by Elizabeth Hans McCrone
- Both are agricultural products and terroir has a lot to do with the quality, quantity and specific characteristics of the final results.
- They each have a sensory impact on their consumers.
- Both can command relatively high prices – at least so far – in competitive markets.
- Those involved in the growing, processing, refining and selling of wine and weed are entrepreneurial in nature and passionate about what they do.
The big difference is that one of these substances has been legal in the U.S. for commercial purposes since 1933. The other is gaining legal status somewhat painfully, state by state, and does not yet enjoy federal protections under the law.
That said, since California legalized recreational marijuana use in 2016, the growth of the cannabis economy has moved above ground in the state and exploded into a plethora of new business opportunities for cannabis enthusiasts, most notably in the hospitality industries.
“We know cannabis tourism is going to happen,” affirms George Christie, President/CEO of the Wine Industry Network (WIN). “The question is what will the impact be for wine, and can we work together to ensure that we hold to the same high standards as restaurants, hotels and other hospitality experiences that define tourism in our regions?”
To that end, Christie and WIN are producing the Second Annual North Coast Wine & Weed Symposium to be held on August 2, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country in Santa Rosa, CA.
One of the symposium sessions, entitled “The Impact of Cannabis Tourism on Wine in the North Coast,” is dedicated to the exploration of hospitality experiences involving both cannabis and wine.
Brian Applegarth, founder of Emerald County Tours and the California Cannabis Tour Association, is one of the session speakers. His Cannabis Trail initiative invites visitors to explore the unique cannabis culture and history prevalent throughout northern California, which Applegarth describes as “ground zero for marijuana.”
“The Cannabis Trail is an effort to create a storytelling infrastructure which preserves that heritage of cannabis in our culture,” Applegarth says. “It will guide you on a journey from Santa Cruz to Arcata, telling the story of northern California cannabis, our history and celebrating three things; pioneers, events and storytelling lore.”
Applegarth’s other organization, the California Cannabis Tour Association, was formed to provide support for the emerging cannabis travel and tourism niche, fostering growth and communication between new cannabis ventures and the already established travel and tourism industries.
“There are three pillars to the Association,” Applegarth explains. “The first is advocacy, the second is providing networking opportunities for the members and the third is education; what are the laws, best practices and regulations governing cannabis business owners and consumers?”
For his part, Applegarth has no trouble seeing the many connections between wine and weed.
“Cannabis is different, but in a good way,” he emphasizes. “The two are symbiotic. I imagine people pairing certain strains with wine and food for a more amplified experience.”
“I’m going for engagement, openness and dialogue (at the seminar),” he continues. “This is an amazing opportunity…. to collaborate. We can work hand in hand to create a compelling narrative about our region. These are fun and exciting times.”
Eric Sklar will be joining Applegarth on the panel. Sklar, whose family has been growing grapes in the Napa Valley for more than 40 years, is the current head of Napa Valley Fumé, a cannabis/branding management company based out of St. Helena, CA. Sklar is also a co-founder of the Napa
Valley Cannabis Association.
He is optimistic about the intersection of wine and weed.
“I’m excited to be part of this new industry,” Sklar enthuses. “We can help shape this business as it’s developing. My whole career has been about tangible, three-dimensional products (food and wine). Cannabis is another. There’s no fundamental conflict between wine and cannabis, even if people might choose one or the other at any given time. Cannabis and wine are complementary and should support each other.”
Sklar believes it’s incumbent on wine industry professionals to lead by example when it comes to tourism and hospitality – and for cannabis entrepreneurs to listen and learn.
“I want cannabis folks who haven’t been in wine to understand the business of hospitality and the importance of providing an extraordinary experience for guests,” Sklar attests. “When they leave, the experience they’ve had creates a bond with your product. It’s important to think of it that way.”
Laura Lasseter, another symposium session speaker, could not agree more.
Lasseter is Director of Operations and Founding Board Member of the Southern Humboldt Business and Visitors Bureau (SHBVB). The Bureau is tasked with forging the path of tourism, marketing, economic and destination development for southern Humboldt County – and that now encompasses marijuana.
“I don’t see any competition between wine and weed. I see it as a bonus,” Lasseter affirms. “We’re interested in developing more partnerships down south, in breaking down misconceptions. There’s a whole other side to cannabis … we can work together to help to elevate the experience for all visitors.”
Alicia Rose, who will also join the panel session on cannabis tourism, is the founder of HerbaBuena, a company dedicated to “defining a new standard in the cannabis industry.” Rose believes that cannabis consumers are looking for the same purity, quality and sophistication in their cannabis that they’ve come to expect with fine wine.
“The crux is, how do we create 100 point cannabis?” Rose asks rhetorically. “It’s that same philosophy (as wine), attention to detail, the art and science coming together to create something wonderful.”
While Rose is convinced of the ability to create a superior cannabis consumer product, she remains hopeful about the wine industry as a whole embracing this up and coming new kid on the block.
“There’s still so much taboo around society’s acceptance of this product,” Rose reflects. “At the end of the day, more vintners are in support … the ones that are progressive realize the power of this plant and how it can be an asset to elevate their wine brand experience. Napa and Sonoma are smart not to lose out on those customers who want to take advantage of the combined offerings.”
Rose sees the upcoming symposium as a way to break down some of the prevailing misunderstandings about cannabis enterprises.
“I hope the wine industry at large continues to develop a deeper level of comfort coming from a more educated place about the positive aspects, rather than being afraid of it due to long-held misconceptions,” she professes. “I hope people will be open-minded and see this as an extraordinary opportunity, rather than a threat.”
For more information about and registration to the 2018 North Coast Wine and Weed Symposium, visit http://wine-weed.com/nc/.