By Dawn Dolan
The legalization of marijuana in California is a topic with polarizing effects on wine grape growers. Tina Caputo, moderator for WIN Expo’s upcoming session; Marijuana and Wine: Understanding New Competition to Build New Opportunities, believes this topic is important and pertinent to the wine industry.
“A lot of wine industry people are dismissive of this potential change, saying that this is not our audience, and that people are not going to stop drinking wine to start smoking pot,” says Caputo. “There is no conclusive data. There are inferences coming in from the other states where marijuana has been legalized, but it is all initial figures. No one really knows yet.”
At last January’s Unified Grape Symposium, audience members were shouting at the panel and each other over varied opinions on the disruptive force of this new cash crop. Sure to be divisive if passed, how will this issue impact the grape industry, and in what ways?
In this session, Caputo plans to direct the focus mainly towards tourism. She says, “There are tour companies that are taking people on marijuana tours, to dispensaries as well as pot farms.”
She thinks there is more of an overlap in tourism than people realize, and Caputo feels there may be eventual competition on the tourism side. “The language of the new [marijuana] tour companies is a conscious adaptation of wine industry-type marketing. They are using terms we see in the wine industry, like, vineyard designate, high-end, local, and sustainably grown. [Basically] they are going after our same market!”
Wine Industry Network president, George Christie, feels this was an important subject to introduce at this year’s WIN Expo. “It’s on the ballot for November, and in anticipation that it’s going to pass, we felt it was a topic we needed to address.”
California Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative will be on the ballot in California as an initiated state statute. A “yes” vote by California voters would support legalizing recreational marijuana and hemp under state law and establishing certain sales and cultivation taxes.
Christie would like to hear discourse on what the passing of this may mean for the North Coast region. He asks, “what does this mean for the wine industry as a whole, and is it really a threat or actually is it an opportunity?”
In discussing the session, Caputo wonders, “Will anybody switch over to pot from grapes?” Christie also mentions this idea, citing that the supposed profit differential may be extreme, and if so, would grape farmers consider switching over, at least partially?
In agreement with Caputo on the wine-industry-style marketing, Christie says, “They are using the same format as wine growers, with appellation-specific cannabis. Someday we might see ‘Dry Creek Reserve or some similarly-labelled product on the cannabis market”.
Christie mentions that a member of the panel will be a lawyer skilled in the legal debate of the pot issue. Oregon, known for its Pinot Noir regions, and Washington, with diverse wine regions, would be the closest comparison states to California for legal precedent.
Statistics which could help California start to define its programs and boundaries are in infant stages in both Oregon and Washington, and may not yet tell a conclusive story. However, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, later this year licensed businesses catering to adult consumers will begin operations as the state continues to roll out its program. Presumably some of those businesses will cater to the fledgling cannabis tourism industry.
The Wine Industry Network’s North Coast Wine Industry Expo 2016, held December 1st, 2016 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, will attract participants from counties including Contra Costa, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties, all perhaps potential marijuana growing areas. The pertinence of this topic is sure to pack the session.
Questioned on outcomes of the session, Caputo replied, “I think it will be a really interesting conversation. We are bringing pot entrepreneurs in front of a wine industry audience. Here’s your wake up call.”
She hopes that she can guide the discussion to ideas of working together. “There might be opportunities. We’re bringing in mostly pot tourism operators, also someone from the legal side (what may or may not become legal, she notes), and maybe a winery representative from Mendocino County, where they are already dealing with this in some areas.”
There are the flip-side aspects, as she notes “some pot growers are not taking care of the land, or are misusing water, and some winery people are happy that they will soon be paying taxes. It will be a fun discussion!”
When asked how she was chosen as the moderator for the WIN Expo 2016 topic, Marijuana and Wine: Understanding New Competition to Build New Opportunities, Tina Caputo laughs as she says, “I’m a long-time editor to wine industry trade magazines, so I know the wine industry well. The rise of legalized recreational marijuana is a topic of interest and imminent pertinence to us all.”
Caputo, as a current contributor for Sonoma Magazine and Zester Daily, and previous editor of Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine for over seven years, is poised on the pulse of the wine industry.