After harvesting, tobacco leaves are taken to barns, where they undergo a drawn-out curing process. This removes moisture from the leaves and turns them golden brown.
First, leaves are sewn in pairs and hung on poles placed on racks. With light and ventilation monitored closely, the poles are raised successively as the leaf cures. Wrapper leaves are air cured for 25 days, while binder and filler leaves cure for 50 days.
Once cured, a governmental agency buys the leaves from the farmer and transports them to sorting houses. There, they will undergo the first fermentation period.
Leaves are arranged in bunches and covered by cloth. Moisture retained in the leaves unleashed a natural fermentation process essential for their smoking quality. The first fermentation period lasts 30 days.
The leaves are subsequently sorted by size, color and texture. Wrapper leaves are moistened for handling and then sorted into as many as 50 categories. Filler and binder leaves are sorted into three categories: ligero, seco and volado.
Wrapper leaves, which need only one fermentation period, are now packed in tercios, or bales. Binder and filler leaves, however, are moistened and stripped of their central vein before being stacked into big piles, where they will undergo a second fermentation period that lasts between 45 and 90 days depending on the flavor of the leaves.
Filler and binder leaves are now ready for packing in hessian bales labeled by size, year of harvest and date of packing.
The tobacco leaves are then ready for ageing. Wrapper leaves are aged for six months, while binder and filler leaves need nine months to two years of ageing depending on the flavor of the leaves.
Like fine wine, the longer leaves are aged the better.