Time to Question the Weed & Wine Collaboration Scenario

wine-weed-symposiumThough in its infancy and surely with a long way to go before true legitimacy, the rising Cannabis industry appears to have its eyes set on becoming part of the artisan tourist industry that wineries invented and are far down the road to perfecting. One question that needs answering is this: Does the wine industry need the cannabis industry or does the cannabis industry need the wine industry?

This is just one of the questions that will be explored at the Weed & Wine Symposium planned for August in Sonoma County.

From the sound of those who are promoting the upcoming Weed & Wine Symposium (it sounds fascinating) you get the impression that wine needs weed. According to Tawnie Logan, the Executive Director for Sonoma County Growers Alliance:

“It is imperative that the wine industry understand the nuances and how to collaborate weedglasswith us. The wine industry has had one hundred years to develop, and now gives back to social and environmental causes. We are at year one. We need the wine industry to help bring us in, and show us what responsible industry practices look like.”

Is it really imperative that the wine industry understand the nuances of how to collaborate with weed? Is it imperative that the wine industry teach its competitor how get the job done? I’m not completely sure it is.

One the topic of the opportunities and threats to the wine industry from cannabis, Logan says:

“There are many opportunities if the wine industry can get ahead of it. They have the opportunity to work with a new tourist attraction to Sonoma County.  We have wine, food, ocean, biking, and kayaking.  Craft beer tourism is a new menu item for tourists. Not all visitors are wine drinkers. Men are attracted to beer and spirits, and women want wine. But we are seeing a generational shift.  We need to figure out how to incentivize a tourist target market. How many items can they pack into a trip?  If you are over 40 years old, maybe you are angled toward the wineries, and you want to experience the vineyards. Kids in their 20’s want to hit Russian River Brewery and the dispensaries, so it’s a different kind of crowd. If we market this appropriately and make it collaborative, we can all do well.”

Call me the Devil’s advocate. Call me skeptical. But this sounds an awful lot like the cannabis industry wants to introduce the wine industry to light spending 20-year-olds, while the wine industry introduces big spending 40 and 50-year-olds to the Cannabis industry. Is that a fair trade? I’m just spitballing here, but what Ms. Logan says is correct. There are only so many items a visitor will pick up on a trip. Does the wine industry want to promote the idea that its best customers take home something other than wine?

Rebecca Stamey-White is a partner at Hinman & Carmichael, perhaps the most prestigious law firm in the wine industry.

“I think the risk of competition is being over-blown. It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation.”

It’s not overblown. Anyone who doesn’t believe that the cannabis industry is going to suck sales from the alcohol industry doesn’t understand the nature of the two products. The question is which part of the wine industry will get hit hardest. Surely it will be those in the industry selling relatively lower priced wines to those who covet the fruit of the vine as much for its ability to calm the nerves as its relationship to the terroir and its minerally undertones. But it sounds to me also that those suggesting the wine industry collaborate with the cannabis industry also have their sights set on wines higher end buyers.

Stamey-White goes on to say:

“There is room for collaboration, with consumers enjoying both industries at different points in time. For example, the food element is something the wine industry has done really well. Cannabis goes really well with food, so collaboration on the hospitality around food may be a great chance to work together.”

I attended the interesting Wineries Boot Camp put on by the Luxury Marketing Council yesterday and listen to a panel of pot marketers talk to the wine industry. When asked about the pairing abilities of weed and food, one of the smartest guys I’ve heard discuss pot in a while said, “have you ever noticed what happens to your appetite after you smoke pot?”

That’s not so much a claim that weed and food match well with each other as much as it is a confession that people are willing to ingest a wider variety of foods when they are high. And that’s a great thing if you have the executive chef for Taco Bell headlining your wine and food pairing dinner.

If I was the owner of a wine estate with land and vineyards, I’d certainly want to hear what gets said at the Wine & Weed Symposium. I’d like to know if there is value in putting my brand name on some cannabis products. I’d like to know if there is added revenue to be had by growing weed next to my vines. I’d like to know what added value comes with putting the name of my AVA on a package of weed.

But I wouldn’t necessarily be convinced quite yet that wine and weed are natural industries to collaborate. However, I am convinced that the coming cannabis industry has far more to gain by getting the wine industry to collaborate with them than the wine industry gets from the bargain.


5 Responses

  1. Bill Tobey - March 3, 2017

    I am a wine broker & it is my committment to never deal with anyone in the wine business who is also in the pot business. Wine is a wonderful part of enjoying life, pot is a drug.

    Let me tell a story. I lived in SF during the summer of love. The kids involved where the same age as me. I never used drugs but they only wanted to talk about pot and how wonderful and mellow it was. At the end of each conversation they would say, “I’ll never use harder drugs.” The next year hard drug dealers hit town and many many kids died.

    So why would I support anything to do with pot? My prediction is that we have only begun to see the explosion of hard drugs to people who started with that nice mellow pot.

    We have a huge financial problem in that government will see pot as a source of huge amounts of money and will do everything it can to promote pot. I expect in 20 years the greatest source of income for government will be pot sales. Are we headed for trouble?

  2. Tom Wark - March 3, 2017

    Rebecca Stamey-White, Esq. sends in this comment (Thank you, Rebecca):

    My Dear Devil’s Advocate,

    I hope you don’t actually think that I don’t understand the nature of wine or cannabis and the potential competition. As a partner at “perhaps the most prestigious law firms in the wine industry” and the head of our cannabis practice, I understand both markets well, maybe better than anyone, save perhaps the many wine industry veterans that have become entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry or the alcohol regulators now tasked with regulating cannabis. Of course, there is competition, but my point was that consumers enjoy choice and may enjoy more of all things when they are given good choices. Wine drinkers often also drink beer and also drink spirits, and many of them also have enjoyed cannabis flower for many years and would love to enjoy the kinds of high-end cannabis products that they have come to enjoy in the alcohol beverage industry. What’s more, while this is not an endorsement to mix the two products, there are many cannabis consumers whose taste buds are expanded by the bud and may actually enjoy higher end wine as a result.

    You joke about the executive chef of Taco Bell putting together a dinner with cannabis, and that shows you perhaps haven’t seen the latest the cannabis industry has to offer. That is a stereotype of an industry that has been stuck in the shadows for too many years and left with an image created in Hollywood of the teenage male good-for-nothing stoners, and that’s frankly never been a true depiction of the industry or the many colors, gender and demographics that have embraced the plant. I hate to break it to you, but most of your high-end winemakers are drinking beer and smoking weed to get through harvest and many of your boomer big spending wine buyers also enjoy cannabis when they host dinner parties paired with wonderful wines. The hedonism that runs within the wine industry is present within the cannabis industry, and I would argue that the Venn diagram of wine drinkers and cannabis consumers has a large overlap.

    The generational debate has been a topic of much discussion within wine industry circles and on this blog in particular (https://fermentationwineblog.com/2016/05/millennials-will-embrace-napa/, https://fermentationwineblog.com/2016/01/4121/, https://fermentationwineblog.com/2013/10/wine-millennials-meme/). I’ve spoken at wine industry conferences about millennials and the opportunities from this demographic, and I’m frankly tired of the discussion since it is so obvious. Unfortunately, no one here gets out alive, including Jim Morrison.

    I know from my clients that the wine industry is thinking about the younger generation of wine drinkers as well as the next generation. So are the distilled spirits industry, the beer industry and the cannabis industry. Can they all learn things from each other? Of course, they can. And as it turns out, an industry that has been without regulation can get very creative. Especially when it has the opportunity to create those regulations and laws. I actually think the biggest opportunity for the wine industry to learn from the cannabis industry is not how to attract 20-somethings, but to learn how to disrupt the laws and regulations that have carried over from the end of Prohibition. The legislative and regulatory process to shape the cannabis industry in California is happening now. It’s amazing what can be done when the laws being created actually take into account current technology, modern marketing and sales and trying to reduce the barriers to entry, and I suspect that the wine industry may look to these new laws and regulations when considering its own.

    With love,
    Your favorite sin industry advocate

  3. Tom Wark - March 3, 2017

    Rebecca:

    John H. used to be my favorite sinner. Now it’s you.

    So, would you agree that there is a pretty decent number of folks who choose wine for their daily wind down, rather than for thier love of the grape, and that they are largely buying $10-$20 bottles of wine? How many of them will move to pot. I think it’s going to be a pretty decent number. But perhaps I’ll be haning with Morrison before we find out if I’m right.

    I have a little experience with the flower, having spent three years in Humboldt, getting to know ommitted growers and having experienced the Flower myself at least a few times. And since then, well, I’ve familiar. And here is what I know. The idea of Cannibis and Food Pairing Dinners is nothing more than a means of mainstreaming the product by doing what a much more mainstream, high end, luxury product has done for years. It’s akin to the marketing of the pot initiatives in this way: “Regulate Pot Like Wine”….. Why not, “regulate pot like Whisky”? Well, because Whisky, despite its recent rise, still doesn’t have the high end cache of wine.

    Your point about a creative regulatory approach to weed is a very interesting one and I hope you’ll be able to discuss it at the Symposium. However, are we not looking at a duplication of the Three Tier System?

    Thank you again, Rebecca! You are indeed a wonderful advocate for sin.

    (P.S….I’m writing this while high on something other than wine or weed after some emergency dental surgery, so forgive the possibility of a dropped verb or article. By the way, what pairs with Oxycodone?)

  4. Tom Wark - March 3, 2017

    More from Rebeca Stamey-White:

    Tom, sorry to hear about the dental surgery, but you might consider a less addictive, more natural painkiller… hmm… if only there was one available in California…

    Regarding the regulations, we are not just looking at a duplication of the three-tier system (which itself is full of state-specific exceptions to the rule in any event). This issue is very much part of the legislative and regulatory debate with two different systems in play – one a mandatory independent distributor with some availability for dual-licensing in other categories under the medical system (thus not a strict three-tier system) v. limited vertical integration without the requirement for an independent distributor under Prop 64. The legislature is trying to figure out one system that will work for both, so the battle is on and being debated currently.

    Cannabis and food pairing dinners are of course partly about pairing luxury items and mainstreaming cannabis, but you might try one to see if you are so skeptical afterward. Many believe that food and cannabis go better together than food and wine (gasp!), and the munchies phenomenon is not just about increasing appetite for chips and ho-ho’s but also about expanding the pleasure sensation (there’s that hedonism again) and sensory experiences of all kinds – smell, taste, touch, appearance… I’m getting hungry for delicious farm-to-table food just thinking about the possibilities!

  5. Mark.L - March 14, 2017

    Sincerly, in my opinion, wine and cannabis not have the same way to use. Usually I drink wine to taste it, to feel it deep inside my mouth, … But with weed (I have used it twice times), all I feel is fun thing and I laugh very hard. My view is it will cost times for weed and wine industry to collaborate together.
    Thank you and Rebecca.


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