Cannabis impacts CA wine industry in unforeseen ways

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.

5 thoughts on “Cannabis impacts CA wine industry in unforeseen ways

    • Jameson, always awesome to have you here. I was surprised by the growers’ answers. When I head back to California for Slow Wine, I hope to follow up on this story.

  1. I’m wondering if it may be tough going currently, because legal cannabis is so new, and when things “normalize” a bit more, then there will be less competition for resources. The worker problem is interesting. I wonder if wages and attractiveness will also even out in the longer term.

    • I agree: there is going to have to be a reset, a normalization period. But I also think the fires have made the situation more complicated… But pot is only going to become more and more lucrative as the stigma fades. The funny thing is that a lot of wine growers are illegal pot growers. Maybe the future solution is find a balance between the two crops?

  2. Pingback: Wine Blog Daily Wednesday 4/4/18 | Edible Arts

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