Pot wine. It sounds like something guzzled in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, doesn’t it?
Stop chuckling, Cabernet snobs. Two young entrepreneurs who were born long after the Haight-Ashbury’s 1967 moment of glory are convinced that marijuana-infused wine, whether or not it was a thing back then, is poised to become a phenomenon in California next year, when more lenient laws go into effect regarding the possession, sale and use of marijuana products.
“The market here is huge,” said Alex Howe, 36, who with his partner, 33-year-old winemaker Chip Forsythe, is launching a line of THC-infused wines through their label, Rebel Coast Winery. “California has the greatest number of regular marijuana users in the country.” (According to VinePair, a wine trends website, about 573,000 of California’s 39.25 million residents are thought to be regular marijuana users.)
Howe, originally from the D.C.area, comes from a background in tech startups; he moved to Southern California to begin a new life chapter. “I arrived in L.A. with a duffel bag about two years ago after a 10-month shot at marriage. I got to Venice Beach and never looked back.”
Howe and Forsythe met by chance on a whitewater rafting trip. Forsythe, a Cal Poly grad, began making wine in his dorm room and launched Rebel Coast Winery in 2012, which has found success and cult status with its gutsy red blend, Reckless Love.
During the rafting trip, the conversation somehow turned to the possibility of combining two pleasantly buzz-y worlds. Fortunately, Howe already had some vital knowledge.
“We were talking about the concept of cannabis wine, and I knew about the regulatory side of things. You can’t combine alcohol and THC (the chemical compound in cannabis responsible for a high). It’s a federal law that prohibits the same product from having both alcohol and THC. Also, you can’t sell … a cannabis product in a liquor store.” The two realms can’t be blended at the retail level.
Even though several other states have liberalized their marijuana laws, Rebel Coast will sell its pot wine only in California for the time being, Howe said. “Selling across state lines involves a lot of red tape right now.”
Long, strange trip
Fortifying wine with cannabis has been a serious pursuit for well over four millennia. The first records of marijuana being used for medicinal purposes date from the 28th century B.C.
Religious initiates sometimes drank psychoactive wine as part of their practice. Participants in the Eleusinian Mysteries (initiations held yearly for the cult of Demeter and Persephone in ancient Greece) and early Christians were known to consume cannabis wine, but by then they were following a longstanding tradition. A 2,700-year-old wine cellar found recently in northern Israel contained wine infused with cinnamon, mint, honey and traces of psychotropic resins.
There’ll be no resins in Rebel Coast’s product, Howe said, and extra precautions are being taken to assure that the wine contains no alcohol. After traditional fermentation, it is removed through reverse osmosis. Then the wine is infused with water-soluble THC. “It’s a proprietary patent,” Howe explained. “THC is an oil, so it’s not naturally water soluble.”
Don’t miss our reviews of strains, vape oils and other cannabis products.
The high that you get from Rebel Coast’s pot wine intentionally doesn’t pack a lot of punch. Each bottle has 16 mg of THC, or about 4 mg per serving. “We tried it out with 20 mg (per bottle) and that was too much,” Howe explained. “It’s interesting. Everyone is affected by this uniquely. It’s such a different experience to alcohol.”
Howe and Forsythe aimed to recreate the gradual high of a good bottle of wine sipped slowly. “We wanted to mimic the experience of a traditional bottle of wine,” Howe said. “We wanted it to be a relatively low dosage so you’re not rocked by a glass or two, but if you want to you could have the whole bottle and you’d feel that.”
So how does pot wine taste?
“It certainly tastes different,” Howe said. “Once you take the alcohol out of wine, 14 percent or more of the solution is gone. The fats and the lipids are gone. We chose to use sauvignon blanc (for pot wine) because it’s a fairly citrus-y, grassy varietal, which blends well with the additives.”
So far, sauvignon blanc has been the most successful varietal to be altered. Others are proving to be problematic. “We’re having more trouble with reds, for sure,” Howe said. “For whatever reason, they’re still a work in progress.”
There is one big selling point to Rebel Coast’s product, regardless of taste: this wine leaves not a trace of hangover. “There is no lingering effect once the high is gone that we’ve seen,” Howe said. “I don’t know if it will affect every person in the same way, but it just delivers a nice, euphoric, mild high.”
Howe and Forsythe are still looking for additional investors, and they’re not making any predictions about initial sales. They know they’ve got a niche product that owns its corner of the market, at least to begin with.
“There is no competition right now,” Howe said. “I’ve heard people talk about cannabis wine, but when you look into it, it’s CBD-infused wine. It’s green and it doesn’t taste very good.” (CBD, or cannabidiol hemp oil, has no psychoactive effect.) “As far as we know, we’re the first to do wine with THC.”
To subscribe to The Cannifornian’s email newsletter, click here.