San Juan y Martínez: Mecca for Tobacco


23/02/2014

For more than 150 years a small rural village, placed almost in westernmost southern Cuba, makes lovers of Habanos feel curious and eager for at least once in their lifetimes, as loyal pilgrims visit that blessed land to pay tribute to the best tobacco in the world. And it is not because it was the first place where Christopher Columbus first saw the Cuban natives enjoying themselves with the smoke of such aromatic leave, which they also used in their rites. The truth is that the Great Admiral was so impressed that decided to take it to Europe, as if guessing its magical properties for seducing monarchs, clerics and barons, to continue to bankroll his journeys.

 

It rapidly anaged to gain followers, as long as he could bring more of that magical leave. They did not know that the best was about to come. Fate had reserved an exceptional future for San Juan and Martinez, yet with no name, with peculiar characteristics in soil and climate, a region that would in time be known as Vuelta Abajo. Subsistence agriculture and ranching had begun in the 16th century in this area.

 

According to historians, the first house was  constructed by Benito Lorenzo Ríos in 1702, while the first church, built in wood and thatch leaves, by master carpenter Don Tomás Carballo, was erected in 1760 and anointed to San Juan Bautista. In 1797 the town was a village of no more than 12 thatch-roofed houses. During the first half of the 19th century, the hamlet was destroyed in two different moments: after a hurricane in 1814 and later a fire in 1828.

 It is only after 1850 that the population began to grow and that brick, mud, thatch-and-tile houses popped up. The brick-and-mortar church was built in 1863, as the blueprints of the graveyard were designed. Tobacco growth had finally reached its peak. By that time a “dreamer” had moved into the town, wishing to turn an odd farm, placed in a low land at the entrance of the town, into a true jewel of tobacco production, dedicated to a woman, his true love.

A BRAND OF NOBLE LINEAGE

 Unlike other brands of Cuban tobacco, which reached fame as they were named after historic, artistic or novelistic characters, or after politicians or diplomatic, admired for their acting, Hoyo de Monterrey was got its name from the plantation out of Vuelta  Abajo, home to the leaves used in its production. The lineage was noble.

  Its history begins in 1860, when Catalonian José Gener Batet bought that land, considered among the best in the region, and immediately put into practice all he had learned since his arrival in Cuba in 1831, at the age of 13, to work in the croplands his uncle had in Vuelta Abajo.

After 20 years of learning the finest secrets of tobacco, he decided to move to Havana in 1851 and open his own tobacco factory, to which, no by fortune, he named La Escepción (The Exception).

The exceptional touch of his cigars was given, form 1860 on, by that distinguished, aromatic and soft tobacco. He could even proclaim in the labels of the cedar boxes: “this factory is the only one that can produce cigars of this kind for the plantation belongs to it”.

Since his arrival at the farm, he ordered the deviation of the river to make the most of the soil, thus obtaining better results. In just 20 hectares of land he managed to build a model plantation, marked from the very entrance by two thick columns, crowned by an iron gate, shaped as an arch, with rays resembling a rising sun.

 The famous inscription: “Hoyo de Monterrey. José Gener. 1860” is still preserved. Photos from the epoch reveal his devotion for details; the border fence, the main house, the boundary strip of mangoes, which lead to the tobacco houses.

 

Admired for its historic legend, the plantation of Hoyo de Monterrey today stands for a travel destination that gives San Juan and Martinez great amenity,  especially during the winter, when harvesting is due. A plaque immortalizes the importance of the place, declared municipality monument in 1969 and protected area in 1996.

 Nestled about 180 k Here visitors could appreciate the culture of tobacco to its greatest extent, its growth and harvest, the job inside the curing barns, and the benefits of the wickremoving process and selection.m west of Havana and 20 km west of Pinar del Rio City, the neighboring  unicipalities make up the core of the land of the world’s finest tobacco.

A wide freeway allows visitors to get there, with the choice of taking a slight detour toward Viñales Valley, few miles ahead of Pinar del Río. From there, on both sides of the road, visitors can make out tobacco plantations, characterized by their order and symmetry, a trait of the elegance of Habanos since the very beginnings.

Gener used the name Hoyo de Monterrey for the first time as a tobacco brand in 1865. Its soft flavor makes it an attractive choice for those who like a softer, delicate and aromatic habano with great elegance and complexity. The brand acquired fame and distinction since very early, especially in the British market, and José Gener’s factory became one of the largest in Cuba.

The series Le Hoyo was created during the forties, to which this year incorporates a new vitola, Le Hoyo San Juan, in trinute to the birthplace of that universal brand, which will definitely constitute a historic event in the fabulous world of Habanos.