California is well-known for growing quality cannabis, but the Golden State is also renowned in the wine world. The state’s newest industry is taking a page from the winery book by establishing regional identities for cannabis flowers.
This concept isn’t completely unheard of in the cannabis industry. Numerous strains are named after California to indicate that it was grown here, but when it comes to specific localities, that’s where things get a bit hazy. Someone in an out of state market – say Chicago or Michigan – might see the name Cali Haze or Cali Fire and assume that it’s grown in that “good California soil”; but what exactly does that mean?
With indoor buds, it doesn’t matter so much because they’re grown in a very controlled environment. But with outdoor it’s clearly very different. Naturally, there will be noticeable differences in flower that’s grown in the cool, damp, Central Coast or bay area, compared to flower that’s grown in warm, arid regions like Coachella Valley.
This is the same when it comes to wine. “Wine is really the ultimate product of place,” said Rex Stults, vice president of the Napa Valley Vintners Association. “The microclimate, soils, geology – all of that factors in to the types of grapes that grow well in certain areas.” Wine producers have long used appellations, which refers to a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where ingredients for certain products were grown.
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Marketing by Location
It’s more than just useful information for the consumer, it adds to the status and reputation of certain wine brands. The new appellations law, Senate Bill 67, affords California cannabis growers similar opportunities.
“Place names are really important and can be a really critical tool to developing and strengthening the cannabis industry,” Stults said. “Protecting the reputation of those regions is critical to the success of the wine industry, Stults added, and that can be applied to marijuana as well.”
Now it will be up to the cannabis industry to make sure they build a positive and personal connection between consumers and growing regions. Farmers and retailers will be able to use the locations to market and protect the unique characteristics of the cannabis produced in their areas. Different climate can mean different flavor, average potency, and appearance – the main factors that consumers look at when choosing flower.
“If you develop a reputation for having a delicious, high-quality product, then the name of the region becomes synonymous with the product,” Stults said. “The product has to be good consistently year after year.”
A Superior Product
Daniel Fink, owner and operator of Down OM Farms in Nevada County, sees the appellations law as a way to distinguish his lesser-known Northern California region from the larger and more dominant cultivation counties such as Humboldt and Mendocino.
Nevada County – where Fink’s farm is located – is warmer and drier than the aforementioned coastal areas, so he can grow popular sativa strains much later in the season. Strains like Blue Dream, Durban Poison, and Sour Diesel are incredibly popular; Fink refers to them as his “bread and butter strains”.
“The market teaches us that throughout the years, sativas are more highly sought-after, and that’s what we do well here,” Fink said.
Additionally, Fink prides himself on using regenerative, sustainable growing practices on his 10,000-square-foot farm. Practices that he attributes to the region. “I use clay soil amended with worm castings fed by manure from a small herd of alpaca is high in calcium, which helps plants uptake nutrients.”
Legacy Producing Regions
Genine Coleman, founder of the Mendocino-based Origins Council, has been focused on the economic development of legacy-producing regions in California. Origins Council defines legacy cannabis producing regions as those “rural areas of California that have established prolific small scale cannabis cultivation and herbal medicine craft over the past 2 decades, or longer.”
She’s been advocating for an appellations program for about five years now, emphasizing the casual link between natural resources and how humans have adapted to grow certain plants in specific regions.
“It’s really setting up this program to be a traditional casual-link program like we see in Europe with wine,” Coleman said. “Appellations legally protect and promote the collective genetic resources and intellectual property of historic producing regions.”
Another facet that could be incredibly beneficial to the cannabis industry is a widescale taste testing operation, like wine tours, but farms tours instead. This would allow consumers to test the product they plan on buying, as well as offering a whole new stream of income for cannabis farms.
Napa Valley gets roughly 3 million annual visitors that take entire vacations to tour the vineyards and taste different types of wine. Wineries can charge anywhere from $10 to $150 per head and the cost increases if the consumer decides to enhance their experience by adding lunch, a class, activity, or seminar. Some wineries can also be rented out for parties and large events such as weddings.
According to Stults, “Building that personal connection from consumer to grower has worked well and the cannabis industry would be wise to look at that and see if there’s a way to adopt it.”
If done correctly, this can add a new level of class to the cannabis buying experience, especially for outdoor flowers, that often have a reputation of being subpar compared to indoor buds. Maybe the reason for that is the location in which they were grown?
The California appellations law will give cannabis consumers a baseline for product searching – for example, if they know they like weed grown in a particular region, they’ll likely shop for strains grown there first. But not only that, it also offers retailers new criteria for stocking products, as well as providing farmers with numerous potential revenue streams.