Of course, while selling such a product to the public may be unprecedented, the practice of blending two of humanity's most popular and enduring intoxicants actually has a long history. According to Carl Ruck, a professor of classical mythology at Boston University who studies the way psychoactive substances have influenced humanity's spiritual development:Ancient wines were always fortified, like the 'strong wine' of the Old Testament, with herbal additives: opium, datura, belladonna, mandrake and henbane… [so] the easy availability and long tradition of cannabis use would have seen it included in the mixtures [too].More recently, this process has become something of an open secret among cannabis-friendly vintners, particularly in California's wine country, where the "easy availability" of grapes and ganja dates back to at least the early 1970s. And so in these heady days of big victories for marijuana legalization, it was only a matter of time before someone took the next logical step."Up until now, I was doing it more for myself and to share with friends," says Lisa Molyneux, the cannabis-grower-turned-pot-infused-winemaker who's enlisted Etheridge to help get the word out about this new endeavor. "Now I'm really serious about the whole process. Where in the past I've always just been grateful that it's worked out and tasted amazing."
Pounds of homegrown, outdoor, organic cannabis buds are all harvested, dried, cured, and weighed out in advance, so as to greet the grape juice the moment it arrives.
Etheridge's fondness for medical marijuana famously made headlines in 2005, when she went public with her personal story of how cannabis helped her endure chemotherapy during her battle with breast cancer. Molyneux is also a cancer survivor—one of two things they initially bonded over."I started going to meet with her at her concerts, in hopes that she'd get more involved in the medical cannabis movement and maybe even perform at a fundraiser," Molyneux recalls. "It was a really slow process, but in time we became friends. And then I brought her a case of the wine as a gift. Well, she loved it, and so did everybody who tried it with her. So it wasn't ever really an intention, but that's how it all started."
'I don't think most traditional sommeliers will be interested in this for a long time, because they'll see it as somehow impure,' Etheridge says.
"I'm a huge foodie, so I'm really looking forward to pairing all of these new varieties with a good meal," Etheridge says, prompting The Weed Eater to ask if she foresees a time when the world's leading sommeliers will have to learn to identify the subtle flavor notes that distinguish Super Silver Haze from Headband and so forth. "I don't think most traditional sommeliers will be interested in this for a long time, because they'll see it as somehow impure. And I understand that, but there's going to be some hip, young, cool person who will see the potential. Meanwhile, I'd love to enter our wine into a blind competition without telling the judges about the cannabis, so they're not prejudiced when tasting it, but obviously we can't do that."So instead (with their full knowledge and consent), The Weed Eater assembled a panel of eager tasters perhaps more steeped in the burning bush than the fruit of the vine, but still no slouches when it comes to drinking vino. At a Sunday afternoon courtyard party, we snacked on small plates while sampling small glasses of both the Syrah and the Grenache, each of us taking in a total of about five ounces of wine before waiting an hour to gauge the effects.The first sip of each variety jarred the senses with a taste that's not at all unpleasant, just unfamiliar when delivered by a glass of wine. Usually, such flavors and aromas reach the palate only when we lower our noses into a large bag of well-cured cannabis. But man oh man, did that taste ever grow on us as we proceeded to finish our glasses, until most (but not all!) agreed that high-end cannabis wine might indeed have legs.As for the effect, the cannabis buzz is subtle but quite present and very pleasantly soothing to both body and mind, particularly after a good strong dose—and yes, the Weed Eater went back for seconds, before ultimately falling asleep contentedly on the couch.
The first sip of each variety jarred the senses with a taste that's not at all unpleasant, just unfamiliar when delivered by a glass of wine.