AN HOMBRE HABANO
Pinar Del Río, Cuba
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A Conversation With Hector Luis Prieto
Hombre Habano in Pinar Del Río, Cuba
Hector Luis Prieto was thirty-six years old in 2007 when he was awarded the prestigious honor of Hombre Habano, an annual award for the best quality production of tobacco in the cigar industry. As the youngest Hombre Habano in history, having won the award multiple times ever since, Prieto’s San Juan y Martinez plantation provides Cuba’s Habanos S.A. with one of the most exceptional tobacco blends, grown exclusively for the country’s premium cigar brands Cohiba, Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta.
I feel grateful that my tobacco, the tobacco of Cuba, is a prize that people can hold in their hands.HECTOR LUIS PRIETO, HOMBRE HABANO
S+O — WHAT IS THE HOMBRE HABANO AWARD AND WHY IS IT SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
Prieto — Hombre Habano is the award given for the quality of tobacco grown in a season. It is the most important honor in our profession. When I was thirty-six years old, I had the opportunity to receive the award and become the youngest Hombre Habano in history. This signified something very important to me, not only because I was the youngest recipient of the award, but because no one from my family has had the opportunity to win an accolade so prestigious. It is really something that transforms from being a personal accomplishment into being an honor for my entire family.
S+O — HOW LONG HAS YOUR FAMILY BEEN IN THE TOBACCO BUSINESS?
Prieto — My family has been involved in tobacco farming, here on this land, since the 1800s. Like so many farmers here, they came from the Canary Islands. I inherited this land from my grandfather, on my mother’s side. And before him, every member of our family has worked the land.
S+O — WAS THERE A TIME WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU WOULD PURSUE ANOTHER PROFESSION?
Prieto — Tobacco is a life-long tradition for me, and I don’t really know any different way. It would be impossible to say that I could do something else. It’s in my genes. It’s something that I cannot be detached from. I love tobacco, but it’s because I carry it in my blood. So, I always had an inclination towards it, and growing up here, it’s very difficult to do anything else. I believe that, one day, I’ll have the opportunity to pass my knowledge to someone that will do the same.
S+O — DO YOU HAVE AN HEIR TO TAKE OVER THE FAMILY BUSINESS SOMEDAY?
Prieto — I have a boy who is twenty-four years old. He graduated from College, but he now lives here in the farm working with me, and will eventually assume responsibility. But I believe I will live until one hundred and twenty, so he has some time to prepare. But really, all this time, he has been learning alongside me, and it is necessary to have that period and opportunity to delve into the craft. So I believe the future is guaranteed.
S+O — HOW IS YOUR PLANTATION DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS IN THE REGION?
Prieto — We only have a small portion of the tobacco world. I have a method that is a little different, but still very traditional and similar to what my ancestors did. And we have great soil in our farm. This is what really elevates the taste of all the premium brands which Habanos S.A. represents.
S+O — WHY DO YOU BELIEVE PINAR DEL RIO IS SUCH A SPECIAL PLACE, NOT JUST FOR TOBACCO PRODUCTION, BUT TO LIVE IN?
Prieto — San Juan y Martinez in the Pinar del Rio province is the best region in the world concerning tobacco production. Not many people have the opportunity to say that they live in an area that’s the best in the world. I have the pleasure of saying that. It’s the best when it comes to soil, aroma, and it has the best reputation. And the people of Pinar del Rio, we were all raised with great values, we understand each other, and we have great hearts. There’s a love in this land that lives in our hearts. Anyone would feel fortunate to live here from all the places in the world.
S+O — HOW WAS THE HARVEST THIS SEASON YEAR?
Prieto — This year wasn’t typical. We’ve had a lot of rain and we had to race against the harvest date. In a normal season, we usually plant in November and complete the harvest by early March. Because of the rain this year, we had to plant again during May and harvest throughout the summer.
…the way the wind blows, the amount of rain, and the amount of sun hour-by-hour. All of these things determine if the harvest is good, normal or bad…
S+O — ARE THERE SIGNS EARLY IN THE SEASON TO INDICATE HOW LONG THE HARVEST SEASON MAY TAKE?
Prieto — We have learned, over time, that there are many indicators of how well a crop will perform. It’s not determined by the year, the month or even the day, but by the hour. It’s in the way the wind blows, the amount of rain, and the amount of sun hour-by-hour. All of these things determine if the harvest is good, normal or bad… It unravels with time and it has to be watched closely.
S+O — THERE HAVE BEEN MANY DEVELOPMENTS ON THE RELATIONS BETWEEN CUBA AND THE UNITED STATES. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THESE CHANGES?
Prieto — Cuba is changing every day, just as the world changes. If Cuba and the United States realistically embrace the position of change in their dialogues, and respect each other’s politics and cultures, these conversations will be able to finally move forward and promise a better future. Do you realize, that for fifty-two years, Americans have denied themselves a view of the wonderful, romantic Cuba? That, for more than fifty years, they have denied themselves smoking a pure Cuban cigar?
S+O — WHAT MAKES THIS WAY OF LIFE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Prieto — There are only a few things that are important in my life- my family, my friends, and tobacco. I feel grateful that my tobacco, the tobacco of Cuba, is a prize that people can hold in their hands. For that reason, we work. For that reason, we dedicate time to the harvest. We carry our love into the tobacco, and every time the tobacco passes into other hands, that love is carried with it. Tobacco is a reason to live.
Photography by Brian Sokol
Film by Oresti Tsonopoulos
Special Acknowledgments - Miguel and Osvaldo of Vega Quemado del Rubi
Exclusive Edition 002 CIGARRO PURO
This farm-rolled cigar is made from tobacco grown in the Vuelta Abajo, the celebrated farming region of Pinar de Río in Cuba. Many of the farmers who continue the tradition of cultivating the plant come from a long line of ancestors who settled in the area from the Canary Islands of Spain. The Spanish fascination with tobacco began some five hundred years ago after Christopher Columbus discovered the island and dispatched emissaries to the interior of the island where they found the native Taíno participating in smoke rituals to communicate with their idols. Whereas today a Cuban cigar is seen as status symbol or for celebrations, in Cuba all classes of men and women enjoy the cigarro puro as a daily ritual. Available exclusively on Stories + Objects, the cigarro puro is a limited edition memento rolled in Cuban newspaper and presented in a hand-planed Spanish cedar and stone clay humidor.
Pinar Del Río, Cuba
Pinar del Río is a province on the westernmost tip of Cuba. It features some of the most beautiful landscapes on the island, from steep limestone mogotes and verdant green valleys to turquoise waters. The microclimates and incredibly fertile soils have made the area one of the best tobacco growing regions of the world. Although the accommodations and overall tourist infrastructure leaves a bit to be desired at this time, some of the most authentic Cuban experiences await travelers willing to explore a few hours outside of Havana and adjust to the country pace of life in the province.