Mark Twain didn't like Italian tobacco. He said it tasted awful and expanded implausibly at the charring light, towering precipitously above the bowl until spilling onto the nearest flammable objects and raising insurance premiums. When visiting Italy, he carried plenty of his own tobacco.
However, Mark Twain never smoked tobacco grown in Sansepolcro, at least as far as we know. His opinion may have been much more positive if he had, though we'll never be sure. He is notoriously uncooperative via Ouija board.
There is a remarkable tobacco grown only in and around the town of Sansepolcro, Italy. It's a dark-fired leaf dating to the 1800s, used primarily for small Italian cigars, like those smoked by Clint Eastwood in spaghetti westerns.
Sansepolcro itself was named shortly after its founding in the ninth century. Arcano and Egidio, two pilgrims on their way back from the Holy Land, were passing through southern Tuscany when they received divine inspiration. They stopped and built a cathedral, and housed in it the sacred relics they had brought back from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, including a stone from that revered church. The town that sprang up around the church became known as Santo Sepolcro, and from the 10th century was called Sansepolcro.
The town is most famous for its historical crossbow games, held every year dating back to 1594 and celebrated with a two-week Renaissance-style festival in September. Sansepolcro is a town that knows and respects tradition, both in ancient arms and tobacco.
The smoother-bodied Virginias from eastern North Carolina and Canada take the edge off the dark fired. They also help to balance the relatively high nicotine content of the Italian tobacco. - Jeremy Reeves
A particular farm in Sansepolcro is especially dedicated to the production of this tobacco and enthusiastic about fulfilling processors' particular needs. That's the farm Jeremy Reeves, head blender at Cornell & Diehl, chooses to work with. Just the right farm with just the right processes is helpful because it's an expensive tobacco, is available only in limited quantities, and is difficult and time consuming to process. Besides that, it takes about six months to ship from Italy to C&D in South Carolina.
But it isn't easy to properly highlight the earthy character of such a unique tobacco in a luxury product. After months of experimenting, Jeremy developed the blend into a balanced, complex, nuanced and interesting smoking experience, and C&D's Small Batch Sansepolcro was born.
Traditional "florets" made from Italian dark-fired cigars
This is a dark-fired tobacco with a flavor profile that makes it well worth all the difficulty in sourcing, receiving and processing, but must be used carefully. "The smoother-bodied Virginias from eastern North Carolina and Canada take the edge off the dark fired," says Jeremy. "They also help to balance the relatively high nicotine content of the Italian tobacco."
Earthy and spicy, with undertones of clove, it complements and accentuates the mellow citrus and sweeter highlights of the red Virginias for a unique and flavorful smoking experience. The subtle cigar/spice flavor is condimental and a flavor-binding element, rather than a base. The blend mellows and modifies as it is smoked down the bowl, building strength without added bitterness, with the red Virginias adding a tangy, fruit nuance to counterbalance the dark fired leaf. Unfortunately, it isn't a blend that can be efficiently and continuously manufactured. It's been three years since the last release of Sansepolcro in Cornell & Diehl's Small Batch series.
The Small Batch Series is basically an opportunity to indulge ourselves in unique projects. It allows us to do special blends that are not sustainable, like The Beast and Carolina Red Flake. - Jeremy Reeves
That's what the Small Batch Series is all about. C&D is a small manufacturer, and everything produced is made in small batches by hand, but the Small Batch Series is comprised of concentrated runs with special, limited varietal tobaccos, or are so labor intensive that they must be carefully scheduled in the manufacturing process and can't be made regularly or often.
"The Small Batch Series is basically an opportunity to indulge ourselves in unique projects," says Jeremy. "It allows us to do special blends that are not sustainable, like The Beast and Carolina Red Flake."
With the thousands of pipe tobacco blends we have available in this modern age, it's nice to smoke something unique, something historical, something grown more as the final result of craftsmanship than mere horticulture.
Combining the historical and traditional with modern blending methods and advanced techniques is among the most interesting and gratifying projects a tobacco company can do. We pipesmokers do love our history and the lost ways of older times, and most of us appreciate the chance to experience what previous generations of pipesmokers enjoyed. Here's our chance.