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Wine, beer…and pot?

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As a longtime pot enthusiast, and the current holder of a California medical marijuana card, I’ve been glad to witness the acceptance of weed in America. If you’d asked me twenty years ago if I thought the legalization of marijuana (or gay marriage, for that matter) would occur in my lifetime, I would have said, No, especially not gay marriage. And yet, look how far we’ve come!

Yay America! Give yourself a pat on the back.

Still, I must admit my jaw dropped when I was reading the June/July issue of The Somm Journal and came across, on page 34, an article entitled “California Artisanal Hashish.” No, I thought, it can’t be what it looks like; this hash must have something to do with corned beef and potatoes for weekend brunch. (But why would that be in Somm Journal?)

It was only a few seconds later, reading the article, that I realized it was indeed about hashish, and specifically, how “Emerald Triangle farmers are fighting for the AOC classification as California reevaluates its medical cannabis industry.”

Hashish in Somm Journal? AOC classification? Photos of a dude tasting his “aged, artisanal hashish”? Yikes.

Well, Somm Journal is from the redoubtable Andy Blue and his business partner, Meredith May, two of the most successfully entrepreneurial publishers/editors in recent California history. Coming on the heels of The Tasting Panel magazine, maybe Andy has some new triumph in sight: The Smoking Panel magazine. And why not? If weed is going to be a legal, multi-billion-dollar industry in California (it’s already a multi-billion-dollar industry, but there’s still a huge fight between the feds and the state concerning its legality), then it’s going to need its own industry magazine. And who better than Andy to bring it to us?

What’s interesting, and something I hadn’t completely understood although I should have foreseen it, is that some of the same issues we see in beer and wine are now happening in marijuana production. Namely, the fight between large, industrial producers and small artisanal ones. We see that front and center in beer and wine, where artisans complain that the majors are producing soulless, chemically-treated and mass-produced products—a charge to which the majors are being forced to respond–and a new generation of consumers is siding with the artisans, and is moreover willing to pay a premium. Apparently, the same thing is happening with weed. “[S]econd- and third-generation farmers are coming out from the shadows to protect their heritage against the current trend of large corporations controlling cannabis production.”

Are they coming out of the shadows, or out of the smoke? Probably both. Regardless, the issues are timely. Heritage pot? Well, we have heritage clones in grapes, so why not in marijuana? Artisanal production? We celebrate craft beer, and in wine, all you hear about from somms these days is small artisanal producers. But an AOC system for weed? Yes. “California cannabis farmers are working with legislators to build appellation zones into upcoming regulations,” Somm Journal tells us, adding, “…wine-style AOC classification is what will save the farmers and allow California to become the only producer of artisanal hashish globally.”

That’s big thinking. Planetary, CGI thinking, even though Bill says he never inhaled. And no growing region is better suited to be the first appellation for hash and pot than the Emerald Triangle, that three-county (Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity) hub, north of San Francisco, that’s been famous for weed-growing for decades. Anyone who lives there or has traveled through the rugged mountains knows the stories of plantations hidden deep in clearings in the forest; of innocent hikers getting their heads blown off as they unwittingly intruded into someone’s pot farm; of the local constabulary raiding fields, or the DEA showering down herbicides from helicopters; of pot gazillionaires who expanded into other, more legal, industries, including—gasp!–wine. (What, you think that didn’t happen? I first wrote about this in my 2005 book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River.)

Well, good for the pot farmers! And I will happily endorse the Emerald Triangle as the first weed appellation in the nation. When that happens (and I have no doubt it will), it will be only a matter of time before the Emerald Triangle is sub-appellated into smaller terroir-driven pot districts. Or is that too far-fetched? It’s one thing, I suppose, for wine experts to sit down at a formal tasting and discern the distinctions between, say, Diamond Mountain, Mount Veeder and Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. But somehow, it seems trickier to get high while determining the precise characteristics of, and differences between, pot from Yorkville, Willits and the Sinkyone Wilderness. I mean, you can’t spit. And who would take notes, or even remember the next morning? I have no doubt, however, that intrepid analysts are already hard at work at it, even as we speak. To them, I lift my glass of wine, followed by my medicinal pipe, and say, L’Chaim!

  1. Along the way, let’s get those growers moving in a sustainable direction. It’s an important issue, especially during drought times. See this study from CDFW: https://cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/cdfw-scientists-publish-groundbreaking-work-on-marijuanas-effect-on-the-environment/

  2. Bob Henry says:

    SEE . . .

    The Los Angeles Times “Op-Ed” Page
    (April 13, 2015, Page Unknown):

    “Pot Growers Endangering California Watersheds and Wildlife”

    By Scott Bauer
    Senior environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

    Link: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0413-bauer-pot-20150413-story.html

    Excerpt:

    “. . . we have to start thinking about marijuana cultivation in the context of environmental sustainability and, specifically, the drought. The reality is that marijuana cultivation has significant negative effects on our watersheds and the fish and wildlife that depend on them.

    I and other environmental scientists at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife recently published a study demonstrating that under drought conditions water demand for marijuana cultivation exceeded stream flow in three of the four watersheds that were under observation. Diminished stream flow from this water-intensive activity is likely to have lethal effects on state and federally protected salmon and steelhead trout, and will cause further decline of sensitive amphibian species.

    . . .

    Water use by the marijuana industry is of the utmost concern to the CDFW, especially in times of drought when streams barely flow. . . .

    . . . we are working to educate the marijuana growers who want to legally cultivate the crop.”

    AND . . .

    The Los Angeles Times “California” Section
    (June 13, 2015, Page Unknown):

    “Trying to Cultivate Respect for Water Regulations Among Pot Growers”

    By Lee Romney
    Staff Reporter

    Link: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-marijuana-regs-20150613-story.html#page=1

    Excerpt:

    “Marijuana cultivation is illegal under federal law and only narrowly permitted under state medical marijuana law. With as many as 30,000 grow sites in the state’s northern counties, selective criminal enforcement has long taken place, and that is not expected to change.

    But state regulators and local officials in the Emerald Triangle acknowledge that the old way of doing things — which often paired environmental inspection with criminal enforcement — has not yielded good results. Instilling fear in growers, they say, has done little to encourage them to follow sound environmental practices.

    The concerns include silt runoff from poorly maintained roads and stream crossings, improper use of fertilizers and pesticides, illegal water diversions and inadequate water storage.

    The new approach comes as drought threatens the endangered Coho salmon and steelhead trout, lawmakers weigh a flurry of proposals to regulate medical marijuana, and the question of legalizing recreational pot use is expected to make it onto the November 2016 ballot.

    The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is poised to adopt a program that would require all marijuana cultivators to register, pay a fee, follow strict environmental guidelines and seek appropriate permits from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.”

  3. John Roberts says:

    Glad to hear your thoughts on the subject, Steve, and the direction things are heading… what you characterize is the same direction taken, I suppose, by coffee and espresso, with the whole “third wave.” I think it will be a positive move not only for the growers and smokers, but for non-smokers also. We’ll see… in the meantime, bravo for those willing to support this right now.

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