This article originally appeared on VICE France.
In 2015, archaeologist Hervé Delhoofs was excavating a site near Cébazat, a village in central France, when he came across an unusual grave dating back to the 2nd century BC. The area was once inhabited by the Arverni, one of the most powerful Gaulish tribes during the Iron Age and the Roman period. Inside, they found the body of a 30-year-old Gaul, buried with a funereal offering of wine.
So far, nothing about those findings seemed out of the ordinary – until three years later, when archaeologist and scientist Nicolas Garnier found traces of cannabis in the wine pot. “These plant fragments could have been added to the wine to flavour it and give it a psychoactive effect,” Garnier told French newspaper Le Parisien.
Matthieu Poux, an archaeology professor specialising in antique wine, was also asked about the discovery by French science magazine Sciences et Avenir. He said he wasn’t surprised, and went on to explain that, at that time, wine had the tendency to quickly turn into vinegar, so the ancients used additives like plaster, seawater and even cannabis to make it taste better. Of course, it doesn’t mean the drink necessarily got them high, because cannabis needs heat-treatment to release THC. “But maybe, in this case,” Poux said, “the Gauls might have been looking for these effects.”
When Poux’s interview came out in April of 2018, French cannabis grower Raphael De Pablo was working in the medicinal cannabis industry in Canada. Intrigued, he got in touch with a wine expert friend and they decided to partner up to recreate the drink. Wine-makers in the US and in Spain have already produced cannabis-infused wine, but the product is a first in France – a nation of wine purists.
In early 2021, De Pablo finally bottled his first cannabis-flavoured elixir, made with Bordeaux and CBD. The recipe is still a secret – De Pablo doesn’t want to give any details before he registers his patent. “We get our wine from a supplier, and then we work on it on our premises,” was about as much as he would give away. De Pablo also runs an organic cannabis farm in the Bordeaux region, where he sources the CBD. In France, it’s legal to grow weed with a 0.2 percent THC content, well below the 14 percent that is usually in weed. De Pablo’s wine is legal in France because it’s infused with weed that has only a tiny amount of THC.
France has some of the strictest cannabis laws in Europe. In January 2021, the government launched a public consultation, asking citizens to comment on whether weed should be legalised in the country. The consultations will be closed on the 28th of February and might be the first step towards legalisation.
De Pablo’s friend and business partner, known as “Papi” in the industry, tested multiple combinations of grapes to perfect the flavour. “It was very hard to find a balance between the wine’s terpenes [flavour molecules] and those of the cannabis, which often dominated,” De Pablo said. After testing a few grapes and grape mixes, Papi turned to Petit Verdot, a historical variety from Bordeaux. “It’s what creates the fruity and powerful side of the wine,” De Pablo said.
This single-grape wine has been baptised “Burdi W” – Burdi stands for Burdigala, the Latin name for Bordeaux, and W for Wine or Weed, with De Pablo intentionally leaving that up to the customer’s interpretation. The company is now producing a batch of 5,000 bottles to meet rising demand.
De Pablo said he’s run into his fair share of obstacles along the way, saying traditional French wine-makers can be a judgemental bunch. Not to mention thieves have stolen weed from his farm three times, thinking they were scoring something with a normal THC level. “They shot a rubber bullet in the air and set fire to a car,” De Pablo said. But the stash was found and De Pablo recently won a lawsuit against the thieves. “Since then, we’ve moved,” he said.