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"I am the smoker of the fine Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne Torpedo cigar, they are a medium to mild smoke. I buy them at Doc James Cigar & Golf in Shrub Oaks NY...." Ira

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Where It All Begins: How to Grow and Harvest Top Quality Cigars

The best cigars are made with only the raw basics. Soil and climate directly affect the taste, smell, ash and burn types associated with different types of cigars. The seeds that you use to plant tobacco ultimately decide the color, size and texture of a cigar leaf. Typically, cigar growers plant their seeds during September and October, allowing the seeds to grow for six weeks. The best of these seedlings then go to the fields where they spend about six more weeks before maturity. Tobacco plants reach about 5 to 6 feet high upon maturity, and the leaves begin to hang like willow trees. That's when the growers decide that it's time to pick the leaves, which is also called priming. About two to four leaves are taken during priming.

Tobacco plants actually have three different leaves. One is very mild, called the volado, which is taken from the lower part of the plant. Seco has a richer and formidable flavor and is removed from the middle part of the plant. Finally, ligero is the leaf taken from the top of the plant and offers the most formidable flavor. Cigars often blend all three of these leaves for a strong, aromatic taste.

Plants continue to grow until the new year. By January, they have been primed up to six times. Harvesters start with the volado and move up the plant, collecting the other leaves to yield about 18 leaves per tobacco plant. Using palm strips, the leaves are braided together once arranged by size and texture. Any leaves with defects or poor quality go into a rejection pile. The leaves are then placed over long poles enclosed in a wood barn where they dry for three to eight weeks. The climate is extremely hot and tropical to allow for the humidification of the leaf. They change colors during this event, usually from green to a spotted yellow and finally, brown. In some cases, lighter leaves are more desirable, so the ones that are still slightly green will be taken to another room where they enter a controlled darkening procedure.

After the drying period, the leaves are transported to packing houses where they receive a grade based on size, texture and color. In addition, different categories are determined for wrapper, binder and filler as the leaf is then wrapped together in groups of other leaves called "hands."

There is also another growing season for tobacco leaves that spans from December until April. However, this crop usually goes through rougher climate changes due to cold and moisture, which can lend itself to blue mold. This is the ultimate fear for tobacco growers. Once blue mold sets in, it spreads quickly throughout the crop and ruins any field of tobacco. In 1990 and '92 to '93, Cuba lost most of its tobacco to the blue mold fungus. It also affected a large part of the Dominican Republic's crops in 1984. Tobacco growers also worry about other issues such as blue shank, mosaic virus and, of course, the fearsome tobacco beetle.