By Barbara Barrielle
Last week’s Third Annual Wine and Weed Symposium attracted a huge group of wine and cannabis professionals to the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country in Santa Rosa to learn about emerging trends in consumer behavior, the impact on wine sales in states where recreational cannabis is legal, and how alcohol beverage companies can and do invest in cannabis. The continuing enthusiasm for this new frontier, this brazen opportunity, and the vast cross-marketing potential with the wine had attendees leaving on a high note.
George Christie, President of Wine Industry Network, the conference organizer, kicked off the day highlighting the evolving diversity of the symposium audience to nearly an equal blend of cannabis and wine industry represented. Christie then introducing the keynote speaker: The Family Coppola CEO Corey Beck who’s presentation blew the audience away, culminating in the introduction of the latest product in the company’s lineup, a cannabis flower packaged in a container reminiscent of a wine bottle along with goodies like matches, a pipe and papers, all branded with the Coppola name.
The Coppola cannabis product came about because the company’s namesake likes to “push the envelope,” Beck explains, “Francis is not afraid to take whatever risks necessary for whatever he believes in, like the swimming pool at the winery and creating experiences.”
Beck entertained the audience with stories about the larger-than-life man he works for who mortgaged everything for Apocalypse Now. He also detailed the changing landscape of adult beverage consumption and the growth of other beverage categories as well as the buying habits and brand trust sentiment of buyers from millennials to baby boomers, underlining the importance of a distinctive brand.
Cannabis products and derivatives like CBD appeal to each group in different ways and the category spend can be significantly different, but Coppola (FC) wants to be recognized as a quality brand among those buyers. The hip weed-in-a-wine bottle can be found at select dispensaries – but not at the winery as law prohibits that. Beck pointed out that the significant cost of producing the packaging and the legal hurdles was more than recovered in all of the publicity their pot announcement generated, including headlines like “A-pot-calypse Now.”
The winery that put bubbles in a can many years ago under the Sofia brand and were poo-pooed at the time, only to see other brands now scrambling to catch up in this emerging market, hopes to be the wine to cannabis crossover leader and plans to continue taking risks.
Chris O’Gorman, Director of Communications for Rodney Strong Vineyards commented, “The Wine & Weed Symposium provides great information on the effects of cannabis on the wine business, including risks and possible synergies. Having Corey Beck as the keynote speaker adds juice to the event.”
Cy Scott, CEO of Headset Inc., then spoke about the growing global acceptance of both adult recreational and medical-use marijuana and what is working in the retail environment. Scott explained, “We are in the ‘ramp up’ mode in California with 6.9% growth rate and the biggest opportunity among the legal states.” But, 20% of sales go to the top 5 brands and, like any business, there is competition for shelf space and CBD is gaining popularity among consumers and producers alike since the profit margins are much healthier than flower.
In the session about leveraging your brand, the dynamic between the desire to promote and market through events like the ones put on by Jamie Evans of The HerbSomm and cool wine and weed tours like those from Jared Giammona from The Sonoma County Experience (which makes a stop at Devin Ruddick’s Hook & Ladder Winery) were tempered by the legal realities explained by attorney Omar Figueroa. Regardless of the intent and desire for events, adult beverages and cannabis cannot be served or sold at the same place, so discretion and private lists are the only choice in these instances. Giammona’s tours educate on cannabis production and visit a retail shop and winery but no consumption, except for wine, is allowed.
Alexandra Russell, publisher of Spirited Magazine noted how things had changed since the first Wine and Weed Symposium, “Back then, all anyone had questions about was how this will work or can we do it. This time there was so much less suspicion and worry. So much more encouragement, positivity, and valuable information shared.”
In a statistic-filled and riveting after-lunch session, Jessica Lukas of BDS Analytics started with stats like the cannabis and cannabinoids (CBD) markets growing into the $45 billion level by 2024. Furthermore, Jessica’s research indicates that cannabis doesn’t significantly impact wine yet, but there are warning signs.
On the panel focusing on marketing lessons in cannabis sales, creatives like Zack Darling of the Hybrid Creative, Ann Peltz of Left Coast Ventures and Ed Rice of Affinity Creative Group pointed to examples of marketing done well and creative partnerships like CannaCraft and Lagunitas where brand perception helps both partners take initiative in the emerging weed market. Examples of cool packaging included AYA, Willie’s Reserve, Curiosity Shop, Wildseed, Kiva, and Lowell Smokes showed that consumers want luxury packaging or something that tells a story. In a world where cannabis has gone from under to over regulation, the ability to be flexible has become a key to survival.
Judd Wallenbrock, President & CEO of C. Mondavi & Sons, attended for the first time and enjoyed the creativity in the industry, “I attended mainly just to see if there are parallel challenges to our industries and to see what weed is doing to position itself,” he explained. “Is it competition to wine, complementary to wine, or irrelevant to wine and more a threat to beer and liquor. I love strong creative approaches. It keeps me and our industry on our toes.”
In the closing panel, a group of women that dominate the cannabis industry, most from or still in the wine business, weighed in on how the new frontier has given them opportunity, strength, freedom, and the chance to carve a new path in something still brazen and fresh. Tracey Mason, CEO of House of Saka made us laugh when she explained how she has been with start-ups before, all of them failed, but she still has hope. And Karli Warner of The Garden Society, a cannabis company targeting women, summed up with, “folks from all over the world come to Sonoma County to experience not only the finest in wine and dining, but also now the finest in cannabis. That is why I feel it is integral for Garden Society to have a strong presence at Wine & Weed, as leaders in the craft movement of cannabis.”