Premium Cigar History
Tobacco has been grown in Sichuan province for hundreds of years, ever since the Qing Dynasty. Great Wall Cigars began as Yichuan Industry Society, which was established in 1918 as well as being the earliest cigar producing enterprise in the country.
In the 1960s, Great Wall Cigars started making cigars for Chairman Mao who approved of a particular blend, which was then made available to the market. With such a political blessing, the handmade, pre-cut 1323 cigar has become one of China’s most dominant brands. Members of the 132 cigar rolling team are elder statesmen of the company and are highly regarded for their role in creating such a prized and well known cigar.
The current state of the art facility at Great Wall Cigars was completed in 2007. Since then, the company has partnered with Altadis and Agio. This has allowed access to better technology when producing handmade and machine made cigars.
The Tobacco Fields
A 30 minute drive out from Great Wall Cigars headquarters takes you to their tobacco fields. Despite the abundant bright yellow canola crops growing in fields nearby, these tobacco fields wouldn’t look out of place in Cuba, Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic.
Ninety percent of the region’s annual rainfall occurs during the peak growing season and combines with artisan water delivered from surrounding mountains to feed the crops.
In late February, the start of the growing season, seedlings are nurtured and protected from overnight temperature drops under covered nurseries. Heavy plastic surrounds each of these transplanted seedlings to protect their root system until they take hold.
Great Wall Cigars plan to build a cigar village cultural centre at the Shifang tobacco fields, focusing on cultivating tobacco, and providing greater scope for local and international visitors to immerse themselves in Chinese tobacco growing and cigar making culture.
Zeng Day Long, Great Wall Cigars’ technology director, notes that they are currently overseeing new tobacco fields in Hainan, China’s southernmost province, 500 kilometres south west of Hong Kong.
The Rolling & Aging Rooms
At Great Wall Cigars, a team of three master rollers manage almost 100 female cigar rollers while also implementing training and quality control. Their expertise is aided by visits from master roller Lucrezia Valdez of the Dominican Republic as part of their partnership with Altadis. Photos of Chairman Mao and famed members of the 132 rolling team adorn the walls of the factory, inspiring the rollers.
Under the direction of Li Wei, two ageing rooms keep Great Wall’s inventory in perfect condition. These rooms are impressive, with over 400,000 sticks resting in wooden drawers. Thirty different blends are also being aged, including some that were rolled in 2009, says Li.