Connecticut shade tobacco

Tobacco field with shade tents in East Windsor, Connecticut
Field workers, some children, at the Goodrich Tobacco Farm near Gildersleeve, Connecticut, 1917

Connecticut shade tobacco is a tobacco grown under shade in the Connecticut River valley of the U.S. states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and southernmost Vermont, and is used primarily for binder and wrapper for premium cigars.


Tobacco farming in the Connecticut Valley has a long history. When the first settlers came to the valley in the 1630s, tobacco was already being grown by the native population. Windsor, Connecticut is the epicenter for the tobacco industry in Connecticut. The town was founded in 1633 and within seven years it was producing tobacco for personal use and profit. The tobacco being grown was for pipe use, brought up from Virginia since the tobacco variety found in the Connecticut Valley was not as delectable as the Virginian style. It was immediately apparent that the soil from the river, a rich sandy loam, and the hot and short summer of New England yielded an excellent crop each year.

Eventually, the popularity of cigars became greater than the pipe. Broadleaf tobacco was the variety that dominated the scene. It was in such high demand that during the Civil War the Connecticut River Valley yielded up to ten million pounds per year. The fame of quality Connecticut tobacco was raved about throughout all the settled regions of the United States.[1]

By 1700, tobacco was being exported via the Connecticut River to European ports. The use of Connecticut Valley tobacco as a cigar wrapper leaf began in the 1820s. By the 1830s, tobacco farmers were experimenting with different seeds and processing techniques.[2]Knowing that they were not the only players in the cigar wrapper economy, farmers began planting a new tobacco species in 1875, the Havana Seed. Area farmers grew tobacco for the two outside layers of cigars, the binder and the wrapper. A tobacco leaf type named Shoestring, then Broadleaf and Havana Seed were used.

This smooth, good-looking leaf yielded a higher percent of wrapper quality cigars. Just a few decades later, in the Late 1890s, the Sumatra leaf was adopted for growth in Connecticut. The demand for high quality cigar wrapper was never ending. This pushed Connecticut growers and scientists to develop a leaf so smooth and golden that it would dominate the market. This means that farmers and scientists worked together to develop a hybrid just to beat out competition in Cuba and Asia. Using over thirty samples from Cuba and Sumatra, Shade Tobacco was born in 1900, and the first shade-leaf tent was put up on River Street in Windsor. This new plant meant new labor.[3]

In the late 19th century a fine grained leaf type imported from Sumatra began to replace the wrapper from the Connecticut River valley. It became the popular domestic wrapper until Shade Leaf comes into the scene. The tobacco farmers matched the Sumatran leaf by making shade tents of cloth to cut sunlight and raise humidity. The first tent was raised in 1900 on River Street in Windsor.[3]

The technique of growing shade tobacco has changed little in the past hundred years. To form the shade tents, a tobacco field is set with posts in a grid layout. Wires are stretched from post to post, and a light, durable fabric (once cotton but now a synthetic fiber) is tied across them and draped along the sides. For example, twenty posts in four rows of five will create twelve square cells in three rows of four. Under the tents the sunlight is soft and diffused, the air is humid, and the ambient temperature is slightly warmer than outside. Filtering the sun produces a thinner and more elastic tobacco leaf that cures to a lighter, even color often desired by the Cuban and Dominican cigar producers.

The 1920 Prohibition ceased legal sales of alcohol in Connecticut, and Tobacco production consequently reached a peak in Connecticut.[4] At its height, there was greater than 20,000 acres (81 km2) of tobacco being cultivated under shade in the Connecticut River valley. Currently, the amount of tobacco being grown in the valley is just over a steady 2,000 acres (8.1 km2).[3] Approximately 34,000 acres (140 km2) of land in Connecticut is covered by Windsor Soil, named after the town of Windsor, Connecticut, famous for its shade grown tobacco.[5]

Windsor tobacco leaves are highly prized by fine cigar makers, and are used as the cigar's outer wrapping. The former president of U.S. operations for Davidoff, a Swiss maker of luxury goods including premium Cuban cigars, praised Connecticut shade tobacco as "A nice Connecticut wrapper" and "…very silky, very fine. From a marketing point of view, it is considered at the moment to be one of the best tasting and looking wrappers available" in a Cigar Aficionado article on why the world's best cigars use Connecticut tobacco wrapper leaves.[2]


  1. Dunlap, Bri. "Director". The Luddy/Taylor Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  2. 1 2 "Wrapped Up" (Winter 1992). Cigar Aficionado. 1992-12-01. Archived from the original on 2010-12-09. Retrieved 2009-10-12.
  3. 1 2 3 "Connecticut Valley Tobacco Historical Society". Archived from the original on 2010-12-09. Retrieved 2009-10-12.
  4. Dunlap, Bri. "Director". The Luddy/Taylor Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum.
  5. "CT Soils – Windsor | Connecticut NRCS". Retrieved 2013-11-20.
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