Smokers who have tasted Burma Valley cigars regard them as exceptional and Mr Edmondson, a Von Eicken’s buyer, noted at the start of the cigar wrapper tobacco marketing season. Von Eicken, a Germany company, is making cigars from wrappers, binders and fillers from Burma Valley thereby making them 100 percent Zimbabwean cigars. The aim for farmers is to produce wrappers, which is the most expensive component of the cigar.
What fails to make it to the class of the wrapper becomes a binder or a filler.
The wrapper determines the quality, character and taste of a cigar and is considered to determine 60-90 percent of the cigar’s overall flavour.
Consequently, more attention should be put in monitoring the cigar wrapper tobacco crop.
In previous seasons, Burma Valley farmers grew the cigar wrapper in direct sunlight, the contracting company this season availed shade cloths underneath which the premium cigar wrapper tobacco can be grown.
The difference between wrappers that are grown beneath a shade and those grown in direct sunlight is that those that are grown under a shade have a premium smooth surface while those grown in direct sunlight are oily, often coarse and sweeter.
Cigar wrapper tobacco leaves are harvested and aged using a process that combines use of heat and shade to reduce sugar and water content without causing the leaves to rot.
The first part of the process, called curing, takes between 25-45 days and varies substantially.
It is also based on climatic conditions as well as the construction of shades or barns used to store harvested tobacco.
The curing process is manipulated based on the type of tobacco and the desired colour of the leaf.
The second part of the process, called fermentation is carried out under conditions designed to help the leaf dry slowly.
Temperature and humidity are controlled to ensure that the leaf continues to ferment, without rotting or disintegrating.
Cigar wrappers are fermented separately from other rougher cigar components, with a view to produce a thinly- veined smooth supple leaf.
The flavour, dark burnt colour and aroma characteristics are primarily assigned on the leaf at this stage.
Once the leaves have aged properly, they are sorted for use as wrapper, binder or filler based upon their appearance and overall quality.
Binders normally come from the bottom part of the plant where leaves are thicker, have more strength and less flavour hence they are used to keep the filler together.
While they are the lowest grade of tobacco within a cigar, the binders can be blended to bring about flavour, complexity and strength to the cigar.
Fillers can be from any part of the plant as the top parts of the plant have great aroma and flavour while bottom parts have the best burning properties hence the need to blend to achieve desired taste and optimum burning qualities.
During the fermentation process, leaves are continually moistened and handled carefully to ensure each leaf is best used accordingly to its individual qualities.
The leaf will continue to be baled, inspected, un-baled, re-inspected, and baled again repeatedly as it continues the aging cycle.
This process can take up to eight months before the leaf is considered mature and meets the manufacturer’s specifications for use in cigar production.
It is the third season now since Zimbabwe had ventured into growing cigar wrapper tobacco replacing burley tobacco which had ceased its operations in 2011.
It is very overwhelming to note that Zimbabwe has become the third African country after Cameroon and Kenya to produce the high valued crop.
The first and second season were a pilot project where few hectares were grown as part of the experiment.
This season 20 hectares of cigar wrapper have been grown as well as three hectares of burley and the first bale of the sale was sold for $6 per kg.
Burma Valley was chosen for the pilot owing to its lucid climatic conditions, which are suitable for the growth of cigar tobacco.
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