less idea. 

i know that there are some who argue man is irrelevant to terroir in wine and it is a great debate to have but i am very much in the camp that man plays a role in terroir. and a very significant one. 

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4 hours ago, Ken Gargett said:

but terroir is more than just land, which is why we don't have a word in english for it. so it is the land, the aspect, the slope, the micro and the macro climatic conditions and more and then also the involvement of man. for me, man plays a serious contribution to terroir. how much that is the case in cuba, i have far less idea. 

Well, sure--terroir is the climate at that specific place as well. Cuba as a whole has a truly unique climate, particularly the Vuelta Abajo. Almost all other premium growing regions get hotter and have lower high-low spreads. Nowhere else is it 83-84° in the day and 70-72° at night with 65% humidity. 

Pinar has the river, sandy soil and little rain during the season. Wind is low allowing for shade grown wrapper. It is quite literally the perfect location for premium tobacco growing. 

As far as human influences to the terroir, I'm not quite sure what you mean. Fertilizing? Watering? Planting practices? 

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I’m certain that terroir matters hugely. That’s why only Burgundy makes wine like Burgundy. However, human intervention can also completely obscure or enhance the effect of terroir. Ken’s example of the Musigny vines is perfect. The same vineyard can produce radically different grapes as a result of different farming practices and decisions about when to pick, how much to control yields and canopy etc. They taste different.  In addition, the decisions in the cellar are critical. Heavy extraction and lots of new oak make a totally different wine than a gentle hand with the very same grapes. This is why horizontal tastings of same vineyard, same year but different makers are so fascinating. 

One interesting effect is makers bending their style towards what the wine is ‘supposed’ to taste like. So a bit more extraction and tannin for Gevrey vs Chambolle. There is no ‘natural’ or ‘neutral’ way to make wine: it’s always a set of choices.

I would dearly love to know the process by which the Cuban blenders create the signature flavours in the various marcas. Do RyJ leaves that give that amazing cherry / roses note come from particular growing areas? Or do some batches of leaf just have that character? Do a small number of farms provide the Monte chocolate profile?

I would also love to taste cubans which are rolled only from leaves from specific plots. At the moment it’s like we only have blended negotiant wines, whereas I want to try the individual vineyards and domaines. Can you get this specificity from custom rollers in Cuba?

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1 hour ago, RDB said:

One interesting effect is makers bending their style towards what the wine is ‘supposed’ to taste like.

I would dearly love to know the process by which the Cuban blenders create the signature flavours in the various marcas. Do RyJ leaves that give that amazing cherry / roses note come from particular growing areas? Or do some batches of leaf just have that character? Do a small number of farms provide the Monte chocolate profile?

To your first point, this is exactly what the Cuban ligadors are supposedly doing in Cuba. Some brands, like Punch for example, have been amazingly consistent to me over the last 20 years, most notably maintaining its woody characteristics. Others, like Bolivar, have seemingly lost their way (where has the ligero intensity gone, and the deep earth and espresso characteristics). Some may disagree on which brands have remained true to their historical profiles or even what those profiles are, but I hope we all can agree there have been changes. Are those changes intentional to attend to perceived trends and markets, or is it a lack of, or change in the raw materials?

To your second point, as mentioned, I share your desire to know more fully. Some ligadors have gone on record (I reference a 2013 interview with Arnold Bichot by Cigar Journal) and it seems both factors you reference (origin and characteristics) are in play when selecting tobaccos for the blends within their purview. 
 

Let me raise another issue, albeit tangential. I’ve noticed reduced availability of some vitolas, ERdM Choix Supreme and Sancho Panza Belicosos as two examples. What are the possible reasons for this? One, there just isn’t the demand for these vitolas at this time. Two, there is more of an emphasis on tobacco origin than characteristics in the blending and the particular vegas needed are offline or have diminished yields. Three and perhaps most controversial, some of the tobaccos with the most desirable characteristics required for these vitolas are being reallocated to brands with higher margins (Cohiba, REs).

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2 hours ago, shortsqueeze said:

Bolivar, have seemingly lost their way (where has the ligero intensity gone,

I think they put it in the Tubo #3s.  🙂

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Which exact fincas and how the tobacco is cured plays a part, but Habanos likes to be tight lipped on that.  Before the Revolution, many people in the business could tell from smoking, but only a handful of people even know what is what to make that determination today.  I am skeptical if there is a clear line of what makes an Upmann vs. Partagas is as delineated as it was in the old days. 

Maybe this coincides with why I have a lot less brand preference than I did 20+ years ago.

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Thanks again for all the feedback everyone, I could read debates like these for hours (and often do with searching this forum!)

Without having personal experience with farming tobacco, it would make sense to me that man would play a significant role in the end product though. Granted there are a lot of things we are not able to control (rainfall being one, unless you wear a tin foil hat) but decisions like plant spacing would be one of the many decisions that plays a small part.

@shortsqueeze I would be immensely upset to learn that SP Belicosos are few and far between because their tobacco was being sacrificed to the Cohiba gods. I mean they've already axed the Non-Plus! 😭

@BrightonCorgi unfortunately I'm too young to have any real opinion of the CCs of 20+ years ago, but I truly wish I did. I've read stories about the El Corojo leaf that make me want to invent a time machine.

I do however have very clear brand preferences in 2021. I'd like to think that in a blind taste that I'd be able to tell apart an Upmann from a Partagas, but I've never tried so I can't say for sure. But I do know that generally speaking, I love the Upmann marca whereas I'm indifferent to Partagas. I will say that I doubt I'd be able to tell a different between a P2 and a Diplomaticos #2, imo they have to use at least SOME of the same leaf.

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9 hours ago, RDB said:

I would also love to taste cubans which are rolled only from leaves from specific plots. At the moment it’s like we only have blended negotiant wines, whereas I want to try the individual vineyards and domaines. Can you get this specificity from custom rollers in Cuba?

Yes, and they are some of the best cigars coming off the island right now. Very similar to grower champagnes, they're also a great deal. For all the same reasons. 

The only problem is that you have to go to them. Unless you are still buying straight from the farmer or have a source you trust very, very much, you cant even get them in Havana. For me to go purchase the cigars is a roughly 4 day round trip. Haha 

I've smoked cigars that are Single Vega Puros from only a few miles apart. You can definitely tell them apart. Im sure that blending is the main driver of their difference's, but terroir and the Farmers choice's also contribute. 

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@Ken Gargett My understanding of terroir is similarly expansive. I think many people have a more limited understanding of terroir because we are kinda pushed to think of terroir in a “Burgundian” sense. I was influenced by something I heard Rodolphe Peters of Pierre Peters say: 

“Terroir means microclimate, it means topsoil, the way you grow, the knowledge of the farmers...it’s not just one thing.” 

The best translation of the word I can think of is “sense of place.” Soil is useless without the knowledge to harness it towards an end in the vine, and it takes generations for that knowledge to develop (and is never truly finished). Champagne has been making wine since the Middle Ages, and sparkling wine for over two centuries, but as Peter Liem has said, we are still learning about the terroir of the region. If terroir was just a matter of dirt and sunshine, that wouldn’t be the case. 

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1 hour ago, Spaceman Spiff said:

@shortsqueeze I would be immensely upset to learn that SP Belicosos are few and far between because their tobacco was being sacrificed to the Cohiba gods. I mean they've already axed the Non-Plus! 😭

@BrightonCorgi unfortunately I'm too young to have any real opinion of the CCs of 20+ years ago, but I truly wish I did. I've read stories about the El Corojo leaf that make me want to invent a time machine.

The more recent SP Belicoso's didn't taste like they use to.  Older ones, you could actually see and taste the minerals on the wrapper.  Salty and unique.  Not so much now.

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2 hours ago, BrightonCorgi said:

The more recent SP Belicoso's didn't taste like they use to.  Older ones, you could actually see and taste the minerals on the wrapper.  Salty and unique.  Not so much now.

I agree! They’re, rich and earthy and strong! Nothing like SPB of old. So THAT’S where the BBF tobacco went 😀.

3 hours ago, Spaceman Spiff said:

I will say that I doubt I'd be able to tell a different between a P2 and a Diplomaticos #2, imo they have to use at least SOME of the same leaf.

On this point, I recently smoked a newer Dip 2 and a newer (tubed) PSP2 and they were remarkably similar. In the past, these two would be remarkably different. Both of these newer versions were excellent cigars mind you, but nothing like they used to be. Rich and flavorful, but lacking power. Dip 2s used to take at least 5 years to shed their tannins and PSP2s were strong, earthy and spicy, like Partagas should be. What does all of this mean? Who knows!

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4 hours ago, MrBirdman said:

@Ken Gargett My understanding of terroir is similarly expansive. I think many people have a more limited understanding of terroir because we are kinda pushed to think of terroir in a “Burgundian” sense. I was influenced by something I heard Rodolphe Peters of Pierre Peters say: 

“Terroir means microclimate, it means topsoil, the way you grow, the knowledge of the farmers...it’s not just one thing.” 

The best translation of the word I can think of is “sense of place.” Soil is useless without the knowledge to harness it towards an end in the vine, and it takes generations for that knowledge to develop (and is never truly finished). Champagne has been making wine since the Middle Ages, and sparkling wine for over two centuries, but as Peter Liem has said, we are still learning about the terroir of the region. If terroir was just a matter of dirt and sunshine, that wouldn’t be the case. 

nothing gets into the terroir of champagne better than peter liem's book. fascinating stuff. and rodolphe is one of those growers for whom it is far more relevant than the big producers. absolutely agree with all of that. i think the first bloke to use 'sense of place' was matt kramer. matt is not so much on things like cuisine influencing the selection of grapes, though i've never specifically discussed that with him. he looks to places like the mosel and burgundy having chosen their grapes - riesling and pinot noir because the old monks wanted the voice of god to come through what they were doing and so they went with a single grape as that gives a clearer voice, not muddled by blends. though he is far more eloquent about all this than i could ever be. 

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The human component to terroir is fascinating to me, especially when considering Cuban cigars.  How much autonomy do the individual farmers have under the Habanos umbrella?  Some of the alternate methods used by neighboring wineries that Ken mentioned have to be a function of different ownership, approaches, proprietary methodologies, I imagine.  Does that latitude exist on Cuban tobacco farms, or is it truly just a variation in seed, soil, locale, etc?  Are farmers able to “try new things” to get a preferred outcome, or are all plants grown and harvested the same way?  Thank you all for sharing your expertise - I love all the learning that happens here.

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4 hours ago, Ken Gargett said:

nothing gets into the terroir of champagne better than peter liem's book. fascinating stuff. and rodolphe is one of those growers for whom it is far more relevant than the big producers. absolutely agree with all of that. i think the first bloke to use 'sense of place' was matt kramer. matt is not so much on things like cuisine influencing the selection of grapes, though i've never specifically discussed that with him. he looks to places like the mosel and burgundy having chosen their grapes - riesling and pinot noir because the old monks wanted the voice of god to come through what they were doing and so they went with a single grape as that gives a clearer voice, not muddled by blends. though he is far more eloquent about all this than i could ever be. 

Liem’s book is terrific! I especially like his thoughts on dosage. 

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