Californian Vintners Are Putting Weed in Their Wine

By Bonnie Collins

Wine thieving: the proper way to extract wine from a barrel.

I absolutely love to get fucked up. I'm in my mid-30s though, and I'm no longer free to casually sample mind-altering substances and swim through an ocean of debauchery. I have to be healthy and responsible, at least to some extent. Which is why, if someone stuck a gun to my head and only allowed me one vice for the rest of my life, I would choose weed wine.

California weed-wine lore dates back to the late 70s and early 80s in a fuzzy cloud of memories floating above the California vineyards between Santa Barbara and Sonoma. These burgeoning wine regions housed young vinters experimenting with uncultivated soils and nontraditional vines. People were fermenting grapes and smoking a lot of weed. Early rumblings of the marriage of the two activities convinced winemakers to step up their fermentation game and create sophisticated altered states. 

With any proper experiment comes trial and error. The art of wine making involves both chemistry and agriculture, which make crafting weed wine a highly coveted skill. White wine lends itself to more natural aromatics, a healthy arrangement of marijuana and grapes, lower alcohol levels, and more balanced weed wines. Red grapes can overpower the pot, produce higher levels of alcohol, and provide a high that is similar to the one you get when you eat too many weed cookies and end up with moments of sheer panic and terror. Pinot Noir winemakers, always sure of themselves, are rumored to make a palatable blend of weed wine. Rosé is an obviously experimental juice for winemakers as it often thrown by the wayside rather than bottled and sold.

Pierre's greenhouse in 2005. Heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and a hybrid strain of weed.

Miguel, a winemaker I know through mutual friends, has had success with his current vintage, which blends a cellar-made tincture of concentrated weed and Everclear with Viognier (a grape that originates in the Rhone region of France and is grown on the central coast of California). The weed is soaked in Everclear for a few days to extract the right amount of THC, strained through cheesecloth and then added to fermenting wine. The color of what he calls "Snake Oil" has beautiful new-tennis-ball hues and the taste combines crisp floral flavors with subtle cannabis zest. He equates the chemical effect of his drink to taking a Vicodin.

Another weed wine vinter in the aprea, Pierre, has developed a highly successful 2004 blend of Malvasia Bianca grapes (a white varietal originating in Greece and grown in cool climates) and Lemon Diesel weed (a hybrid strain with citrus smells). Known as DV (Double Vintage) on its barrel tag and “Two Birds One Stone” in party settings, the wine has a deserved reputation as one of the choicest ways to get supremely hammered. Pierre was mentored by one of the area’s most prominent winemakers, and the two decided that co-fermenting the wine with the weed was the purist method. Procuring the marijuana from Mendocino and using extra juice from a forgiving harvest, they hand-ground the weed and inserted it into the barrel as the wine went through its fermentation process. The end result was the equivalent of an eighth of weed per bottle and 12 percent alcohol by volume. A glass of this wine was arguably the perfect high, and if it could have been legally sold, would have cost roughly $55.

It would hurt my brain to remember what year we were ringing in, but once Pierre came with about ten others to my friend’s cabin up in Lake Tahoe for New Year’s. The DV made the weekend. We had about three bottles and started each evening off with it, before moving onto bold, marijuana-free reds, then eventually smoking weed into the night. If anyone has a bottle of this (because Pierre sure as hell doesn’t), I want to talk. We have a party to plan.

The idea of ever legally producing and marketing this style of wine is impossible. Laws regulating alcohol are so complicated on their own, throwing in state marijuana laws would make selling this over the counter essentially impossible. Some weed wine artisans have hired legal counsel without getting anywhere. If the cops ever found barrels on wineries’ properties, government bonds would be lost, legal action would ensue, and it would be a fucking nightmare. 

I am lucky enough to have tasted Pierre and Miguel's product as well as many other weed wines (rosés, reds and whites), and I consider myself tremendously fortunate to have the opportunity to ever sample wines of this caliber. Winemakers hush me; connoisseurs share stories of positive and negative experiences with the brews. Others can't believe that such products exist.

Weed wine is always found in an unlabeled bottle with a blank cork and I try not to get too excited or aggressively ask for more. My advice to wine enthusiasts who enjoy a decent marijuana high is to just stay cool and pray that some of this wine lands in your glass one day. And when it becomes legal, join that wine club and covet those bottles for nights that deserve it. 

More weed:

High Country

The 40-Year-Old Pot Virgin

The War on Weed: Still Expensive, Racist, and Failed

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