Sonoma’s Benziger bridges gap between wine and weed

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Ninety percent of consumers in Sonoma County are new to the world of cannabis, so a guide is critical to help bridge the gap between wine and weed.

So says Mike Benziger, who has decided to serve as liaison, welcoming the cannabis curious into the fold. The former winemaker of Benziger Family Wines turned cannabis farmer now tends 50 plants on his Sonoma Valley farm.

“Cannabis just became legal in 2018 and with more than 1,000 strains of it, it can be very confusing,” he said.

Benziger of GlenTucky Family Farm will be the featured speaker at the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Enthusiasts meeting Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Hopmonk Tavern in Sonoma.

The focus, he said, will be on biodynamic farming with cannabis and how crucial it is to be a good neighbor as the county settles into the legalization of pot.

“The job of the cannabis business is to help educate the consumer,” Benziger said. “In Sonoma County you can’t smoke it on-site so it’s all about descriptors and comparisons.”

Benziger sees wine and weed as fraternal twins who play nice as long as the amounts are kept in check.

“Most people who light up a joint usually have a glass of wine in the other,” he said. “Isn’t that the way we Baby Boomers learned to do it?”

Benziger offers a roll out of four pairings to reveal the synergy between wine and strains of cannabis to smoke.

Sauvignon Blanc and Tangie. Benziger said Tangie is a good match because it has a light floral aroma, and as for its effect, it makes you more alert and more sensitive. It doesn’t slow you down.

Chardonnay with Cookies & Cream. These marry well, Benziger said, because Cookies & Cream has aromas of bread dough, vanilla and cream. This strain of cannabis offers stress reduction and it’s anti-inflammatory.

Pinot Noir with Blood Orange. This strain of cannabis, Benziger said, is a good pairing with pinot noir because it’s spicy and fruity while making you nice and relaxed.

“You can still have dinner or read a book without going into a coma,” Benziger joked.

Cabernet with Bubba Kush. This duo works, Benziger said, because cabernet is robust and muscular and Bubba Kush is a heavier strain of cannabis, with aromas of coffee and herbs. The effect is that it will make you relaxed and give you a great night of sleep.

While baby boomers may not try these couplings as readily, Benziger said he expects millennials to explore them.

“As Baby Boomers die off, the next generation of millennials will really impact the industry,” he said, referring to wine/weed commerce.

Sonoma County, Benziger said, is the most diverse county in the country with food and drink and cannabis is the newest player.

“It used to be just liquor and wine on the table,” Benziger said. “Now there’s craft spirits, craft beer, cannabis and wine on the table, too.”

Benziger expects agricultural tourism to flourish in Sonoma County over the next five to 10 years.

“People want to see what they want to eat before they eat it,” he said. “People want to see what they drink before they drink it. And people want to see what they’re going to smoke before they smoke it.”

Benziger said he gets a handful of requests each week to come visit his cannabis farm.

With moderation, Benziger said, “if you choose the right strain of cannabis, the right food and the right wine, it can be quite an experience.”

Wine Writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

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