Rod Byers: Weed or wine? | TheUnion.com

Rod Byers: Weed or wine?

Rod Byers
Columnist

It's always interesting to track wine trends. What's hot. Or not. The demise of Riesling. The rise of single serve containers. The continuing strength of both fizzy wines and rosés.

By far, the biggest game changer to come down the pike in years, the elephant just entering the room, is how will legal marijuana affect wine consumption?

Most winemakers are taking a very low profile on this issue. Pot retains a shady stigma and is still against federal law. But that doesn't mean there aren't proponents who think that marijuana and wine are complimentary.

Eater.com suggests that "the wine and weed industries are in a kind of sweet spot that's just rife for collaboration."

Leafly.com offers a Wine & Cannabis Pairing Guide with suggestions like Sativa Lemon Haze with Prosecco and Indica Blackberry Kush with Cab.

Eaze.com recently hosted a wine and weed dinner where guests compared the aromatics of different strains of pot to different wines.

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High society

In the newly emerging pot-for-pleasure industry, we're seeing the introduction of words like ganjier (think sommelier) or cannasseur (connoisseur) in an attempt to legitimize and upscale pot by hitching itself to wine.

Wine may not be such a happy bride. The question is: will marijuana become a compliment to wine, something you do while drinking? Or will it become a substitute? Something you do instead of drinking?

You can see how the answer to that question would be of great interest to the wine industry and dictate trends for years to come.

This story ignited last month with the release of a 10-year study, from 2006 to 2015 that compared alcohol sales of states that do not have medical marijuana laws and states with medical marijuana laws. The study concluded that counties located in medical marijuana states showed almost a 15 percent reduction in monthly alcohol sales.

There are others. Tom Wark wrote in his blog, Fermentation, about a study indicating that 51 percent of California millennials, 20 percent of genXers, and 8 percent of boomers will replace alcohol with marijuana. Millennials cite health and expense as their primary alcohol concerns. Plus, it's easier to go to work after a night of bong hits than a night of shots. Wark argues that pot will become an attractive alternative for many people who now use wine mostly as a tasty way of getting a buzz.

Rob McMillan who writes the highly influential SVB Wine Report for Silicon Valley Bank doesn't agree that weed will replace wine. McMillan argues that with wine "there is a social and food component that plays, and the buzz isn't the whole sale, while with pot, it's all about the high."

In case you are wondering about the legal intersection of weed and wine, the regulations state you cannot grow marijuana and sell wine on the same property, nor can you sell pot and wine from the same location. So, forget about any cannabis and vineyard tours and no buying a joint in the tasting room for the picnic lunch.

It is also against the law in most states where pot is legal, to combine pot and alcohol in the same bottle. While you will be finding pot-infused coffee pods, you won't be getting weed-laced white zinfandel.

Sort of.

Creative concoctions

Wineries like Canna Vines makes a cannabis-infused wine using the non-psychoactive CBD cannabinoids in their cuvée while retaining the alcohol from the grape juice. They say it's perfect if you're looking to add the medicinal benefits of pot to your glass of wine. It's a bit pricey, ranging from $120 to $400 a bottle.

It's not only wine. There is pot-infused vodka and pot-infused beer that also use the CBD technique. Apparently the TTB, the overseeing regulatory agency, doesn't consider CBD cannabinoids to be pot. The absence of THC in the vodka or beer has led the TTB to certify them for sales in all 50 states.

Rebel Coast Winery takes a different approach. They infuse their wine with THC, the part of pot that gets you high, but remove the alcohol from the wine. You still get a buzz, enjoy the ambiance of drinking wine, and never get a hangover. But it's not cheap either, at $60 a bottle.

Adult-age Californians have had plenty of time to make up their minds about their own relationship with marijuana. We grew up in a time when it was illegal. That mindset will be slow to change. But you never know. Maybe we'll all start getting stoned on Saturday afternoons or Tuesday nights. But that won't fundamentally change someone's relationship with alcohol.

That doesn't mean change isn't coming. The millennials are already rocking the boat. Unlike boomers who tended to slot into an alcohol category and not move much, cross-category drinking is much more common among millennials. They are just as likely to order a craft beer or cocktail as a glass of wine. That not only impacts wine sales but also means wine can never stop trying to get their attention.

It's with the generations who come of age when pot is legal where we will really see the difference. Adding pot to an already full basket of intoxicating choices will negatively impact wine sales going into the future. The value-based jug wine category, the stuff on the bottom shelf, will take the biggest hit.

Maybe that's a good thing.

Rod Byers, CWE, is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. You can find information about him at http://www.pinehillwineworks.com and he can be reached at 530-802-7172.