Maybe you have heard that the darker the wrapper, the stronger the cigar. This is both true and not true. It is true if the two cigars you compare are made from the same blend, have the same binder, and their wrapper have the same origin. Remember that going from the bottom to the top of a tobacco plant, leaves become darker in color and stronger in taste. But things are hardly that simple, and this is another example. If you compare a slim panatela and a Churchill, both with the same components and exactly the same wrapper, I bet you'll find the slim panatela stronger than the Churchill. It is not true when the two cigars have different blends and binders or the two wrappers are not of the same origin. For example, rolled on the same bunch, a light brown, Cuban seed wrapper will be stronger than an oily, dark brown, Cameroon wrapper. If you like mild or medium cigars don't be afraid of Maduros: these black wrappers are generally mild and sometimes sweet, compared with some brown ones.
Growing Wrapper Tobacco
A wrapper grower has a dream : to get perfect leaves that will be used for premium wrapper. As soon as he starts the operation, the dream becomes a nightmare : weather conditions, insects, fungus, viruses, all kinds of parasites are here, ready to destroy his hopes. From the time he starts setting the seed beds until the moment he picks the last leaf, it is a permanent struggle.
Curing Wrapper Tobacco
Once properly picked, wrapper leaves are hung up the same day in a curing barn for drying. Draining out the huge quantity of water contained in the green material can be complicated. The process has to be neither too slow, nor too fast. The barn is checked several times every day and ventilation is adjusted according to the humidity inside the barn and the outside weather conditions. If necessary, heaters are used to help the drainage.
Cigar Wrapper Characteristics
To be acceptable as wrapper, tobacco leaves must be clean, evenly colored, shiny, elastic, solid but thin, with veins drowned into the parenchyma or cellular tissue of the leaf, large, and without holes. And last but not least, they must burn properly, giving ashes as white as possible. Easy, you think? No, it's a headache to grow and process wrapper leaves! Next time you smoke a premium cigar, think of how many people have struggled to grow that perfect wrapper leaf.
Open Air or Shade Grown Wrapper
Traditionally, tobacco grows in open air fields. Wrapper tobacco is a fragile material. At the end, it has to be perfect. A strong direct sun radiation can deteriorate the result. To avoid the risk, fields can be covered with clothes fixed on poles, providing an artificial light shadow. This process , associated with irrigation, allows to keep the growing under control. In some equatorian countries, thanks to a naturally cloudy sky, this expensive equipment is not necessary.
As with any other tobacco, wrappers have to be processed for stabilization. According to its type, it can be a light maturation in hot and humid rooms or a deep natural fermentation in huge piles. Both processes require a permanent control to avoid overheating the tobacco, which makes it unsuitable for wrapping.
Manufacturers want to have wrappers of a specific color for a cigar line, and another color for another line. The supplier has to prepare wrapper in lots of uniform color, classifying the tobacco leaf by leaf. It is not that easy if you consider that you would be very happy to find two leaves that look exactly the same! As the problem must be solved, the sorting is more a classification according to the tone and the brightness of the leaf. Shade grown tobaccos are classified in 5 colors. For air grown tobaccos like Sumatra or Cameroon, the classification goes up to 17 different colors.
Handling Wrapper Leaves
From the time of picking in the fields to the final rolling on a cigar, wrapper leaves are handled between 15 and 20 times along the full process. Either in bundle or individually. It is a very delicate material. A lot of breakage occurs. Up to 20% can be broken on both sides and become unusable. Another 15-20% are currently half broken with one side still usable for rolling.
A Churchill and a slim panatela cigar do not require the same size of wrapper leaf. It is important for the manufacturer to have all leaves of the same size (and color) in one bale: he then knows that he can process this bale for a particular cigar size. Wrappers are classified in sizes of 13, 15, 17, 19 and 21 inches. Hand made cigars are wrapped in leaves that are 15 inches and up.