There’s that great scene in Wayne’s World – you know the one I’m talking about – where Wayne, Garth, and Cassandra are all standing in evil Benjamin’s house, and the snobby producer, played masterfully by Rob Lowe, comments that all champagne is French, and that if it’s not it’s just called “sparkling white.” Turns out that’s a thing. For real. In order for a bubbly white wine to be “champagne,” it really does need to be grown in a certain region of France.
Well, in certain parts of Northern California, an alliance of growers is pushing for an appellation for the region’s famous cannabis similar to the one France has with champagne. The Mendocino Appellations Project (MAP) was created in response to the inevitable regulations that come along with legalization that threaten to shut down some smaller growers who were not financially prepared for the burden of legitimacy. According to Swami Chaitanya, a Mendocino County grower, with the appellation, the MAP hopes to “create this way of protecting the intellectual property of the farmers up in Mendocino County and Humboldt and the other parts of the Emerald Triangle.”
Their case relies on a principle called terroir. The idea is that genetically identical plants will exhibit different chemical properties if grown in different soil. If this is the case, then farmers in Northern California will have a scientific basis for their claim of geographical superiority.
Studies on the terroir relating to wine have shown the principle to be sound there, but studies specific to cannabis are just in their infancy. Because of the federal prohibition of academic cannabis, researchers have been limited, but now some scientists at Portland State University are conducting studies in Southern Oregon in which identical cannabis clones are distributed to four different farms to grow. One of the key components of the study is climate. In order to support the idea that the soil is unique in each geographical location, the farms need to be kept within a relatively close radius where a similar climate is experienced by all.
Of course, there are all sorts of other variables that go into the finished cannabis product that the researchers needed to take into account. For this reason, they tested uncured flowers only. The curing process plays a big part in the final profile of cannabinoids and terpenes, which helps flavor and aroma, among other things. If differences in the soil are confirmed, it will go a long way to help MAP’s case for appellation.
The idea of a terroir unique to Northern California will definitely help the local growers of the region in their efforts to secure an appellation, which would, in turn, protect them from the inevitable arrival of Big Cannabis in California and other states. The idea is to preserve the unique “craft” quality of the cannabis grown in the region so that small growers can compete the way craft breweries compete with Coors and Miller. Large-scale farms will produce high quantity, lower quality cannabis, which a large part of the market will want because it will be much cheaper, but according to author Ryan Stoa, there will be a devoted fan base for craft growers as well. “You can already see a connoisseur market emerging,” he said.
In the end, the market will no doubt work itself out as it has with beer and with wine.
Just as we now have the crowd that goes for the 16oz High Life tallboys and the Franzia box wine existing along with the crowd that goes for barrel-aged Willamette Valley IPAs and Napa Valley chardonnays, so too will we soon see the crowd that will line up for a $6 two gram joint pack made from skunky-yet-high-potency shake existing alongside the crowd who demand the $50 eighth of hand-trimmed, glass-cured premium bud.