Flowers, craft beer and a bus: How a cannabis tour shows off Sonoma County

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Sonoma County has no shortage of interesting things to do and see; tour companies offer everything from typical wine tasting tours, bird-watching excursions, guided nature walks and spa experiences. Now, thanks to Prop. 64, tourists and locals alike can add cannabis tours to their itineraries.

The Sonoma County Experience, run by Santa Rosa native Jared Giammona, is an excursion that takes cannabis, craft beer and wine enthusiasts from San Francisco to Sonoma County for a day of cannabis education and beverage tasting.

Jared Giammona is a Santa Rosa native and founder of The Sonoma County Experience. Photo by Martin Espinoza.

“Being from the area, you can take for granted how unique Sonoma County truly is,” says Giammona, commenting on the quality of Sonoma’s local beer, wine and cannabis. “Nowhere else can you find these three things produced at the quality Sonoma County does.”

Giammona started the biweekly tours—cannabis and beer on Fridays, cannabis and wine on Saturdays—in January 2018, when adult recreational cannabis use became legal in California. The Wine Country Experience tour visits smaller breweries and wineries to highlight brands that may be new to visitors.

And the tours are fantastic.

After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and stopping at a vista point for photos, a recent cannabis and microbrew tour heads north to Santa Rosa for its first stop at CannaCraft. The company, which manufactures medical cannabis products, has three product lines: AbsoluteXtracts, Care By Design, and Satori Chocolates.

Melanie King, director of field promotions at CannaCraft, leads the group through what she refers to as the “Willy Wonka Factory of the Cannabis World.” The joke isn’t far off. The building houses employee offices and labs, and a large CO2 extracting room where the company processes up to 350 pounds of cannabis flowers into oil each day. The extraction process, King tells us, takes 18-24 hours.

Guests visit CannaCraft’s mini chocolate factory, where staff members mix hundreds of pounds of chocolate with cannabis oil to produce edibles like their High Times medal-winning Satori Chocolate strawberries and other goodies (most of their edible products are made offsite at a commercial kitchen). The group gets a peek at (and a few whiffs of) $2 million worth of terpenes, bottled up and refrigerated like a cabinet full of liquid gold.

The group gets a peek at (and a few whiffs of) $2 million worth of terpenes, bottled up and refrigerated like a cabinet full of liquid gold. Photo by Dani Burlison.

On our way to the staff recreation room for a casual Q&A session, King pauses to point out a framed copy of a New York Times article covering the 2016 law enforcement raid at CannaCraft. An employee walks past with her dog.

To see how far medical cannabis has come in the last decade is surreal. I repeatedly whisper to my colleague, “We’re in the future, Martin!”

Next, the tour van heads west to Solful in Sebastopol. Cofounded by Eli Melrod and Peter Dickstein, Solful has a small local business vibe. Melrod, chief executive at Solful, shares the history of the dispensary to the group, as well as the standards the company adheres to when deciding which cannabis products to carry. “Every product here I’d give to anyone in my family,” he says.

Melrod then describes the different types of cannabis products and their delivery methods, a thoughtful touch for newer cannabis users. He explains the different qualities of CBD (cannabidiol), THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and even CBN (cannabinol), a non-psychoactive compound that is found only in trace amounts in cannabis.

Solful carries the usual products found in most dispensaries—flowers, tinctures, topicals and edibles—with a heavy emphasis on local sourcing. They also carry a line of products for pets from Northern California company Treat Well. Solful even sells cannabis kombucha, which is so very Sonoma County. I want so badly to buy one and drink it in the van en route to our next destination. But the flavor I want is high in THC, and I am too afraid of getting weird and alienating my new tour friends.

Eli Melrod, cofounder and chief executive at Solful, talks cannabis in Sebastopol. Photo by Martin Espinoza.

After the discussion with Melrod, the group has an opportunity to do some personal shopping, though using cannabis products onsite is prohibited. I leave with a small jar of Papa and Barkley topical “Releaf Balm” and a Mary’s Medicinals transdermal CBD + THC pain patch to try out on my tendonitis. Fellow visitors leave with tinctures, cannabis flowers and edibles.

From Solful, the group heads northeast to Barrel Brothers Brewing Company in Windsor. It’s definitely off the beaten path, in a spacious and simply designed taproom. Our bartender Caitlyn is fun, knowledgeable, friendly, and puts up with a couple of us asking countless questions (and requesting additional samples of beer).

Barrel Brothers is relatively new on the Sonoma County microbrew scene—founders Wesley Deal, Daniel Weber and Tom Sather first opened their doors in 2015. All of their beers are delicious, and they really have something for every palette; from their Blond Voyage Belgian Cream Ale to their Dark Sarcasm Porter and an array of sours in between, it was difficult to not drink everything available.

While Caitlyn offers us samples, and we pet a sweet resident pup, Giammona leaves to pick up our pre-ordered deli sandwiches from Oliver’s Market. It’s a welcome, tasty lunch after indulging in Barrel Brothers’ sours and IPAs. Barrel Brothers has growlers, bottles and cans for purchase; I leave with a 500 ml bottle of Leather Bound Books, a brown sour ale.

Borderline tipsy (or let’s be honest here—strongly buzzed), we ride south to our final destination in Petaluma.

We arrive at 101 North Brewing Company on Petaluma’s east side. Brewmaster Joel Johnson offers us tastings of every beer they have on tap. From 101 North’s popular Heroine IPA to Naughty Aud Imperial Stout (and my personal favorite, Indigo Pale Ale), most in our group replenish (or heighten) our buzz from Barrel Brothers before Johnson, a former brewer at Bear Republic Brewery in Healdsburg, takes us for a tour of the brewing facility attached to the taproom.

The tour group arrives at 101 North Brewing Co. taproom in Petaluma. Photo by Martin Espinoza.

As the tour comes to an end (my colleague and I, both Santa Rosa residents, stay in Petaluma as the rest of the group returns to San Francisco), I am not only buzzing on the variety of beers I’ve tasted, but filled to the brim with information about cannabis extraction processes, insane tax regulations for cannabis companies, what exactly qualifies as a microdose of cannabis, the fact that my new favorite beer lists prunes as a main ingredient, and how many dog-friendly businesses there are in Sonoma County.

I say goodbye to another new dog friend at the 101 North taproom and miss the train back to Santa Rosa. But it doesn’t really matter, because on this sunny Friday afternoon I am reminded of how fortunate I am to live in a place where so many people are so passionate about what they do. We really are living in the future.

  • Pricing for The Sonoma County Experience varies based on group size. While booking, new RSVPs can use the code ‘Experience’ for a 25 percent discount.