Francis Ford Coppola has become the first major California wine producer to launch a smokable cannabis product. The initial offering, available later this month for shipment, is called “The Grower’s Series” — a limited-edition collection featuring three different strains of marijuana grown in Northern California’s Humboldt County.

“Francis has always been at the cutting edge, be it in film, wine, food, art and now with cannabis,” said Corey Beck, CEO of Francis Ford Coppola Winery. “Everyone here works with a deliberate sense of urgency, knowing that to stay connected and relevant to our customers we must provide them innovative and compelling products and services that continue to surprise and delight.”

Sána Company LLC

Because of the limitation and legal restrictions associated with consuming and selling cannabis products at a winery, Coppola has created a separate company — Sána Company LLC.

They are also working with cannabis farmers, the Humboldt Brothers, to grow and help distribute the weed. The product will ship to consumers’ personal residences through an online delivery service called Cali Chill (not yet available to Napa County residents) or found at select California dispensaries that carry other Humboldt Brothers products.

Those willing to pay the $99 will receive a black tin mock wine bottle that opens to reveal three 1-gram packets of different types of marijuana “flower” (or what was historically called “bud”), a smoking pipe, rolling papers and matches.

According to Beck, each of the strains has distinct physical and mental effects. One “enhances creativity” and another “is more relaxing and helps with sleep,” while the third’s effect is “a blend between the two others.”

Cannabis is most often smoked to get the effect of two key components — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive element) and cannabidiol (CBD, the non-psychoactive element). Whereas the THC is the part that provides the “high,” the CBD is the element considered to relax the body. Both have medical uses, such as THC’s use as an anti-nauseant and appetite stimulant and CBD’s use to treat inflammation and depression.

The terroir of cannabis

Similarities between pot and wine include that they are farmed products that are intoxicants. Weed, like wine grapes, can display characteristics of where and how it was grown (i.e., terroir) and comes in a variety of styles, intensities and flavors (strains).

The products are also both highly regulated and subject to restricted use — users must be over 21 years of age and not use cannabis before operating a car or heavy machinery or in combination with other intoxicants. It is subject to abuse, but the general belief is that both wine and weed have health benefits.

“Wine and cannabis are two ancient and bounteous gifts of Mother Nature, linked by great care, terroir and temperateness,” Coppola said. “As with growing grapes, location matters, and The Grower’s Series reflects California agricultural expertise, creating a true blend of art and science.”

Coppola and his team seem to be unleashing nearly every lesson from their successful wine business when it comes to launching this new cannabis product — highlighting the specialized locations where it’s grown and how the marijuana is farmed (“sun-grown” and “organic”) as well as showcasing the artisanal farmers who grow it.

“We grow our cannabis outside, use organic techniques and our farms are located in the world’s premier growing region,” said Johnny Deim, co-founder of Humboldt Brothers. “We refined our farm growing techniques this year that have resulted in our finest-quality harvest, and we are excited about growing alongside innovators like Coppola who are embracing a new chapter in cannabis.”

Using language reminiscent of that found in the descriptions of the world’s finest wines, Coppola describes each strain of their cannabis flower in terms of a particular farm, including its elevation, temperature profile and soil type. One imagines that the future will bring a “To Kalon” type farm for cannabis, where the weed grown there is considered the finest and with prices that are commensurate with the demand.

They’ve even employed the expertise of Jamie Evans, founder of The Herb Somm, a professional cannabis “sommelier” to help inform “cannabis-curious California residents” while she addresses “the gourmet side of the cannabis industry” through upcoming hosted events and seminars.

The challenge and opportunity of being first

“Because we are the first major player within our industry to enter the cannabis market we’re finding that there are a lot of unknowns out there,” Beck said. “That presents its own challenges; however, that also means we have an opportunity to disrupt and help define what is a growing marketplace.”

One of those challenges is that although California legalized the sale of recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, the rules and regulations of its sale and use continue to evolve.

One of the key complexities is that cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, possession of which can result in a prison term. Beyond this hurdle, in July 2018 the California Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) issued an industry advisory on the subjects of alcohol and cannabis licenses.

The ABC allows a winery to own one license to sell alcohol and another to sell cannabis, but the two cannot overlap — that is, a winery or its patrons cannot legally sell, taste, test or consume both wine and weed at the same location. Because of the federal restrictions the sale of cannabis is most typically done with cash, which adds another level of complexity.

Yet with all the challenges, the trend toward increased cannabis consumption likely will continue. With more and more counties, states and even countries pushing legalization, Forbes reports that what is now a few billion dollars a year business, is likely to be a $57 billion worldwide market by 2027. Beyond the market opportunity there’s also the excitement of transforming what has until recently been considered an illegal renegade product into a widely accepted luxury commodity.

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