By Emily Earlenbaugh
The cannabis green rush is picking up steam in California, and many are rushing for the opportunity to cash in on this booming industry. Still, for those already involved in cultivating, processing, or selling wine, there aren’t many options for participation. The new laws in place prohibit most of the ways that wine and cannabis might otherwise be brought together. It’s now explicitly illegal to make cannabis infused wine, to charge for events where wine and cannabis are both served, or even to commercially cultivate both wine and cannabis.
Still, one innovative and legal solution remains for those wineries who want to tap into the new cannabis tourism market; the wine and weed tour. With the passage of recreational cannabis laws, wine and weed tours are popping up all over the place, and they are one easy and low-risk way for wineries to benefit from the green rush.
At Wine Industry Network, we decided explore this option in detail, trying out a wine and weed tour to see what it was like, and talking to tour and winery owners about what it is like for the wineries who participate.
Bay Area Cannabis Tours
There are a few different options when it comes to wine and weed tours, but after a little research, we decided to check out two popular tours in Northern California.
I went to the first one in person, a wine and weed experience hosted by Cannabis Tours’ Heidi Keyes. The four-hour bus tour around San Francisco’s east bay included wine tastings, lunch, and snacks and was a reasonable $99 per person. The bus, separated from the driver by a sealed partition was a cannabis consumption zone and from the first moment, cannabis was a part of the experience.
The tour goers were fairly diverse in age, race, and gender, but most on this tour seemed very familiar with marijuana and delighted to be able to enjoy it in a more public setting. Many came with their own cannabis (as none could be legally provided with our tickets) and soon joints and bongs were being passed around the bus as cannabis themed music played on the sound system, and smoke drifted through the air.
Our first stop was to Magnolia Wellness, a cannabis dispensary with an onsite consumption lounge. Still, it seemed like most on the tour already had their cannabis situation figured out. If anything, this seemed like a wine tour for cannabis users, rather than anyone’s introduction to cannabis.
After that first stop, it was all about the wine. We headed to Trek Winery in Novato where we had lunch, a free wine tasting, and a tour. Then it was over to Rigger’s Loft in Richmond, a venue that hosts 4 wineries and a cider maker. We were given a tasting from each, as several of the winemakers came out to tell us about their wine, and tour-goers made purchases.
The Sonoma County Experience
The Sonoma County Experience, another tour we looked at, was more geared towards cannabis newcomers. This wine and weed tour lacks any cannabis consumption but provides ample opportunity for cannabis education. “The idea behind the wine and cannabis tour is to show people the agricultural similarities between the wine-making process and the outdoor cannabis process,” explains Jared Giammona, the founder of the Sonoma County Experience.
This tour, priced on the higher side at $294.94 a person, might not be the best value for consumers. Aside from the longer duration of this tour, it’s not clear what makes it so much pricier. Still, for wineries, higher priced tours like these might attract a crowd that is able to spend a little more. This tour picks up in San Francisco for a day-long journey around Sonoma county’s wine and cannabis region. It currently includes visits to one dispensary and three wineries, but Giammona says they hope to include a cannabis farm in the tour eventually, as well.
At the dispensary stop, Solful. Tour-goers are given an educational talk on cannabis and can purchase some to try later, on their own. But, beyond the dispensary tour, this experience is very focused on wine. At each of the three winery stops, tour-goers are treated to a tasting and winery managers have the opportunity to share about their wine, the winemaking process and the history of their winery.
Giammona says he approached a few smaller more boutique wineries about participating in the tour. “There were a few that said ‘no, for right now’ just because of the stigma,” he explains, but overall, he says it’s been a great response, “people have been very open to it.”
Benefits for Wineries
Giammoma’s pitch to bring wineries into the tour? “Legalization is here!”
“With it being so new, there’s so much buzz behind it,” he explains, “instead of competing with cannabis, being a part of these tours will tap into a whole new demographic that they might not have gotten before.”
Melissa Ivan Meyer, the director of sales and marketing for Larson Family Winery, (a stop on Giammoma’s tour) also believes there is opportunity for wineries participating wine and weed tours. “It’s a pretty cool way for us, as a winery, to ride that wave and be in front of the trend” she says, adding ”… in a legal and safe way, of course.”
“I think (Giammoma) reached out at a really good time in the season, where we were definitely opening our arms to more visitors and tour groups,” Meyer notes, mentioning that things have been slower since last fall’s wildfires.
Meyer says that the tours have beneficial overall and aren’t much different than any other tour group. “We’re getting new visitors to the winery and when they’re here it’s about the wine.”
Winemaker Kevin Brown shared similar sentiments about the tour that stops at his location in the east bay, Rigger’s Loft. “They’re looking for new wineries, new places to go and experience,” he says about Cannabis Tours. For him, one of the benefits of the tour is bringing customers to less well-known wineries like his. “It’s not the usual suspects…which I think is a really good thing,” he explains, pointing out that there are around 40 wineries in the east bay alone. “When you’re looking at that kind of concentration of wineries in a geographic area, you don’t have to go to Napa or Sonoma. Wine country is in your backyard, it’s right around you.”
Joining a Wine and Weed Tour
Interested in joining a wine and weed tour yourself? Reach out to one. Tours are often looking for new stops along the way. These two aren’t the only ones, the bay area alone has many tour options like Sea of Green Tours, Kush Tourism, and MJ Tours California.
Worried about legal concerns? Happily, there is no legal conflict with being a part of a wine and weed tour. As a winery, you are just receiving visitors. These tours function just like any other group coming to your property. During the winery stops, there is no cannabis involved, so no laws prohibit or regulate this kind of activity.
Legal recreational cannabis is still new in California, so it’s no surprise that everyone is rushing to try out the latest cannabis experiences. Those new to the cannabis scene are curious about trying it out and learning more. Seasoned cannabis users are excited to get out and enjoy cannabis related activities. Tourists want to an experience that brings Northern California’s incredible cannabis and wine together. Whatever the reasons, the interest is there, and wine and weed e tours are a great way to participate.
This article grab your attention? Then check out the upcoming 2nd Annual North Coast Wine & Weed Symposium.