As row after row of Dry Creek Valley vineyards flash past in a blur of green, it’s hard not to wonder how this iconic wine region may change as marijuana becomes Wine Country’s next cash crop and tourist draw.
We’re about to find out.
Hidden in plain sight at a popular winery, the unmistakable scent of weed wafts from the patio as guests gather for one of Sonoma County’s first official cannabis dinners. Here glasses filled with luxe cabernet sauvignon sit next to pricey glass dab rigs and chicken croquettes atop pot leaves—a whole new kind of pairing showcasing the plant from leaf to kief.
Set up like a pricey wine club dinner, the al fresco evening isn’t about guzzling wine and cramming food into your face. Instead the small, curated gathering is for industry folks and the cannacurious to mix and mingle, sampling joints, pulling on dab rigs and vape pens filled with Sam Edwards’ AYA brand of marijuana products. Grown and processed in Sonoma County, it’s a sustainable, slickly-packaged product aimed at cannisseurs.
With a million dollar backdrop, it’s the kind of upscale event Edwards and others hope will become increasingly popular, where Sonoma County’s most iconic crops get equal billing.
“I think this is a huge education opportunity while still being fun. Well-versed in luxury products, these guests doesn’t hesitate to spend a little more for a quality product. It’s a nod to the Wine Country lifestyle,” he said.
The evening agenda
Because marijuana is still federally illegal, there’s still a bit of cloak and dagger involved— guests are given an address only after being invited and paying for the event. Invitees are asked not to share GPS locations on social media, though pictures are allowed, and in fact encouraged.
For anyone who’s attended a winery dinner, it’s a familiar atmosphere, where guests are greeted with a glass of wine, given a quick tour of the al fresco space and welcomed to mix and mingle while sampling appetizers. The difference is that instead of a wine bar, Edwards’ team from Sonoma Cannabis Company (which includes farmers, biologists and wine experts, not your usual budtenders) man a “Green Bar” where an eye-popping collection of marijuana products are free to sample.
“The goal is to attract a customer that is uneducated about the world of cannabis, yet very curious about the emerging market and willing to learn,” said Edwards.
It’s a restrained and educational evening of education where approachable marijuana products are named “Inspire”, “Awaken” and “Slumber”, referring more to their effect, rather than only showcasing a specific strain that may mean little to a newcomer.
Edwards’ SCC staff (who range from molecular biologists to master gardeners) serve as cannabis concierge, explaining strains, THC levels and terpenes, along with assisting guests—some of whom are new to cannabis—toward an experience that’s uplifting rather than overwhelming.
As the summer sun heads toward dusk, guests gather for a cannabis-infused meal from Chef Christopher Hanson, The Calicannachef. Unlike other chefs dabbling in adding cannabis butter or leaves to food, Hanson is passionate about using all of the plant, including non-psychoactive leaves, fats and parts that typically are thrown away during processing.
“Anyone can throw some weed into a dish or a dinner and call it a Canna-dinner,” said Hanson. “Using juices, fats, and non-psychoactive parts of the plant are super interesting to me.”
The meal includes just two (clearly explained) medicated items—whipped cream for the strawberry shortcake dessert and homemade cannabis-infused butter for the bread. On the rest of the menu: A kale salad with raspberries and bacon; steak with fan leaf chimichurri; chicken with fan leaf pesto; roasted vegetables and potatoes cooked with fats rendered in the concentrate production process and non-psychoactive dried shake as a garnish. “Like Italian seasoning,” he said.
“Theres a lot of refuse in the industry, from fan leaves to plant fats and lipids — to use that instead of tossing it in the trash is reponsible. Like in farming or wine making, waste products from manufacturing can be turned into something really good,” he said.
Hanson, worries about chefs who aren’t familiar with cananbis dosing guests too heavily. “Everyone has a different threshold, and my threshold is higher than someone who smokes one in a while. So, giving me and someone next to me the same amount of cannabis in a meal just isn’t responsible,” he said. “I want people to have a good time,” he said.
Around the table, conversation flows as guests talk about everything from new state cannabis regulations to pets—the usual patter of these kinds of meals.
Though wine is a bit of an afterthought at this first dinner, Edwards hopes to use it as a teaching tool about aromatics and flavors in cannabis at future dinners.
“How people learned to compare aromatics and flavor profiles in wine is the basis for them learning cannabis. It is also a good foundation for consumers to start understanding how to differentiate high quality and low quality cannabis using a similar language to what we use in the wine community,” he said.
“I can see it expanding (once we have the appropriate terms and authorities on the topics together) to compare the terpene profiles in wine and cannabis. We can also form pairings around terpene profiles, or mood, like using body-down indicas with mellow reds,” he said.
As a joint is passed around the table after dinner, guests are free to relax on the patio in the dusky light before heading home. Instead, we grab another glass of lemonade and head homeward as wine glasses clink and pot smoke drifts gently into the night air.
Sonoma Cannabis Company will host two dinners in the fall. For details contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Norcal CannaCuisine Gala happens Saturday, July 22 at 5:30pm with Jeff, the 420 Chef. Details at: http://www.ticketfly.com/event/1510028-norcal-cannacuisine-gala-sonoma-county/
The “Ellipsis Elevated Evening” from the Cannaisseur Series happens on July 29. Details at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ellipsis-elevated-evening-tickets-35701944477