Vinales is one of the major towns in the tobacco growing Province of Pinar del Rio, the most Western province in Cuba. Vinales is about about a three hour drive West from Havana on very well maintained roads. The Vinales valley is just gorgeous and the landscape consists of limestone rich hills, flanked by picturesque mountains which jut up dramatically from the fertile valley floor. These unique and beautiful hills are the Cordillera de Guaniguanico mountains, consisting of the easterly Sierra del Rosario and the westerly Sierra de los Organos.
The Pinar del Rio Province produces over 75% of the tobacco leaf used in Cuba’s world-famous cigars, whether they are Cohiba, Partagas, Romeo y Julieta, or H. Upmann. Similar to the production of fine wine, terroir or “a sense of the land” plays a role in the wonderful tobacco leaf produced in the fertile red clay of the Vinales valley–some of which has travelled with me in my photo bag back to the United States despite my efforts to clean it. Terroir, which led to the appellation system or legal identity of grapes based on where they are grown, is the impact that a unique climate, geology, and geography of a particular region has on wine, coffee, chocolate or, in the case of Vinales, tobacco leaf when the special characteristics of the terroir interact with the genetics of the plant being grown. There is something unique and special about the sun, mountains, limestone, red clay, the sweat of the farmer, and the yoke of the ox that all combine with the genetics of the tobacco leaf, to make a cigar that is uniquely Cuban. And, uniquely from the Vinales Valley!