Oddly, the hot topic of discussion in wine country nowadays seems to be all about cannabis. While legal for recreational and medicinal use for the most part in California, like it or not, cannabis farming has become a $4.4 billion booming business and is still growing. No pun intended.
While somewhat reluctant to broach the subject while wine tasting in Sonoma County a few days ago, the banter was always lively and engaging, no matter who you asked. In a short time, I learned that the majority of cannabis was grown in Humboldt County, processed in Mendocino County and distributed widely in Sonoma County, and that Napa County was not at all amused.
While Driving along Highway 116, I caught several wafts of fresh cannabis on alternating days, which caught me slightly off-guard. A fun fact – Santa Rosa Jr. College offers an agricultural hemp program to teach students about the hemp industry, focusing on plant science, soil and plant nutrition and cultivation as well as marketing hemp products to consumers.
Another fun fact – apparently, there is a specialty market called Solful in Sebastopol where “soccer moms” reportedly line up for cannabis infused products. I’m not sure why this surprised me, but it did. All this may be the makings of a good Netflix series.
Like anything controversial, there are several train of thoughts about whether cannabis should be melded with California’s $42 billion retail wine empire. A random sampling of tasting room hosts, winemakers and cannabis and wine enthusiasts along my travels, all felt very strongly about their reasons for keeping the two industries separate. Speaking on behalf of the wine purists and those not interested in having cannabis farms near their homes, schools or place of business, this collective group was opposed to the pungent aromas permeating the air, even detectable with indoor growing operations.
Others claim that planting cannabis close to existing vineyards would ultimately infuse the grapes with unwanted essences through air, soil and water contamination, giving off-aromas and ultimately taint the finished wine. Not many of those surveyed were in favor of a “joint” tasting room for obvious reasons.wine
Many in Sonoma take the wine business very seriously, and to heart, and feel that mixing the two is not conducive. Others beg to differ and may jump on the bandwagon and plant cannabis in their own backyard, so to speak.
Probably the most plausible argument against large outside grow operations centered around high water usage, especially now that California is officially in another drought cycle. Cannabis plants use 1 million+ gallons per crop acre as opposed to 65,000 to 160,00+ gallons per crop acre for wine grapes. Not to mention the cost of land is considerably higher in Sonoma or Napa wine country compared to Humboldt or Mendocino, making the more remote enclaves of Northern California more appealing and affordable to plant and grow cannabis on a large scale.
It will be interesting to see how this all pans out. I’m a wine purist and am not in favor of integrating cannabis and wine for many reasons, however, money talks and there’s a lot of money to be made in the cannabis industry. Time will tell, however, the state is big enough for more than one sheriff to keep the peace.