Above: the West Sonoma Coast is one of California’s youngest wine regions. Growers are petitioning to create a new Americana Viticultural Area designation there. The Pacific Ocean lies just a stone’s throw to the west of the vineyard in the photo.
Much has been written about the impact of newly legalized recreational cannabis on the California wine industry. The fear among some trade observers is that consumers will spend less on wine as their spending on pot grows.
But weed is affecting the California wine trade in unexpected ways, even just four months into legalization (which took effect in January of this year).
One of the most interesting elements to emerge from a touring tasting organized by West Sonoma Coasts Vintners last week was the winemakers’ concern that the lucrative cannabis business is attracting current vineyard and farm workers.
“It’s a lot nicer to be using tweezers in a greenhouse” to pare cannabis flower “than it is to be working in a vineyard,” noted one winemaker. Evidently, according to the growers, it also pays better.
Making matters even more challenging for wineries is the fact the the Sonoma, Napa, and Paso Robles fires last fall have drastically reduced the availability of affordable housing. This, combined with the current White House hard-line on immigration, has also made the industry less attractive to the migrant and seasonal workforce.
Another issue faced by wineries, said the vintners, is the decreased availability of storage and industrial space. The cannabis business is so lucrative that the new wave of pot growers is willing to pay higher rent for coveted warehouse and industrial park rentals. Winemakers need those spaces to store and age their wines.
The West Sonoma Coast is just one of the many wine growing areas affected by the nascent recreational cannabis business. But as a relative newcomer, in one of California’s more remote locations, it seems — at least anecdotally — to have been more acutely affected.
There is no doubt that cannabis is already reshaping the California’s agricultural landscape. It remains to be seen how its viticultural industry will react in the face of mounting challenges.