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Six Ways Wine and Weed are Similar -- and One Major Difference

by Dr. Liz Thach
August 07, 2017

Since California citizens approved Prop 64 legalizing adult use of cannabis beginning January 2018, wineries across the state have been wondering whether the change will bring positive or negative outcomes. To help alleviate fears, the recent Wine & Weed Conference in Santa Rosa, California, brought in 17 industry experts, including Senator Mike McGuire, to describe anticipated changes that the estimated $7 billion cannabis business will bring to California.

Surprisingly there appear to be many similarities between the wine and cannabis industries, which suggest potential collaboration and mutual support. However, there is one major looming difference as well. Following are the six key similarities between wine and weed:

  1. Different Varieties and Clones – The product of both industries is heavily influenced by the specific variety and clone that is selected. For example, the aromatic profile, yield and flowering time of both grapes and cannabis are determined by the clone that is selected. Just as a Pinot Noir 777 Dijon clone produces a grape with raspberry notes, silky tannins, and ripens earlier than other pinot noir clones, so does a Lemon Tree clone of cannabis provide more fruity aromas and has different performance metrics compared to other cannabis clones.
  2. Appellations – The California wine industry has identified over 100 distinct appellations, or American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) that drive pricing and impact perceived quality levels of wine grapes. For example, the Rutherford AVA of Napa Valley achieves higher prices and produces a different tannin profile than the Alexander Valley AVA of Sonoma County. The cannabis plant is also influenced by the location in which it is planted, including soil, elevation and climate. Therefore, the cannabis industry plans to create appellations to assist customers in differentiating between the various places in which it is planted and production methods. This process will be organized by, and will only be applicable to cannabis planted in the ground – not plants grown in green houses.
  3. Powdery Mildew and Rot – Both wine grapes and cannabis plants are highly susceptible to powdery mildew and forms of rot. It is partially for this reason that it is not recommended that they be planted near one another. The smell of cannabis is also another reason cited by some vineyard owners, who believe that wine grapes can absorb the smell of cannabis, as they do with smoke and eucalyptus.
  4. Tourism – Wine tourism is extremely important to California, bringing in an estimated $7.2 billion in annual tourism expenditures. Cannabis tourism is also predicted to increase in California, as it has in Colorado. Though some winery owners have expressed fears that cannabis tourism will cannibalize wine tourism, these qualms should be laid to rest. According to Dr. Amanda Reiman of Flow Kana, research shows that wine, craft beer, and cannabis tourism compliment one another. Indeed in Colorado wineries have seen an increase in wine sales after cannabis was legalized in the state.
  5. Scores/Competitions – Both industries use scores and competition results to help communicate quality levels to consumers. Though not all consumers rely on scores and medals, certain consumer segments seek the endorsement of experts such as Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate, and rely on gold and silver medals received in wine competitions. The cannabis industry also has judging events with expert panels that assess aesthetics and aroma. One of the more famous competitions is called the Emerald Cup.
  6. Multiple Product Lines – Just as wine can be used to produce other products, such as lotions, syrup, vinegar, perfumes, and sauces, so too does cannabis have many innovative product lines. In addition to being available as medical oils, salves and lotions, cannabis can be sold in edible formats, such as candies, cookies, and brownies. It is also available in gummy and capsule format, as well as the traditional rolled format or vapor pen. It is expected that cannabis will continue to innovate in this arena.

Major Differences in Regulatory Compliance

Though the wine industry has often complained about the number of rules, licenses, permits, taxes and other regulatory hurdles it must endure, these are nothing compared to what the cannabis industry will have to undergo. According to legal experts Rebecca Stamey-White and Sunshine Lencho, cannabis producers will have to procure multiple licenses from the Dept. of Food and Ag, the Bureau of Cannabis Regulation, the Depart of Public Health, and local permits. They are also not allowed to use certain pesticides and fertilizers, and must have all products tested. There are plans to implement a tracking system recording all farming/production procedures. Due to these regulations and the cost of compliance, some experts predict that more than 70 percent of small cannabis growers will drop out of the industry.

On the retail side, licenses will be limited as they currently are with dispensaries, and may be difficult to obtain. For anyone wanting to open a cannabis tasting room, additional licenses will be required, and it is currently not legal to produce and sell both cannabis and wine on the same licensed premises. Furthermore California cannabis cannot legally be sold outside the state. Under federal law, cannabis is a Schedule 1 controlled substance, with potential prison time and fines associated with its possession.

In summary, though wine and weed do have much it common, it is predicted that the cannabis industry will have some major hoops to jump through as they emerge from their Prohibition, just as the wine industry did in 1933.


  • CalCannabis (2017). CalCannabis: What We Do. CalCannabis website. Available at:
  • Emerald Cup (2017). The Emerald Cup 2017. Available at
  • McGuire, M. (2017). Presentation by US Senator for California Mike McGuire on the California Cannabis Industry. Wine & Weed Conference, Santa Rosa, CA. Aug. 3, 2017
  • Rieman, A. (2017) Why Wine and Weed Make Great Business Partners. Wine & Weed Conference, Santa Rosa, CA. Aug. 3, 2017
  • Stamey-White, R. & Lencho, T.S. (2017). Keeping it Legal: What You Can & Can’t Do. Wine & Weed Conference, Santa Rosa, CA. Aug. 3, 2017
  • Wine Institute (2017). The Economic Impact of California Wine and Winegrape Industry. Wine Institute website. Available at:

by Dr. Liz Thach  

Dr. Liz Thach, MW is the Distinguished Professor of Wine and a Management Professor at Sonoma State University (SSU). Due to the potential collaboration between the wine and cannabis industries, SSU has been approached to analyze the impact on local wine businesses. Liz can be contacted at

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