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Pairing Wine and Weed

June 12, 2021

Back in the late seventies, I was a director and member of the board of The Superior Farming Company, a subsidiary of Superior Oil. The farm headquarters were in Bakersfield, California which was kind of a rural town in Kern County though the scale of the 33,576-acre farm was highly scientific.  Science and loving care yielded wonderful stone fruit, grapes of all description, nuts and row crops. In fact, the “farm” was the largest supplier of wine grapes to United Vintners which has forty proprietary wine labels. Some 10,000 acres were in row crops which never covered their cost to grow and harvest.  Once, I suggested that the row crop acreage be sold which was like I had driven a stake through everyone’s heart.  It was clear that I should be quiet and enjoy the wonderful fruit and wine.

In order to make the non-farmer directors true agriculture aficionados, we stopped in Tucson, Arizona on the corporate jet to take a tour of our 10-acre hydroponic greenhouses which were conveniently located near the airport to distribute tomatoes and cucumbers to far flung locations.   As we were touring the impressive operation, some frank disclosures were made that the major problem was disposing of the plant refuse once the vegetables were harvested. Large herds of goats were fed the remaining plant debris but it was so rich in nutrients the goats had digestive issues which required massive amounts of grain inhibiters such as purchased soybean meal to moderate things. It occurred to me that the only plant that could be profitably grown in that environment was marijuana with a ready-built distribution capability like something out of the Air America days. When I asked how it would prosper in that growing setting, the manager just grinned from ear to ear. Sadly, we were some forty years ahead of our time. I convinced everyone to donate the facilities to the University of Arizona which generated corporate income tax deductions and the greenhouses still exist today as shown below.

At a later time, I joined the board of a farming company to that of a bank holding company headquartered in San Francisco. The chairman of the bank had a vineyard in southern California so there were considerable wine discussions at our meetings.  Moreover, one could not be in San Francisco and escape a weekend at the wine mecca of Napa. I cannot say that my bank director fees generated any take home funds, but they surely underwrote vast wine purchases and continually expanding wine cellars in the Texas Hill Country.  In fact, they sparked the interest for us to grow grapes and make wine back in Texas. I can testify that it is not a lucrative business and the old adage of “if you want to make a small fortune in the wine business, start with a large fortune” is spot on.  Nonetheless, the grandeur of Napa is breathtaking and it is on a scale that is seldom seen most anywhere else.

However, I realized we are now living in a radically different world when I received the June issue of Wine Spectator which headlined CANNABIS IN WINE COUNTRY and described the legal growth of marijuana.  In fact, Marvin R. Shanken, Editor and Publisher of the “wine bible” clarified the economics in a manner that says it all.  “Elite wine grapes such as pricey Napa Cabernet Sauvignon typically fetch the farmer $20,000 to $40,000 an acre, whereas a grower can reap $1 million from an acre of cannabis.”  I can attest to the cost and fragility of the wine grape-growing side as we planted Napa Cabernet Sauvignon grape clones in 2000 in the Texas Hill Country, made wine in 2004 and then eventually lost the grapes to Pierce’s disease.  We subsequently replanted with a Black Spanish grape that is resistant to the disease though we have only made wine three times since then given weather and animal issues. I refer to our wine as “Not the best, but the most expensive in the world.” 

In today’s Napa setting, the well-protected but beautiful marijuana “trees” shown below provide a clear picture of the prolific nature of a good environment and careful care. The fences provide a wind barrier but also keep away all of the intruders, including human ones.  In actual fact, the setting looks more like a Christmas tree farm or a field of dreams. 

Moreover, the buds receive careful manicures and kindness to enhance their full potential and increase the THC, or Tetrahydrocannibanol -- which is the full name that most of you potheads out there have never heard. 

Even comfortably cannabis-high folks in California will find something about which to complain and that is all of the protective coverage and fencing for cannabis growth is destroying the visual effects of the environment.  Okay, some small visual sacrifices may be necessary for the optimum “feel good” side of life. 

Finally, when it comes to the tasting rooms and retail side of the cannabis business, the packaging aspect does not compare to the wine side of Napa. On the other hand, one must be able to smell the fragrance of the bud and feel the resin on one’s fingertips.  Hence, there are screw top Mason jars, as shown below, rather than exotically labeled, corked wine bottles. 

So where do all of these developments leave us at this moment? Marvin R. Shanken has another successful publication entitled Cigar Afficionado. Maybe there is a cannabis-oriented publication in his future with branding that goes beyond the old names of “Thai stick, skunk and Maui wowie” to more exotic terminology or even ratings by THC content. As for this writer who began his test trials in Bangkok in the late sixties, the “Purple Haze” era, I am reminded by the 1975 Ringo Starr No No Song--no, no, no, no I don’t smoke it no more.  On the other hand, we could modify it a bit as to “seldom” rather than “no” in order to judge the product development given the modern Napa touch. One never knows about these new bud vintages when paired with a nice Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.


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