Pot Rather Than Pinot?

Davies Wakefield

davies wakefield | wine uncorked | jan. 2019

My last toke of marijuana came soon after I graduated from college in 1974. At that time there were rumors that the DEA was spraying Agent Orange or some sort of defoliant on the Mexican drug farms and I didn't want any of thatshit in my body! Then there were the comedians that thought it was funny to spike the pot with PCP (elephant tranquilizer) and watch as you thought you were melting through the floor. I think that the night REO Speed Wagon hosted an “after party” and pulled out the bong with an electric gas mask attached was when I realized that the naughtiness of smoking marijuana had jumped the shark. I haven't had any since then, plus I had developed a real interest in classical Bordeaux wine as a source of intoxication. Well, just like those old, six-inch-wide, psychedelic ties in my closet, marijuana is making a comeback, but this time legally. On January 1, 2018, recreational pot became legal in California making it the 10th state to legalize recreational use. In Wisconsin an advisory referendum on marijuana was held in 16 counties and two cities and was overwhelmingly approved with 76 percent approving in Dane County. (I thought it was already legal down there judging from some of the antics coming out of Madison.)

So it's no big deal, right? Puffing on a joint or eating a brownie, what does that have to do with us wine drinkers? Quite a bit as you'll see. Oh, and you beer drinkers, yeah, change is headed your way as well. The move to infuse cannabis into alcohol began in Canada, and that's where the story begins.

Several years ago I noticed that several cannabis companies had listed on the OTC (over the counter market) on the Toronto stock exchange. These were pink sheet stocks, which carry a lot of risk such as the old “pump and dump scheme” where insiders and manipulators buy lots of stock enticing novices to buy into the run-up and then sell leaving the tyros holding the bag. Things have changed rapidly in the last two years though. Canada became the first country to legalize recreational marijuana in October of this year (and ironically stores ran out of marijuana the next day!).

The first Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth Corporation listed on the NYSE in May 2018 becoming the world's largest publically traded weed company. The company owns and operates many brands producing and marketing both medical and recreational strains. Tweed is one of the company's most popular brands because of its association with rapper turned marijuana entrepreneur Snoop Dogg. The company reported $60 million in revenue last year and currently has a market cap of about $6 billion. That means that investors are willing to pay $100 for $1 of revenue. How's that for reefer madness?

On November 1, 2018, Constellation Brands invested $5 billion in Canopy Growth and now owns 37 percent of the company. The company also placed two executives on the management team and got two board seats on Canopy's board of directors. So what does all that mean to we wine and beer drinkers? Well, Constellation Brands owns many iconic brands in the wine and beer market like Corona and Modelo beer (The next time you have a Corona it may get a doobie instead of its lime). Constellation is also one of the largest distributors of fine wine; such as Robert Mondavi, Mount Veeder, Kim Crawford and Charles Smith Wines. Let me be blunt here. Constellation, Phillip Morris, Jack Daniels, Budweiser, et al are in the process of marketing and selling addictive substances and marijuana is just another product to be sold in a government controlled market. And for me, as a former rebellious, longhaired hippie who was and still is deeply distrustful of government and big business, this is the apotheosis of collusion between the two. Big government looking to increase tax revenue and big business looking for revenue growth are in the process of legalizing another addictive substance for their mutual benefit. These budding businesses are looking to get into the business of selling cannabis-infused drinks in both the wine and beer business.

As Wisconsinites, we are all familiar with Blue Moon Belgian Ale; well, owners Keith and Jodi Villa are launching a new company called CERIA Brewing Company. The first beer from this company will be called Grainwave Belgian Style White Ale and it will be significantly different than Blue Moon Ale. The Grainwave will have no alcohol but will include 5 milligrams of THC, Tetrahydrocannabinol (the active ingredient in cannabis). The liquid “beer” is made with blood orange peel and coriander (coriander gives it a lemony flavor). The finished product will have a deep orange flavor and the familiar earthy bitterness of marijuana. While federal law prohibits adding THC to beer, Grainwave contains no alcohol so the federal law doesn't apply. The beer is scheduled to be released by mid-December this year in Colorado with hopes to expand into Nevada and California next year.

The company has long-term plans to release a “light” beer with only 2.5 mg of THC. The American Light Lager will, according to Keith Villa, “allow you to drink several without getting stoned. You will feel a little buzz and be happy.” They are also planning to make an India Pale Ale with 10 mg THC. I guess you should be close to a bed or sofa when you imbibe in one of these. The new company CERIA's slogan is “Cannabis Pro Omnibus” or “Cannabis for All.” Bernie Sanders, here's a new slogan for you!

In the wine industry, California is now ground zero for cannabis-infused wine since legalizing it on January 1, 2018. The state of California expected to reap $1 billion in tax revenue last year. There are now wine and weed sommeliers who preside over pairing dinners (the etiquette, in case you are invited to one, is sip, puff, bite; no bongs or gas masks, please). A stream of cannabis-infused wines has come out as well, and to evaluate them, a Weed Wheel has been invented, modeled on University of California professor Ann Noble's Wine Aroma Wheel. There's even a Robert Parker inspired cannabis 100-point rating scale. Of course, how the hell would you be able to figure out if your Maui Wowie was better than that Alaskan Thunder Fuck, especially after consuming a couple of India Pale ales with 10 mg of THC?

While wine growers have specific areas known as AVA's (American Viticultural Areas) where certain grape varieties do particularly well, cannabis producers also have regions where the most potent pot plants grow. In California this is the so-called “Emerald Triangle” of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity Counties. Right now pot growers have their eyes on Sonoma County, which will also grow some powerful weed. The problem is that there are grape vines growing there now. With an acre of pot producing $1 million and Pinot Noir only $20,000, it doesn't take a degree in rocket science to figure out what the fate is of the Pinot Noir vines.

Rebel Coast Winery started up right after California legalized marijuana in 2018. The winery is located in Hermosa Beach, California. For those of you not familiar with the California beach scene, this is not a grape growing area; it is a surfer dude womb near Los Angeles. The winery is buying Sauvignon Blanc grapes from the Sonoma coast, fermenting the wine, then removing the alcohol and infusing each bottle with 16 mg of organic THC. Rebel Wines also adds terpenes to enhance the wines marijuana aroma. The wine will have the bright citrus flavors and crisp taste of Sauvignon Blanc but will smell like marijuana with notes of lemongrass, lavender and citrus. Each serving will have approximately 4 mg of THC in it. According to Alex Howe, the founder and owner of Rebel Wine, “Our goal is not to kill you after you've had a few glasses. The goal is to get giggly and naked with someone. We set out to mimic the experience you'd find with traditional wine; a couple of glasses will put most people in a great place.”

As I write, the only people that can buy Rebel Coast wines are California residents over the age of 21. But fear not, the thirst for taxpayer dollars in Madison will have our politicians very busy this year following the “will of the people.” I'm betting marijuana will be legal next year in our state. Believe it or not, I am going to try a bottle of Rebel Wine as soon as it is available in Wisconsin. I'd like to try a controlled dose of marijuana that I don't have to smoke and that provides me with a safe way of consuming it. But the joys of drinking a good glass of wine and hunting through the millions of iterations of wines, varieties, wineries and tastes is something I will never give up. I hope Sonoma County feels the same way.

My only question is about the marketing of the marijuana-infused wines is which aisle will they put them in, the potato chip, ice cream or frozen pizza aisle? Munchies, anyone?

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