Pubdate: Sun, 28 Aug 2016
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Press Democrat
Author: Paul Payne


Justin Calvino raked a hand beneath a shimmering marijuana plant, 
combing through chips of century-old apple trees and manure from his 
stable of miniature horses.

Come fall, the rich soil on his North Mendocino coast pot farm 
coupled with other factors like characteristic foggy mornings will 
yield high-grade sativa buds dripping with mind-altering potency - as 
well as notes of chocolate and lime.

It's a unique product for discriminating palates and one Calvino 
hopes to market to consumers across California through a legally 
defined and protected geographical identification system similar to 
what's used in the wine industry.

The onetime Haight-Ashbury dope dealer is leading a movement to 
establish the nation's first countywide cannabis appellations 
recognizing the region's diverse topography, climate and weed-growing 
culture. The hope is it will cement Mendocino's reputation as a 
premier growing region in a market that could be flooded with more 
generic weed.

"This isn't your average wake-and-bake stuff," said Calvino, 36, 
looking over his crop at the Albion Ridge homestead he shares with 
his wife and seven children. "It's more of a dessert.

The effort comes on the eve of a historic November election in which 
voters will be asked to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use 
- - 20 years after the state voted to approve medical marijuana.

Given approval, California's current multibillion-dollar market is 
expected to explode, quickly dwarfing those in four other states 
where cannabis is now legally grown, sold and consumed.

Entrepreneurs are hoping to cash in, developing indoor megafarms 
across the state to fill the demand for potent strains with names 
such as Sour Diesel, Blue Dream and Ghost Train Haze.

But the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, or Proposition 64, also is 
mindful of the plight of farmers of small outdoor plots. The measure 
delays the issuance of licenses for five years to anyone planning to 
grow 1 acre of pot or more. And state regulators with the new Bureau 
of Marijuana Control will have broad discretion to discourage 
cultivation monopolies.

At the same time, Proposition 64, along with medical marijuana 
legislation enacted last year, opens the door to establishing 
county-level appellations, requiring cannabis labeled with any county 
to be grown there - just like with wine.

In addition to touting the Mendocino brand, Calvino proposes carving 
the sprawling county into 11 smaller zones he says produce pot with 
distinct variations in psychoactive strength, smell and taste.

The idea is to call out regional influences - known in the wine world 
as terroir - including the amount of sun and water plants get, soils 
and farming innovation passed from generation to generation dating 
back to the 1960s.

"Just like you have Anderson Valley pinot noir, you'd have Anderson 
Valley pineapple," Calvino said, referring to a whimsically named 
strain of pot. "The pineapple grows the way it does because it enjoys 
the same regional and environmental effects as the wine."

Exact boundaries and names are still being hammered out as some of 
the county's estimated 700 marijuana farmers weigh in with a range of 
opinions. Calvino is meeting with groups and circulating a 
questionnaire seeking input.

But he's got the general idea. The Mendocino Appellation Project 
divides the 130-mile coastline into separate northern and southern 
appellations while identifying nine inland regions from Piercy to 
Hopland. Mirroring the American Viticultural Area, Anderson and 
Potter valleys will get their own appellations. Others are unique to 
cannabis including Spyrock-Bell Springs, Covelo-Dos Rios, Long 
Valley-Branscomb-Leggett and Comptche.

A final map will be published by December in time for the annual 
Emerald Cup outdoor marijuana competition in Santa Rosa.

"It's a really cool thing, especially from our perspective," said 
longtime northern Mendocino County pot farmer Casey O'Neill, whose 
Strawberry OG would be included in the Spyrock appellation.

The higher-elevation zone with its hot days and low moisture is known 
for big plants, high THC content and a hard-to-define "chunky, dense" quality.

"It's a very smooth and tasty product," said O'Neill, a 
second-generation farmer.

California's 50,000 pot growers have been eyeing appellations for 
years but have only recently made real progress.

It's a way to develop brand recognition, similar to the way North 
Coast winemakers have built the Napa and Sonoma labels.

But it's also a means to legitimizing a product that has been in the 
shadows of a nearly 80-year federal prohibition, bringing 
transparency about origin and growing conditions that isn't often 
associated with buying weed on the street.

"In the past, most products go into the trunk of someone's car, never 
to be seen again. All the marketing happens downstream," said 
Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers 
Association. "Appellations put branding at the producer level, giving 
growers the ability to improve their labels. It will transform the 

Just what it will do to cannabis prices remains to be seen.

Mendocino may not command the respect of Humboldt County - the most 
renowned member of the famed Emerald Triangle pot growing region that 
includes Trinity County. But it is on the radar of connoisseurs, said 
Megan Crandell of The Higher Path dispensary, more than 500 miles 
south in the San Fernando Valley.

"We get an older, more educated demographic," Crandell said. "When 
they hear Mendocino, it piques their interest. From a branding 
perspective, it's pretty good."

The appellation idea opens other business possibilities for the 
region such as pot-themed tourism and tasting. Fittingly, advocates 
are turning to wine industry types for advice.

Tom Wark, a Napa-based wine marketer who is watching the marijuana 
industry, said appellations hint at something uncommon and out of the ordinary.

"If you want to go upscale with your brand, the best way to do it is 
to communicate its exclusivity and rarity," Wark said. "And the best 
way to do that is to link it to a special place."

However, Wark cautioned growers must be able to show pot from a 
specific region is unique. If they fail to do that, the appellations 
have no meaning and lose credibility with consumers, he said.

"I mean, is an Anderson Valley bud really going to have different 
characteristics than a bud from Redwood Valley?" Wark said. "They're 
going to have to make the case and they're going to have to do it 

Calvino said that won't be a problem. Environmental and cultural 
influences affect most things that are grown. They express themselves 
though molecules called terpenes that influence taste and smell, he said.

Like their oenophile counterparts, cannabis aficionados can pick out 
distinguishing characteristics, whether they smoke it or consume it in food.

And it's not all about potency. If alcohol content were the most 
important feature of wine, "Mad Dog 20/20 would win all the 
contests," Calvino said, referring to a brand of fortified flavored wine.

"We're trying to refine the palate," he said. "This is the part of 
the industry that's most exciting."

To be official, Mendocino growers must get their proposal recognized 
by a government or quasi-government agency. That will allow them to 
protect trademarked terms from being misused or to mount legal challenges.

In the case of wine, the federal government handles those duties, but 
since pot remains illegal under federal law the state Department of 
Food and Agriculture will oversee it. The agency has yet to establish 
specific guidelines for creating appellations but those are expected next year.

At that time, growers are likely to submit recommendations, which 
would later be officially adopted.

Cannabis appellation projects are underway in several Central Coast 
and Sierra Nevada counties but so far only Mendocino County has 
produced a map. Growers in nearby Humboldt County are bogged down in 
disagreements and an "anti-regulation vibe," Allen said.

"Mendocino growers have come to understand that regulation done right 
provides a clear pathway forward," said Allen, a former Humboldt grower.

Sonoma County growers are pursuing a similar zoning but it is in the 
beginning stages, said Sebastopol attorney Omar Figueroa, who 
represents growers across the North Coast.

Eventually, advocates hope to establish statewide "California 
Cannacultural Areas" that will have the legal weight of wine's 
American Viticultural Areas.

"Defining these areas will allow mom and pop growers to compete with 
big ag producing Two-Buck Chuck weed in the Central Valley," Figueroa said.

Calvino came to California from Rhode Island as a teenager and 
started selling pot in San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Along the way, 
he developed an interest in sustainable gardening and decided to turn 
his attention to growing. He has since bought acreage in Mendocino 
and Lake counties where he runs four different farms.

His Albion property sits about a mile from the ocean next to 
fog-shrouded redwoods. It includes a Victorian house, scattered 
shingled outbuildings and an old apple orchard which is being 
converted to a marijuana grove.

He grows vegetables and raises pigs and miniature horses, in part for 
the manure. His 5-year-old son, Ociel, plays next to the plants as 
Calvino examines the soil.

"I'm breeding for terroir," Calvino said. "Terroir is love."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom