Think that the only place in the United States where good cigar tobacco can be grown is Connecticut?
If so, you are mistaken.
Deep in the Bluegrass State, in an area more known for thoroughbred horses and fine bourbon, something unusual is happening. Some fine cigar wrapper tobacco is being grown because of the vision and efforts of Mark Barrow, a man who decided to try something no one else had tried.
“I think Kentucky’s heritage is tobacco, bourbon and fast horses, and I want to keep all three of them going,” said Barrow.
Mark Barrow is not just a visionary. He is a visionary who has succeeded.
The story continues after the jump.
Kentucky Farmer Wraps Up A New Cigar Market
From Byron Crawford, of Louisville’s Courier-Journal
A wisp of cigar smoke lingered for a moment above Mark Barrow’s Trimble County tobacco field — then vanished.
Barrow watched it lift away above the soil where much of the leaf was grown before taking another puff from one of his Kentucky Black Gold stogies.
“In the 1990s … I saw a handful of cigars selling for nearly $50, and thought, ‘Wow! There’s potential here,’” he recalled. “At the time, they were selling a type of leaf called Connecticut shade for $50 a pound.”
Barrow flew to New York, rented a car and drove up the Connecticut River Valley, knocking on the doors of cigar tobacco planters asking how he might adapt the crop to his Trimble County burley tobacco farm.
“I knocked on three doors before anybody would even talk to me … because they had a gold mine,” he said. “I flew back with enough seed to get the first crop going … and the next thing you know, we’re setting Havana 214, 217 and Connecticut shade. The following year, we started growing broadleaf, which has been our mainstay ever since.”
Today, the 50-year old Barrow, who grew up in the shadows of thoroughbred tracks around the country where his father, jockey Tommy Barrow, was riding, is marketing his Kentucky Black Gold cigars from Ashland to Paducah and from Louisville to the Tennessee border. He divides his time between his cigars and his Kentucky Black Gold Coffee roaster in Horse Cave, just off Interstate 65, still making some cigar deliveries in person.
Grown with care
Most of the cigar tobacco grown on his farm above the Little Kentucky River near Sulphur is harvested in much the same manner as cigarette leaf, but with considerably more care. Natural fertilizer formulas are derived from linseed, cottonseed and soybean meal. This year Barrow is growing two acres of burley to be used as filler leaf, but he will resume growing broadleaf for cigar wrapping next year.
Once air-cured, the cigar leaf is usually stripped in three or four grades and is carefully tied in hands of seven leaves each for shipping to Puerto Rico, where Barrow’s wife, Liz, has family with a history in the tobacco business. There, the tobacco is processed, blended with tobacco from the island, aged from one to four years, then made into cigars and shipped back to Kentucky for sale.
“It has a little sweetness to it,” said J. Paul Tucker of Louisville’s Oxmoor Smoke Shoppe. “I keep it in a prominent place in here and we carry everything he makes. Mark’s great at marketing. He sells some of them now in Mason jars.”
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