La Fuente castle in a file photo, before the storm damage. This is the birthplace of Fuente Fuente OpusX packaging.
An intense and long-lasting hailstorm destroyed several hectares of cigar tobacco at Chateau de la Fuente in El Caribe, Dominican Republic on May 6. Ice fell from the sky, tearing holes in unpicked tobacco leaves, knocking down stamen shade, damaging drying barns and destroying nurseries. In the aftermath, it looked like snow had fallen in the tropics, with workers chipping away piles of ice that had accumulated on the collapsed tent that normally covers the fields.
The storm destroyed much of a 45-acre tobacco crop that was ready for harvest. Wrapping tobacco must be virgin, so that any damage renders it unusable as a cover sheet. Video of the aftermath of the storm shows crushed plants and leaves that were peppered with hail holes, making it look like someone blasted the tobacco with a shotgun. About 120 additional acres of tobacco grown earlier in the season had already been picked and were undamaged by the storm.
“We have been hit hard,” said Carlos Fuente Jr. cigar lover. “That was the weirdest thing.” He said the storm lasted more than an hour, and one of his workers told him there was “unheard of ice accumulation in the area.”
Château de la Fuente is a farm where Fuente grows all of its wrappers for the Fuente Fuente OpusX brand, one of the hottest cigar brands in the world. Fuente said about 90% of the 45 acres of tobacco in the ground at the time of the storm had been destroyed or damaged. A seed of this field had already been taken. (Most cigar tobacco is harvested in stages, called priming, where workers remove the leaves in groups of three, working from the bottom of the plant upwards, over a period of several weeks.)
Extensive damage to Chateau de la Fuente, where a hailstorm collapsed acres of stamen shade and crushed the tobacco below, leaving heaps of ice in its wake. (Photo/A. Fuente Cigars)
Along with all the tobacco, some of Fuente’s infrastructure was also destroyed: cheese cloth, poles, wires, even some damage to drying barns, warehouses and animal pens. “We damaged everything,” he said.
As bad as it was, it’s not as bad as the other storms that hit the farm. “It’s a bad thing, but it’s not the end of the world,” Fuente said. Hurricane Georges cleared the farm of its drying barns in 1998, causing Fuente to temporarily halt production of OpusX (and the creation of Añejo). Fuente said this storm will not affect shipments this year, but will scale back somewhat next year, to plan for future shortages with a lower-than-expected harvest.
Prior to this hailstorm, the weather had been great for Fuente’s harvest. “It was the very end of the harvest. It was a very good year,” he said.
Fuente was particularly shocked by the date the storm hit, which happened to be the birthday of his father, Carlos Fuente Sr., who died in 2016.