Pubdate: Wed, 19 Apr 2017
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2017 The New York Times Company
Author: Eric Asimov


Legal intoxication is big business and getting bigger. More states
have legalized marijuana, leading some in the alcohol industry to
regard it as a threat to their profit margin.

Those concerns are warranted in some cases. In Colorado, Oregon and
Washington, where recreational use has been legal for several years,
beer sales are down, mostly among mass-market brews. The liquor
industry opposed several marijuana legalization initiatives last year,
and has expressed fears for its bottom line.

The fine wine industry, however, has not panicked. Despite occasional
efforts to pit wine and weed against each other, many in the wine
business exude an air of mellow acceptance that the two substances can
coexist in harmony.

"People are trying to say there is a threat, but I really haven't
talked to any wine industry person yet who actually sees it that way,"
said Tina Caputo, a freelance wine and food writer, who in August will
be a moderator at the first Wine & Weed Symposium. The event, a wine
industry initiative, will explore possible business opportunities in
California, which legalized recreational marijuana use in November.

"We haven't actually seen anybody who's laying down their glass of
wine to pick up a bong," Ms. Caputo said. "There's room in people's
lives for both."

What brings consumers of cannabis (the marijuana industry's preferred
term) together with lovers of wine, craft beer and artisanal spirits
is a sense of connoisseurship.

The idea that alcohol and marijuana are in competition comes from
those whose primary reason for drinking is inebriation. These are the
people who are more likely to trade one intoxicant for another.

This is not to dismiss the buzz factor of wine. Many people begin to
explore wine, beer and spirits out of curiosity about alcohol, and for
some, the reason to drink will mostly be the chemical effect.

For others, different considerations take precedence as they explore
beer, spirits and wine. How does it smell and taste? How does it go
with food? What were the grapes? Where did they come from? Who made
the wine and what is their history? How does it express culture?

This sort of curiosity leads eventually to discourse, by which I
emphatically do not mean stuffy snobbery and phony mastery, but rather
discernment: the ability to notice differences and express

Marijuana inspires a similar conversation.

Robert Mark Kamen is a screenwriter whose works include "The Karate
Kid," and the "Taken" and "Transporter" series. He also grows grapes
and makes fine wines at Kamen Estate in Sonoma, Calif. And he loves

"I can tell you just as the side effect of wine is the high, so too is
it with weed, although the experience is different," he said in an
email recently.

"There are different flavors and bouquets to good weed, and different
strains that elicit different effects," he added. "There are real body
highs, and real stony highs, and there are highs that are cerebral and
ethereal. There are levels of socializing that can be enhanced or
inhibited, depending on the strength and the amount you smoke."

Mr. Kamen's vineyard is overseen by Phil Coturri, one of the leading
organic and biodynamic viticulturists in Sonoma and Napa Counties.
Renowned for his vineyard practices, Mr. Coturri is as exalted locally
for the marijuana he has grown as a hobby for almost 40 years. At
first, Mr. Coturri said, he grew it to supplement his income from
managing vineyards. But he came to love the marijuana plants themselves.

"As Nero Wolfe would take care of his orchids in his brownstone, I
would spend a couple of hours a day cultivating cannabis," Mr. Coturri
said. "I can't see myself not harvesting grapes every year for the
rest of my life, and I can't see myself not growing marijuana for the
rest of my life."

Himself a bridge between the two worlds, Mr. Coturri sees marijuana as
a complement to wine rather than a competitor. Many in the wine
industry are ardent fans.

"Our world revolves around intoxicants, but it also revolves around
flavor," he said. "Just as we look at wine, we might look at a bud and
dissect its aroma and characteristics."

Like wine, marijuana is an agricultural product, and where it is grown
can determine its character.

"How you grow it really affects the flavor and the high of the pot,"
Mr. Coturri said. "If it's grown in a greenhouse, it'll be a lot
different than if it's grown in the hills. It thrives in certain soils
and with a long growing season."

Just as with wine, the marijuana industry is diverging, Mr. Coturri
said, between inexpensive plants grown in quantity indoors or
hydroponically, and marijuana that, like good wine, has a sense of

"There is going to be a high-end marijuana industry, with distinctive
strains and distinctive effects," Mr. Coturri said. "And then you'll
have your 'Walmart pot,' your 'Yellow Tail of pot' that will be insipid."

He sees artisanal cannabis as a growth industry, evolving as craft
beer did, with new strains and hybrids developed by visionary farmers.

Marijuana, like wine, has the ability to articulate its terroir, Mr.
Coturri said, adding that cannabis growers have already inquired about
creating the equivalent of American Viticultural Areas, a system of
appellations for wine-growing regions with common characteristics.

Mr. Coturri spoke of the many similarities between wine lovers and
marijuana lovers, who may discuss the differences between the indica
and sativa species of pot. Indica tends to have more exotic aromas and
is more relaxing, almost like a sedative, while sativa, with its
greener, almost piney flavor, offers a more active, productive high.
Some prefer marijuana that is young and fresh, while others like it
aged, or cured, storing it in humidors.

As for competition, Mr. Coturri said he had not experienced it, except
possibly in the hiring of seasonal workers for harvests. He attributed
the labor shortage more to fears among immigrants stoked by the Trump
administration than to the marijuana industry, which he says is hiring
roughly the same number of workers for harvest that it has for years,
regardless of legalization.

"I see marijuana growing as something underground that is coming to
the forefront," he said. "It's almost a companion piece. I don't see
competition with the wine industry at all."

Collaboration is a likelier scenario. In Colorado, where marijuana
tourism has flourished, one company, Cultivating Spirits, offers
dinners that pair food, wine and cannabis. The Wine & Weed Symposium
in California will examine how legalization will affect the wine
industry and how the cannabis industry has evolved in other states. It
will also explore ways that the two industries can work together,
especially in areas of regulation, tourism and hospitality. In the
days before legalization, winemakers sometimes made marijuana-infused
wines for private consumption.

I've seen weed wine made in California and weed wine made in France.
It's probably made anywhere that people smoke pot and produce wine.
Now, the first commercial combinations of cannabis and wine are
showing up, like CannaWine, a Spanish wine that has been fermented
with marijuana. This manufacturing process, over a prolonged period,
apparently produces a gentler high than, say, the abrupt elevation
that might come from consuming pot brownies.

I'm not a marijuana enthusiast, and I've never tried CannaWine. But I
have tried several winemakers' weed wines, and I can attest that the
high is indeed gentle, and the flavor herbal.

A version of this article appears in print on April 19, 2017, on Page
D4 of the New York edition with the headline: Winemakers Find a
Companion in Marijuana.
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