It’s Official: Cannabis and Wine are a Poor Pairing

Cannabis and wine are alike only in the same way that wine is like carrots. Both are produced with plants. I’ve been inching toward this conclusion for quite some time. However, it took the experience of listening to presenters and exhibitors at Wine Industry Network‘s brilliantly produced Wine & Weed Symposium on Thursday, for me to fully embrace this conclusion.

This was not, however, the conclusion being delivered at the Symposium. Nor is it the position that the Cannabis legalization champions have touted over the past decade as the legalization movement gained so much momentum that recreational pot is or will so be legal in 8 states now, including, of course, California.

In fact, cannabis legalizers have long championed the connection between weed on the one hand and wine and alcohol on the other. There have actually been pieces of legislation named “Regulate Marijuana Like Wine” and “Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol.” Now, in Wine Country, the cannabis industry is making a very strong push to associate itself with wine.

I don’t buy it. However, I’m in the minority on this.

At the Wine & Weed Symposium, a poll of attendees was taken. We learned that half the people in the room worked in the wine industry, 28% in the cannabis industry and 18% in both industries. But the really interesting thing was that when attendees were asked if there will be more collaboration or competition between the wine and cannabis industry, 77% said collaboration, while only 7% said competition. I was among the 7%.

As I sat and listened to some pretty smart cannabis people talk about the regulatory and perception problems they face in California and as I sat startled to discover that legalization will likely put upwards of 60%-70% of current cannabis growers out of business, it struck me hard that cannabis has far more to gain by associating themselves with smoothly regulated and well-accepted wine, than wine has to gain by associating itself with cannabis.

The cannabis industry in California will profit and benefit from understanding how wineries attract visitors and how they cater to them. The Cannabis industry will benefit from the wine industry by understanding how it navigates the regulatory environment. The Cannabis industry will benefit by its somewhat still suspect product being placed alongside historically and happily embraced wine at food related events. The Cannabis industry will benefit from the wine industry’s experience figuring out how to use appellations. Cannabis will benefit from the throngs of wine tourists who will take a side trip to a cannabis producer. Cannabis will benefit from those adults who have already been accustomed and trained to use wine to take the edge off who will take that training and turn their attention to the now-legal cannabis and away from wine. 

How exactly does the wine industry benefit from cannabis legalization?

The only thing I can see in this regard is that there may be a few pot smokers who come to Wine Country to indulge and learn and who take their first side trip to a winery. But this segment of the market is about as small and niche as it can possibly be.

Wine’s reputation certainly won’t be enhanced by it being somehow associated with cannabis.

But there is also that issue of cannabis being like wine in the same way that wine is like carrots. Yes, they both grow in the ground, but they are two entirely different products. While there is certainly a segment of wine drinkers who drink wine for the buzz, it is entirely possible for someone to consume wine with no intent to get drunk and to succeed in staying straight while still appreciating the way wine tastes, while still appreciating how wine accompanies food, and while still indulging in the connoisseurship of wine. This happens all the time.

Outside of the medical uses of cannabis, there is no other reason to consume it other than to get high. This difference between weed and wine creates an entirely different culture surrounding the two products. As Claudio Miranda of Guild Enterprises noted at the Wine and Weed Symposium, one difference between the two products is that wine is never promoted by touting its ability to bring on inebriation nor by the types of inebriation it induces. Cannabis, on the other hand, is promoted almost exclusively in this manner.

Finally—and I’ve said this before but it is worth repeating—cannabis is most definitely going to impact the sales of wine. There will be a certain number of people who drink a couple of glasses of wine at night or with dinner to take the edge off who will switch to pot. Some will simply drink less wine. Others will stop drinking wine altogether. This will negatively impact the sales growth of wine and anyone who is saying otherwise is either in the cannabis industry and wishes to engage the help of the wine industry to normalize their product or they simply aren’t thinking straight.

This recent article in High Times outlines the reality of how cannabis legalization will impact alcohol sales. This article in Forbes reports on an estimated $2 Billion loss of beer sales. There is no reason to believe wine is so special in some way that it won’t also be impacted.

I’m a fan of cannabis legalization. There are too many good reasons to get high and pot is extraordinarily good at getting you there. It delivers significant medical benefits. And it will produce significant tax revenue that will benefit everyone in states where it is legal and taxed.

I’m grateful to the folks over at Wine Industry Network for putting on the Wine & Weed Symposium. Not only was it a great event that offered tremendous information on this new legal industry, it also solidified my belief that cannabis legalization is not good for the wine industry and that the wine industry as a whole has very little if anything at all to gain by cooperating with the cannabis industry.

 

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5 Responses

  1. Gabriel Froymovich - August 4, 2017

    Tom,

    As you know, you and I disagree on whether we wine folks will lose noticeable market share to pot. But, I don’t think that we will collaborate with pot growers MORE than we will compete. Of course we will compete more, even if we get along very well and cooperate often. However, I did want to note that there is an additional benefit for wine growers when cannabis is legalized. We get a new, possible income source. We can plant pot on land that we don’t have other uses for. We can use it to smooth out our cyclical revenue flows. We can use it to occupy our vineyard workers during traditional down times in the season. And the fact that many pot operations will close up shop after legalization gives some measure of hope that legalization will not further tighten the ag labor market.

  2. Dwight - August 6, 2017

    As a serious wine enthusiast and arguably a connoisseur, I have never understood the suggested link or pairing between wine and weed. I believe that any serious vintner making high quality wines, especially in the northern California premium wine country would distance themselves as far from possible from that association. People who enjoy $100, $200, even $500/bottle wines do so for the enjoyment of the wine and more often than not, its pairing with food. They don’t do it for a cheap buzz. Maybe the jug wine and boxed wine crowd want to encourage the pairing with weed, but I believe this is two distinct cultures. Yes, the availability and quasi-legal status of weed will impact the total revenue of the overall wine and spirits market. But I seriously doubt that Phelps, Opus One, Quintessa or Bob Harlan are worried about weed adversely impacting their market.

  3. D.M. - August 9, 2017

    I disagree with your comment that the only reason to consume cannabis is to get high. As a sommelier and cannabis user I do see similarities in carefully curating pairings and experiences. Not to mention the health benefits of non psychoactive components of cannabis such as cbd and thca. This line of thought that all cannabis users are just trying to get high goes back to stoner stereotypes and undermines the evolving sophisticated cannabis industry of today.

    • Tom Wark - August 12, 2017

      Dwight,

      I agree, the medicinal benefits of cannabis are many and good. However, beyond this the reason to ingest cannabis is to get high, pure and simple. Matching your high with a wine might be fun, but it’s entirely academic.

  4. Marie Roth - August 12, 2017

    This is a great perspective, thank you for writing the opinion Mr. Wark.
    I sit here right now at this moment behind the bar of a a small off the beaten path winery in the middle of California still waiting for my first taster. I’ll just add my 2 cents to this argument, never mind my level of education or experience.
    If I was a grape grower, or any other grower for that matter, I might consider cannabis as a diversification crop, however, the feds may stick their noses in for those holding certain licenses. Plus I’d have to get real naked when it comes to pest management.
    If I had a tasting room, I might also consider messing around with cannabis pairing, or even infusion but that won’t really fly either if I want to maintain good standing, again, with the feds.
    However, as a consumer, I might like to know what wine would pair nicely with my steak as well as my strain, or I might like to know what wineries have an outdoor area that’s 420 friendly. Is it the responsibility of the wine maker or the wine drinker to suggest the pairings?
    Consumers will be the ones helping entrepreneurs to push the envelope. Collaboration will help us to explore the possibilities for profit as well as put a cap on what might be a potential for liability. Communication is the key. Keep collaborating!
    Cheers & ‘ere!
    Marie


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