Founded in 1845, Finca el Pinar, also known as Finca Robaina, grows some of the world’s finest tobacco. 20 kilometres drive south-west of Pinar del Río, the farm and its cigars became famous under Alejandro Robaina who passed away in 2010. Alejandro’s grandson, Hiroshi Robaina now runs the property.
Although Rocío and I weren’t cigar fans, we didn’t want to miss seeing an iconic aspect of Cuba. From Pinar del Río we took a Lada 2107 taxi to Finca Robaina (20 CUC/US$20 round-trip including waiting time). Fortunately our January 2017 visit coincided with the tobacco growing season when the fields were lush and green.
Unlike most tobacco farms, Finca Robaina remained independent post-revolution. Alejandro was persuasive enough to convince Fidel Castro it shouldn’t be taken over by the state. However, 90% of production still goes to government-run cigar factories in Havana. State company Habanos SA’s Vegas Robaina brand is named after the family.
Finca el Pinar has both open and shaded tobacco fields. The 2 CUC (US$2) entry fee includes a cigar-making demonstration and explanation of the different tobacco leaves used. The farm seeds, grows, harvests, cures (dries) and ferments the tobacco before sending it to factories for cigar assembly.
The guide explained the three categories of cigar tobacco leaves: wrapper, binder and filler:
- Wrappers: the outer layers, coming from the shaded fields
- Binders: the inside wrappers, coming from the bottom leaves in the open fields
- Filler: also sourced from the open fields, filler leaves have different properties based on their plant position and incidence of sunlight:
- The bottom leaves (volado) determine combustion
- The middle leaves (seco) provide the flavour and aroma
- The top leaves (ligero) determine the cigar strength: light, medium or strong
While cheaper cigars are machine-made, the best are hand-rolled and often cost tens of dollars per individual cigar stick. The man demonstrating cigar rolling at the farm looked completely bored, as if he was a circus animal.
Finca Robaina doesn’t sell cigars, although they were for sale at a nearby building. Rocío considered purchasing some as gifts but the cigars were expensive and while they looked authentic we couldn’t be sure.
Although the farm tour could be more comprehensive, Finca el Pinar is still a worthwhile destination, particularly for cigar lovers. People on limited budgets or schedules can also visit less famous tobacco farms closer to Viñales.