Since the passage of Proposition 64 last year, speculation about the blooming marijuana industry somehow blending with the established local wine industry has escalated, to the point where a symposium will be held this week dedicated to just that.
A wide cast of experts is slated to appear at the sold-out Wine & Weed Symposium in Santa Rosa on Thursday, alongside a bounty of contractors and exhibitors touting their wares and services to both industries.
Among those with backgrounds in the Napa Valley wine industry now hoping to attract cross-industry interest at the event is Cannabis Caves.
Founded in the past year, the endeavor today is an unofficial extension of sorts from Glen Ragsdale Underground Associates, Inc., whose consulting and building credits include the caves of Pine Ridge Winery, Rombauer, Harlan Estates, Quintessa, Davis Estates and others.
The brainchild of Graham Wozencroft, mining engineer for Glen Ragsdale Underground Associates, and Alan Skinner, president and CEO of VirtuaLabs, a design and infrastructure contractor, Cannabis Caves touts a vision of underground growing its founders contend is superior to outdoor growing in terms of marijuana quality.
“There’s already a large difference between those who grow bulk outdoors and those who grow high-quality, high-intensity material indoors, whether it’s medical or recreational,” said Skinner.
Demand for high-quality marijuana is spurred in part by cannabis connoisseurs, Skinner said, similar “to those who drink wine and seek out the best wine and spend time, effort, money, vacations going around the country, going around the world and looking for this thing.”
Indoor growing enables greater control over temperature, light sourcing, humidity, carbon dioxide production and other growing variables, leading to more aesthetically pleasing flowers and higher concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, cannabis’s psychoactive compound, advocates say.
The element of growing underground adds a layer of security and, Wozencroft speculated, may lend itself to what would be an easier permitting process than that for above-ground structures.
“We’ll see how it goes, because it really hasn’t gone there yet,” he acknowledged. “But we think that that’s one of the big plusses.”
While not its own company today, Cannabis Caves would contract work for any eventual clients through Glen Ragsdale Underground Associates, offering to excavate and build underground growing spaces, though Wozencroft also suggested ambitions of providing more for growers in terms of consultation.
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The endeavor has yet to find its first clients, but Skinner and Wozencroft are confident there will be interest at the Wine & Weed Symposium.
“We’re definitely there to more than spread the word,” Wozencroft said. “We’re actually looking for active clients who are looking for solutions and we believe we’ve got solutions for them.”
Following legalization last November, Californians above the age of 21 can now use marijuana recreationally and grow up to six personal-use plants within their homes. But, it remains at the discretion of local governments to allow commercial marijuana growth in cities and unincorporated areas, leading to a patchwork of permissibility across the state.
“It’s really a reflection of local community values and priorities,” said David Morrison, director of the Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services department.
Napa County does not allow for the commercial cultivation of marijuana “indoors, outdoors, whatever,” Morrison said.
The city of Napa also remains opposed to commercial growth, though the Napa City Council in May motioned its support for personal outdoor growing, with a vote expected in the fall. A month earlier, the Calistoga City Council approved outdoor growing of two of the six personal plants the state allows.
Regarding the possibility of Napa County one day allowing commercial growths, “Most definitely we expect that that will happen,” Skinner said. For now though, he and Wozencroft anticipate the bulk of their prospective clients will likely come from Mendocino, Sonoma or Lake counties; areas that have been more receptive of the growing industry.
As for marijuana one day taking a place alongside the long-established wine industry in Napa, Skinner said, “We don’t believe that wine and weed is vinegar and water ... and we think that there’s a place for both.”
“I mean it’s the law now and it looks like it’s going to stay,” said Wozencroft. “And so this is an industry that’s certainly not going away and we think that we’d like to get involved.”