TIME magazine recently published a special edition editorial dedicated to the booming cannabis industry. The headline read, “Marijuana Goes Main Street."
Written by Bruce Barcott, the publication covered a wide range of topics including the history of cannabis in the United States, the unfortunate prejudice and misclassification of marijuana, the beginning of legalization and the bright future of the industry that we are beginning to see today.
Towards the end of the magazine, a fascinating statement caught our eye. It read, “As marijuana and its smokers come out of the closet, weed is becoming the new wine."
Is weed really the new wine?
After working in the wine industry for over 8 years before returning to cannabis, we couldn’t help but think of all the many parallels that do exist between the two industries dating all the way back to alcohol prohibition. There are also many concepts including terroir, appellations, harvest, aromas, flavors and food pairings that apply to both.
There are many similarities between alcohol prohibition and today’s cannabis prohibition. In 1933, the US government proposed the 21st Amendment to the Constitution that would repeal the ban on alcohol. This new amendment was created because of the increase of the illegal production and sale of liquor, the rapid spread of underground speakeasies, and the rise in crimes that were associated with bootlegging (learn more by clicking here). In the end, Congress decided prohibition was causing more harm than good, so they lifted the ban on alcohol and took a state by state law approach.
Cannabis has also faced similar prohibition struggles since its ban in the 1930s (read more here). By being classified as a black market item for 60+ years, dangerous drug cartels have risen in power, thousands of people have been unjustly incarcerated, and medical patients with ailments have been forced to take dangerous pharmaceutical drugs that can lead to addiction or overdose because they had no other option. This sure sounds like more harm than good, wouldn’t you agree?
Image sourced from YesterYear Once More
As with grapevines, cannabis is a plant that is climate and soil driven. There is a concept of terroir - every aspect of a microclimate plays an integral role in the plant’s wellbeing. As defined by the French, terroir is the result of the natural specificity of place and practice. It encompasses the weather, topography, soil composition and cultivation.
Each different growing region imparts unique characteristics that are ideal for certain strains. Think of a Pinot Noir. This grape is best grown in cooler climates on east-facing slopes, which provide prolonged solar exposure. Cabernet Sauvignon is best grown in warmer regions but if grown in cooler climates, the grape will impart unattractive herbaceous notes and will not be able to achieve optimal ripeness.
The concept of terroir is also relevant for cannabis. Not all climates and soil types are suitable for every strain. Warmer climates such as Asia, the Americas and Africa are more suitable for Sativa dominant strains. Outdoor Indica dominant strains grow best in places such as Kashmir, Morocco, Afghanistan, and Tibet.
Cannabis growers and viticulturists alike pay special attention to soil type and climate before planting a crop. To get the best product, many months of love and proper care must go into the plant to achieve optimal results. As many winemakers say, “quality starts in the vineyard” which is also 100% true about cannabis. Maybe even more so since cannabis is used directly without going through a fermentation process.
The cannabis industry is also aiming to become appellation specific. Much like the wine industry’s American Viticultural Area (AVA) system, pioneering marijuana growers are creating similar guidelines to protect and differentiate their unique regions. A great example is the Mendocino Appellations Project (MAP). MAP is currently working on defining eleven distinct appellation zones within Mendocino County that are classified by terroir. The organization was founded by a group of farmers dedicated to providing tools and resources to drive agricultural and economical development within each appellation. This zoning process will take some time but they anticipate the final zones to be formally established sometime this year.
Harvest time in the wine industry is one of the most important times of the year often beginning in August and ending in October. After months of tending to the vine, winemakers select the best grapes in order to make their wine.
Growers of cannabis also experience harvest but in quicker cycles (3 - 5 months for indoor) and depending on technique, the crops can be extremely bountiful. The life cycle for cannabis consists of six stages: germination, seedling stage, vegetative growth, pre-flowering, flowering and harvest. Cannabis farmers take great pride in their grow and treat their plants with love and care in order to produce the best herbal medicine.
As recreational adult use continues to grow in states such as Colorado, Oregon, Washington and develop in states such as California, maybe one day we’ll begin to see harvest celebrations and direct to consumer (DTC) experiences similar to the wine industry? Only time can tell but our prediction is the DTC experience will be the next big step for cannabis.
Aromas, Flavors and Food Pairings
As with wine, cannabis has an amazing spectrum of aromas and flavors that are produced by plant chemicals known as Terpenes. Created in the same gland as cannabinoids, terpenes are the strong smelling oils that give cannabis its strong scent. Over 100 different terpenes have been identified so far but there are many techniques that can be used to set quality standards for cannabis using sensory evaluation methods that are similar to evaluating a wine.
Think of a sommelier. A sommelier is a trained wine professional who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine knowledge and food pairings. Herbal sommeliers or “cannasseurs” also specialize in these areas but for cannabis.
There is also a gourmet aspect to marijuana that has sparked the interest of many top chefs. The idea of pairing cannabis with different flavors and understanding terpene profiles has opened a new door into the culinary world much like wine has.
Cannabis is becoming the next big industry. It will create thousands of jobs, generate tax money, help millions of patients in need of herbal medical care and it can be used for a variety of commercial applications. Weed is the new wine, only much, much bigger!
Peace, Love & Cannabis,
The Herb Somm