What Does the Wine Industry Have to Learn from the Cannabis Industry?

Over at Greenstate.com writer Chris Macias, who has a good deal of experience writing about wine, provides the cannabis industry readers seven important lessons they can learn from the California wine industry. And all of them are true:

-Put on your suit and tie and start lobbying
-Establish education and service certifications
-Watch out for the snob factor
-Bring customers into the tasting room and tell your story
-Are you a boutique? Take advantage of your niche
-Establish and promote appellations
-Learn to break bread and collaborate as an industry

These are all lessons the burgeoning cannabis industry can, in fact, learn from the wine industry. Good lessons. Lessons that will help them establish brands faster. Lessons that will help them increase sales. And lessons that will allow them to gain a premium price for their products.

But here’s what I’m wondering: What does the wine industry have to learn from the cannabis industry? Is there anything Oregon wineries can learn from their state’s cannabis growers and manufacturers? What can California’s wineries learn from the state’s ambitious cannabis growers and branding folk?

The reason I’m wondering is due to a little factoid that Macias quoted in his article: “The percentage of cannabis users who also drank alcohol dropped from 72 percent to 68 percent over the past year.”

As the wine industry is teaching the cannabis industry how to compete with it and take its customers, what does the wine industry have to gain from cannabis?

I was recently invited down to Napa Valley to take part in a radio show that would explore the connection between wine and cannabis. I was asked because I’m one of the few people who has been relatively vocal about the fact that not only does the wine industry have nothing to gain from cannabis legalization, but in fact, it will lose sales and profits as a result.

I can’t make it down there for the radio show. And when asked if I could recommend anyone else in the industry who also might have a perspective on the problems cannabis legalization will cause and is causing the wine industry I couldn’t think of anyone. I could think of lots of wine people who would happily explain why collaboration with an industry hoping to take their customers away was a good thing. But I failed to find someone who could tell the other, rational, side of the argument.

By the end of 2020, the percent of cannabis users who also drink alcohol is going to drop to between 60 and 65%, well off 2018’s 72%. This figure will level off eventually. While some will only partake in cannabis, a larger percentage will still both drink and smoke. But they’ll be drinking less.

In the wine industry, we talk a lot about Millennials. It’s a big generation. They are and will be taking over many of the positions held by boomers and older GenXers. They’ll make more money. They’ll buy wine because it’s tasty, it is the perfect accompaniment to food, it connects them to the land in a way ketchup and beer can’t, and because they watched their parents drink and enjoy wine.

But what of GenZ, those younger folks who happened to also live with much less, if any, of the stigma attached to “drug use” and who grew up with legal cannabis, with dispensaries on numerous corners, with consistent tales of how cannabis can cure all ailments and diminish all stress while wine and alcohol kills? What about them? What about their future wine consumption?

This is a question that has been and is being bandied about in the meeting rooms of medium-sized wineries and boardrooms of corporate affairs. And they all come to the same conclusion: The only way cannabis doesn’t take a significant cut of alcohol sales is if cannabis prohibition returns…and we all know that isn’t going to happen.

So I have to ask two questions again: What does wine have to learn from cannabis and what is the reason for the wine industry collaborating with and helping the cannabis industry?

5 Responses

  1. Rebecca Stamey-White - April 23, 2019

    Don’t you see, Tom? You answered your own question. The cannabis industry understands the new consumer far better than the wine industry does, because it’s a diverse community from many different parts of society, that has chosen to market to more than just the upwardly mobile, aspirational (predominantly male) consumer that the wine industry has focused on for so many years. There are different voices speaking and contributing to the conversation and developing all kinds of new products. It’s exciting for consumers, and they want to learn more. It’s not all about what’s being “taken” from the wine industry, as if this were a zero-sum game. It’s about learning and improving on what’s been done, and expanding the pie, something that many in the wine industry don’t want to do because they already have theirs (although there is more cross-over from individual players than you might admit). Maybe it’s time to start listening instead of demanding an answer, as if the cannabis industry owes you one.

  2. Tom Wark - April 23, 2019

    You always make my day when you comment, Rebecca.

    Women buy the majority of wine in the U.S. The vast majority of wine ads are aimed at women. Numerous label and branding efforts are aimed strait at women. The wineries that aim at men are those that have collectors (majority men) who buy their wines.

    And I have been listenng and watching the cannabis industry. I’m all in favor of legalized cannabis for all the reaons you might imagine. However, at this point the cannabis industry has done nothing for the wine industry other than help reduce sales, while the wine industry has taught the cannabis industry loads. Heck, most cannabis legallization campaigns have as their tagline, “regulate cannabis like wine”. Then there is the tasting room model, taken from wineries. Then their is the appellation system, taken directly from wineries. Then there is the “cannabis and wine pairing” program, taken directly from wine. I’m wondering what else wine could do for cannabis outside of directing their customers to buy cannabis rather than wine?

    If cannabis could help create a larger pie from which wine could eat, I’d like to know what that pie looks like and what its ingredients are.

  3. Nikki Lastreto - April 23, 2019

    Interesting take on it all, Tom. Another side of the picture which you probably are not aware of is the plethora of regulations we face which the wine industry does not. Take water use for example. The Water Boards and Fish & Wildlife are shutting down numerous cannabis farms because of water use. As a point of fact, it takes about 200 gallons to produce one bottle of wine, while it takes about 3 gallons to produce an 1/8th of cannabis, a comparable size for a dinner party, for example. We watch as Sonoma and Napa drain their rivers (and our rivers too, such as the Eel) and we are not allowed to use our own wells, springs, lakes and creeks. So you may feel the pinch because some folks are discovering how much better they feel the next day when they get high instead of drinking alcohol, and hence buy less wine, but we are fighting for our very survival, to grow a plant that is truly medicine for the masses and is not addicting at all. Yes, there are comparisons and yes, I will be the first to thank Robert Mondavi for what his books have taught me, but please recognize that we are a horse of a different color. Perhaps what you need to learn from us cannabis farmers is to be prepared because no doubt Fish and Wildlife will be after you too at some point as water resources become even more scarce.

  4. Jim Wallace . - April 23, 2019

    Tom, Me and my friend Cannabis have been pals almost as long as I’ve known the pleasures of wine. Many years ago when pot got on the ballot in CA I avidly worked to get him/her elected. Cannabis is a big reason I chose wine sales, I would not go to jail if caught selling it. While working hard for the cannabis cause I discovered many of it’s medicinal benefits and to this day believe big Pharma is the primary cause for the laws that exist against it. I no longer smoke and drink very little but I will eat a bud on occasion and have a very good glass of wine.

    My problem with pot was loss of memory when using it. One helluva price to pay, share a joint and not be able to find my way home from an evening out. Jim Wallace

  5. Josh - May 2, 2019

    One possible lesson though not obvious is cost control. It’s much cheaper to grow marijuana than wine, in many cases because of land costs. In order to compete with a newly legal pleasure the costs to grow and make the older existing one may have to come down dramatically. I’m actually unsure what the cost of an 1/8 of good weed costs but I’d but it’s less than the 100+ dollars that a bottle of Dunn costs!

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