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Wine Spectator on Bankable Cannabis

Paul Masson coined the slogan. Orson Welles repeated it dramatically in one of the most memorable ads ever in the world of viticulture: “We will sell no wine before its time.” No doubt about it, time is critical when it comes to harvesting grapes, fermenting them and releasing the finished product. Ditto for the gathering and the broadcasting of news and information.

Wine Spectator magazine has finally caught up with the cannabis industry and has published this June a special report on weed in Sonoma, Mendocino, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Napa counties. Wait a sec. Scratch Napa, the county doesn't allow for the cultivation of cannabis or the manufacture of cannabis products.

Too bad for Napa. Vintners there will be left in the dust. As reporter Aaron Romano writes in “Cannabis in Wine Country,” many grape growers and winemakers see cannabis “as a bankable addition to agriculture in regions where wine grapes dominate.” I like that word, "bankable."

The fact that an esteemed wine industry magazine has seen fit to publish vital statistics about permits for cultivation in four counties suggests that the winds are changing in the wine industry. Indeed, the numbers tell a powerful story. Santa Barbara has issued 1379 permits, Mendocino 819, Monterey 477 and Sonoma 125, but that's more than the zero permits issued in Napa which has adopted an "absolutist approach." Or so says Romano.

One Napa-based company grows its weed in neighboring Lake County which has licensed growers. Eric Sklar, cofounder and CEO of Napa Valley Fumé is quoted as saying: “I believe Napa can be one of the best regions for growing cannabis in the world.”

Much of the information in the June issue of Wine Spectator will be familiar to those who follow the ups and downs and ins and outs of the cannabis industry. Some of the farms and some farmers like Aaron Kiefer might also be familiar. Still, it's great to have the information about the five counties all in one place, in a very readable format and with super color photos of some of the major players along with their plants.

In the last section of the report, Romano explains that cannabis beverages are a “direct competitor to wine,” although he adds that “projections about California's cannabis industry are challenging.”

Indeed, it's a volatile industry. Investors might not want to throw good money at a crop that’s still illegal by federal law.

The article, "Cannabis in Wine Country," does not mention two famous Sonoma County marijuana growers who have roots in the wine industry. Romano might have mentioned Phil Coturri who makes an outstanding grenache and rose and also cultivates excellent cannabis in the Mayacamas mountains. Mike Benziger who helped found Benziger Family Winery also grows top-notch marijuana on Sonoma Mountain. It's sold in Sonoma dispensaries.

(Jonah Raskin is the author of Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.)

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(Mark Scaramella notes: We have no idea where Mr. Romano may have got the impression that Mendo had issued 819 permits. As far as we know the number of permits issued is in the low 200s and those are “provisional” which will probably expire at the end of 2021 unless the legislature extends the deadline.)

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