Will the Wine Industry Survive the Pot and Food Pairing Trend?

PLEASE HOLD FOR STORY -- In this Oct. 2, 2016 photo, diners eat dishes prepared by chefs and smoke marijuana, during an evening of pairings of fine food and craft marijuana strains served to invited guests dining at Planet Bluegrass, an outdoor venue in Lyons, Colo. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)“I think in five to 10 years as the laws change, you’ll see many high-end restaurants adopt cannabis programs much like the wine programs they currently offer. After all, allowing patrons to smoke or vaporize cannabis during a meal or before being seated will pique their appetites and encourage increased spending, which creates another large revenue stream for the restaurant industry.”
Elise McDonough, Recipe Columnist,High Times Magazine
Quoted from The Observer

There is something distasteful about the idea that restaurants will serve weed before seating their guests in order to encourage the munchies and larger food orders. But that aside, the more interesting idea is that fine dining restaurants will create “cannabis programs” very similar to the wine programs (wine lists, I think she means) that are ubiquitous at fine restaurants. Yet this is being suggested in a number of recent articles and essays on the subject ranging from Newsweek to High Times.

I think Ms. McDonough is overstating the case. For a number of reasons I think it is highly unlikely that “Weed Lists” and “Food and Weed Pairings” will become anything near as familiar as wine lists and food and wine pairings. However, she is not alone in her brave prediction.

“If you still have a problem with weed in 2016, you need to go bury yourself in a fucking hole. Let’s be real. Cannabis and chefs go hand in hand. Any chef who is afraid of getting involved with cannabis is too involved in themselves….Honestly, dude, weed just makes wine tastes [sic] better. Just like wine, weed has a lot of characteristics that you use the same senses for when you enjoy wine.”
Chef Steven Fretz, Chef/Restaurant Owner
Quoted at Munchies

I think it’s fair to say that just because you use the same senses to experience weed that you use to experience wine, that doesn’t mean weed will enhance the experience of wine (or food). In fact, anyone who smokes cigarettes or cigars will tell you that inhaling smoke of any type is only going to diminish the taste and aroma of any food in which you are hoping to find delight.

There is something else to consider here when discussing the notion of weed and food pairings. One could easily take on a 6-course food and wine pairing and leave the meal without being drunk in the slightest. However, it’s just not possible to do a six course food and pot pairing and not be completely stoned before the meal ever comes to an end. What this means is that when we compare food and wine pairings and food and pot pairings we are talking about two entirely different things. One necessarily includes severely altering your consciousness. The other does not.

The recent interest in the idea of food and pot pairings isn’t complicated. With California about to legalize recreation pot, the herb is about to go much more mainstream than it ever was. But it does so when the vast majority of people, particularly not pot smokers, have a view of pot as a low-end drug of lazy stoners. The increased interest in the Pot industry to show the weed next to fine cuisine is an attempt to take it mainstream; an attempt to make it appear no different from wine. But, of course, it is an entirely different thing than wine.

Personally, I think it’s a pretty interesting strategy and a smart one too. Placing pot on the same pillar as wine and getting respectable chefs to endorse the silly idea of pot and food pairings will in fact alter some people’s view of the drug. Additionally, pot advocates and particularly advocates of legalized pot, have been pushing the narrative that pot and wine are the same thing. Both are drugs. In fact, the pro-legalization campaign has long used wine regulations as a model for how to regulate pot, again using the acceptance of wine as a lever to normalize the idea of pot.

And the fact is, the wine industry does need to worry about its revenue stream in the face of marijuana legalization. Let’s face it, a whole lot of people who drink wine don’t do so because of the rich body, velvety tannins and notes of smoke, cherry and pencil lead. For those who drink wine in order to take the edge off, Pot is going to do the same thing for many. What weed is not going to do, however, is elevate fine cuisine. It may however urge us to eat more fine cuisine.

Posted In: Wine Business


5 Responses

  1. Donald - November 1, 2016

    Hi Tom,
    Thank you for writing an article that is not as alarmist regarding marijuana as many the other recent wine industry press. I did want to comment on the intoxication factor of pot as compared to wine. It’s true that a six-course pot pairing dinner would leave many folks very stoned and unable to continue enjoying their evening. However, a large percentage of regular pot users have a tolerance that would allow them to sample throughout the evening without becoming particularly impaired. The THC levels regularly seen in pot from California dispensaries would cripple the classic late 60’s stoner, but the pot smokers of today don’t seem to have a problem with it once acclimated.
    The other side of the coin is that alcohol impairment is often overlooked in many wine tasting and fine dining situations. The pleasant buzz that is often attributed to good company and high-end local cuisine is usually just good old ethanol doing it’s job. It’s true that alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, but with all the talk of responsible consumption, im my experience a large amount of people leaving a tasting venue or wine dinner will be well over the legal limit to drive.
    In any case, I think there is room for both marijuana and fine wine in California and there will be some trial and error in integrating the two into the culinary and tourist sectors.
    *For the record, I don’t use marijuana and have worked in the wine industry for over 13 years.

  2. Rick Bakas - November 1, 2016

    From 2003 to 2014 I was heavily involved in the wine industry, including running a wine+food pairing blog called Back to Bakas, and getting certified as a sommelier. In 2014, after the birth of my son we had a family intervention with someone we all care about. Alcoholism had reared its ugly head a little too close to home. I started paying attention to how much wine we all drink at industry events and became alarmed at how much wine industry folks put away at events before getting behind the wheel to drive home. Alcoholism is all around us.

    At that moment I decided to start transitioning out of the alcohol industry into the cannabis industry.

    The main reason was my mother. She’s suffered from multiple sclerosis for over 30 years and we had heard cannabis would help her, we just didn’t know how.

    There wasn’t much credible information online at the time (and still isn’t) about how she could medicate, but she said she would be open to trying cannabis to help alleviate some of her symptoms. The catch was she didn’t want to inhale it. She only wanted to ingest it or get cannabis into her system some other way.

    That’s when I started thinking about weed and food pairings. If we could get her an olive oil or some other ingredient infused with cannabis, we might be able to help her. I launched a lifestyle cannabis site called WeedHorn in early 2015 and have been exploring this question about cannabis and food pairings.

    When chefs use cannabis in their recipes, they may be trying to normalize it and make it more acceptable, but one big reason they cook with it is medical marijuana patients like to medicate by ingesting over smoking. Metabolizing the cannabis is healthier than smoking it, and its medical effects last longer. On the other hand, there are people who just want to get high for non-medical reasons and prefer to ingest it.

    In the case of my mom we found a high CBD cannabis oil with little to no THC in it. She does not get high at all when she eats it. In the 35+ years she’s had MS, 1 eye dropper of this cannabis oil per day in her food has been the best thing she’s taken. It has literally changed her life. All the pain she used to have from walking with a cane has been reduced and she’s sleeping much better at night without side effects like an upset stomach.

    Cannabis oil tastes like a rosemary truffle oil you might put on popcorn. It’s herbal. When used as an ingredient by a chef who knows how to weave its flavor into a meal, it can be a great way to medicate.

    As for the idea of restaurants having a “weed list” program I think we’re a long ways away from that. Until we have a predictable way to know how cannabis is going to affect someone, restaurants can’t take the risk. Ingested weed affects everybody differently from how long it takes to kick in to how a person metabolizes it. For some people the effects of ingested weed might not be felt for 2 hours. That’s why you NEVER eat the other half of the brownie!

    There’s too much liability in serving patrons cannabis-infused food. The first step will most likely introducing micro dose vape pens on premise, but it’ll have to be in a room where the smoke can’t bother other patrons. Or patrons might visit a vape lounge before arriving at a restaurant.

    Either way, this roll out of cannabis normalization is going to be the biggest thing we see in our lifetime. By the next presidential election, the cannabis industry will be approximately $30 Billion, half of which will be edibles sales. To put that into context, the NFL is a $12 Billion industry, and it took them 50 years to get there.

  3. Tom Wark - November 1, 2016


    I’m not so sure that “alcohol impairment is often overlooked in many wine tasting and fine dining situations.” The amount of training in the wine and hospitality industry concerning how to deal with over serving and such is massive.

    That said, I would never suggest that alcohol impairment isn’t a problem. However, I would suggest that it’s very hard to imagine a pot and food pairing dinner where the vast majority of participants don’t get really stoned.

    Additionally, what food tastes better after the receiving palate is tainted with herbal, resiny smoke?


    • Donald - November 1, 2016

      Hi Tom,
      Those are fair points and I have attended a fair amount of Responsible Hospitality training sessions myself. I suppose that I am getting into separate issues like transportation between wineries in the more rural areas of wine country.
      Pot dinners may be one of the missteps in normalizing weed, but I do think there is room for weed and wine both culturally and economically in California. I will say that I do not envy those who will staff the marijuana tasting bars. I’ve spent quite a lot of time pouring in wine tasting rooms and the spaciness, giggles and incoherent nature of first time pot smokers on a daily basis sounds like hell. Or at least early high school on repeat.
      I enjoy your blog, Tom. Keep up the good work.

  4. Mike - November 3, 2016

    Smoking is prohibited in restaurants in California, and also not permitted within 50 ft. of any public establishment. There will be no food and weed pairings in restaurants in California. It’s a moot point.

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