Sonoma makes way for cannabis wine
“Cannabis grows well wherever wine does – and it grows incredibly well here.” So George Van Patton told the Index-Tribune in 2015, talking about the underground economy of the Valley.
And, perhaps more to the point, he added: “And, on equal plots of land, cannabis would be more lucrative than wine.”
The insights of Van Patton – also known as Jorge Cervantes, his pen name for a dozen books he’s written on marijuana cultivation – seem prescient now, with the passage of both Proposition 64 legalizing recreational marijuana in November, and Measure A establishing a regulatory framework in Sonoma County in March.
The success of both showed that public support for the legal cultivation of marijuana is growing like a weed – cannabis has mainstreamed in a way that seemed inconceivable just a year or two ago.
And that mainstreaming is cutting a deep channel, indeed.
If you need further proof, there’s this week’s CannaCon, being held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa – it began on 4/20, naturally, and continues through Saturday. Meanwhile, several local cities are renegotiating their rules for cultivation, both indoor and out, though the City of Sonoma has shown no inclination to loosen its already tight regulations against cultivation, delivery and sales.
But the fascinating connection between cannabis and cabernet will be directly explored this summer, at a Wine & Weed Symposium on Aug. 3.
“I’m not a cannabis person, but I’ve been paying attention and it seems to me inevitable that there’ll be collaboration between the two,” said George Christie, founder and CEO of Wine Industry Network (WIN), an industry resource that, among other things, holds an annual industry expo.
At its last expo in December, just a month after Proposition 64 legalized recreational marijuana in California, WIN held a one-hour educational session on cannabis. “It was the most well-attended session we ever had,” said Christie. “While it was going on, nobody left; when it was over, people stayed for an hour asking questions.”
Reading the writing on the wall, Christie quickly organized the Wine & Weed Symposium, a trade show specifically relevant to wineries and grape-growers interested in expanding into the cannabis market. The direction will be “exploring the opportunities and issues that the legalization of cannabis presents to the California wine industry.” And Christie is adamant that most in the wine industry don’t regard cannabis as a competitor to wine grapes, but rather as a partner.
Likely topics of common interest include regulation, marketing, and tourism – seeing Sonoma as an “intoxication destination,” and managing that reputation. Though Christie said speakers are clamoring to get on the podium, Tawnie Logan of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance is already signed up as a speaker.
Unlike the dampening impact that legalized marijuana seems to have on beer consumption, as preliminary figures in Colorado and Washington suggest, wine and cannabis exist in equilibrium, not in competition.
That partnership is one that is well known within the industry, but rarely spoken of.
For years rumors of local winemakers who grew cannabis on their vineyard property have been circulating, though no one will admit to it.
“I do not know of anyone growing cannabis in any vineyards,” said one local winemaker who asked not to be named. “Setting aside any legal issues, the cultivation and farming demands of the two crops are not compatible.”
However Chip Forsythe, of Sonoma’s Rebel Coast Wine, insists the plants make great growing partners.
“You just need to plant a seed next to a drip irrigation line and there you go,” said Forsythe. “Anybody who says it doesn’t happen isn’t getting deep into the rows.”
But the reluctance to talk about the weed-and-wine connection may be changing, and changing fast. A recent story in the New York Times focused on Sonoma Valley wine grower Phil Coturri, showing photos of him tending marijuana seedlings.
“As Nero Wolfe would take care of his orchids in his brownstone, I would spend a couple hours a day cultivating cannabis,” the paper quotes him.
Coturri is quick to note that his hobby-sized garden is compliant with California and Sonoma County medical cannabis laws.
According to the article, Coturri’s cannabis is as valued as his varietals – and the latter are biodynamic, grown without glyphosate and highly prized by winemakers including Reprise, Arrowood, Stone Edge and Kamen Estate Wines – the neighbor next door to Coturri on a mountaintop north of Sonoma.
Screenwriter Robert Kamen is not shy about his marijuana enthusiasm, though his attention is on the aroma as much as the effect.