Wine & Weed Symposium, a brief overview.
August 5, Santa Rosa, CA,
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Wine Industry Network's Wine & Weed Symposium in Santa Rosa Ca. I'd been looking forward to it for weeks as the event had sold out about a month prior. Two of my favorite things coming together in one event? Surely, I must be dreaming! I couldn't help but to anticipate with excitement what could come of such a gathering.
Off we set from Paso Robles wine country in the wee morning hours of August 5th, headed North to Santa Rosa. We were scheduled to arrive by 8am at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek, where the symposium was to take place. I dragged along a couple of event coordinator associates of mine to gain their perspectives on how all this may play out when it comes to meeting the demands of consumers concerning parties, events, cannabis consumption and party favors. None of us had a clue as to what kind of experience awaited us.
We walked into a bustling environment thick with anticipation to get this program started! The layout flowed down a great foyer into an adjacent banquet room lined with exhibitors as well as a constantly updated (throughout the day) variety of refreshments and canapé items. (non medicated, just in case you wondered). The time finally arrived for us to be seated among the sold out crowd of 450 attendees to hear opening comments by Senator Mike McGuire and Wine Industry Network President, George Christie.
The vast array of speakers line up at the Wine & Weed Symposium consisted mostly of seasoned cannabis entrepreneurs and advocates with one winemaker in the mix who happens to sit on the Mendocino Cannabis Industry Association representing both wine and cannabis. Senator Mike McGuire started off with opening remarks, a little bit of history as to how we all ended up in that room together, encouraging both industries to collaborate seeking to find innovative solutions for all of California's Ag crops to be profitable and sustainable.
Hezekiah Allen, CGA and Aaron Smith, NCIA started off the discussions with the hard realities facing the cannabis industry. 7 in 10 canna-businesses will not make the cut. Cannabis production in California is out of control producing 8 times more than in previous history. The quality is questionable. The Feds and banking continue to be a problem. Listening between the lines, the painful truth of industry take over by those investors looking to "make millions" did not escape me, nor did the frustration of legacy growers due to this intrusion. How does it seem fair that growers, producers and providers who've sacrificed EVERYTHING for the past 20 or so years do all this work so that business men in suits can move on in with money and resources, growing Walmart weed? How could that possibly have a place in the California Cannabis industry? Ahhhh, something our California wine industry knows all too well. The wine industry can offer some lessons to those legacy cannabis growers. You're in for a big long fight to hold on to what you've created. It's not impossible, just takes hard work, partnerships in resources, passion and determination. Another parallel.
I'm somewhat of an optimist, and I've had experience bringing adverse groups together in one room, always anxious to spot & nurture the spark of collaboration, and this group was no different. It's been no secret that the wine industry has been looking at this new crop of cannabis with wary speculation. Wary of competition, not only of consumers but in resources needed to produce these commodities, water and workers being the two most prevalent issues facing farmers today.
Organizers of the event used a fantastic audience interaction tool called Sli.do to capture polls and questions from the audience. It was interesting to see which industry the attendees were representing as well as the attitude they had brought with them to this symposium, collaborative or competitive? As you can see by my screenshot here, the results were overwhelmingly collaborative with a majority of the wine industry deepening their understanding of how these two crops cross over in many ways. The event was attended by primarily wine industry folks, with only 7% considering cannabis to be a competitor in their market place.
The big question:
Are grapes and weed compatible crop mates? That would only depend on if your idea of organic is all natural microbial sustainability using no "certified" organic products anywhere on your farm. Cannabis testing requirements will require acceptable contaminant levels be in the parts per billion, standards of which very few grape growers could adhere to, let alone any commercial farmer growing anything in California. Except, that is, for the legacy grower who's been doing this for a while, adhering to Mother Natures organic ways. In addition the state has set some pretty hard lines between cannabis and wine production & consumption in the same locations.
In addition to several hours of riveting speaker content there were dozens of vendors lining the hallways and filling up another entire banquet room. What really impressed me most was the sophistication of products and who those products were being consumed by! Would you believe professional business women & mothers over the age of 40? Companies like HerbaBuena and Garden Society have nailed this market with beautifully designed packaging and micro dosages that make sense for the functional adult.
Then there's CannaCraft. Remember how I mentioned larger companies with the money and resources? Well this is what they look like and I gotta tell you, it's impressive. We did get to tour their facility in Santa Rosa, I'll admit to strong feelings of envy for SLO County who I don't think has the capacity quite yet to appreciate something like their amazing "tasting room & lounge". Don't get me wrong here, I do believe there is a place for large scale, consistent, cannabis production, but I don't think it should squeeze out traditionally grown flower, in fact I believe embracing the traditional outdoor grower would be a positive addition to any product line up. Read a bit about CannaCrafts adventures in compliance.
Overall, the Wine and Weed Symposium resonated with most that there is not only room for collaboration, but it just might be downright necessary in order for the boutique farmer (of any produce) to survive in California. The State of California has made provision for cannabis cooperative farming and production, who's to say we can't collaborate/cooperate with other crop producers? Coupled with a constant flow of thoughtful & creative product development presented with brilliant branding and marketing techniques, the possibilities are endless. Co-farming, co-marketing and co-consumption. Sounds like an idea worth considering.
Many thanks to the Wine Industry Network for putting on this event, it was spectacular! I loved the interaction and the many people I met. I look forward to Wine & Weed on the Central Coast in 2018!
Cheers & 'ere,
Marie Roth, President, SLO County Cannabis Business Association