As delicious as the pairing may be after a long work shift, wine and weed have long been at odds in California’s agricultural landscape. But if one Santa Barbara County business has anything to do with it, that friction may soon ease.
The new owner of Santa Barbara County’s 30-year-old Sunstone organic winery has been awarded permits to grow cannabis alongside the company’s rows of grapes.
“This marks the first-time cannabis and viniculture — often presented as intractable foes — will coexist in peaceful commercial cultivation at the same time and the same place in Santa Barbara County,” wrote local publication, the Santa Barbara Independent.
The project was made possible through the efforts of Sunstone’s new owner, the locally-raised entrepreneur Teddy Cabugos, whose cannabis biz projects are tempered by the fact that he is also active on the Santa Barbara County Coalition for Responsible Cannabis. The group advocates for community members and businesses potentially impacted by nearby weed projects.
Cabugos put in work communicating with seven of Sunstone’s neighbors, several of them big-time wine businesses, and was able to entirely avoid arguing out the details of the new green venture at the local planning commission.
That’s a big deal, given the fact that many of the state’s wine-growing strongholds, including OG wine country Napa County, have banned commercial cannabis cultivation entirely.
“Let me be clear,” Ryan Gregory, Napa County supervisor, said recently. "When I close my eyes and picture Napa, my vision doesn’t include cannabis. I don’t need to see it grown here.”
But in Santa Barbara County — site of the widely popular 2004 wine snob film Sideways — other visions are being perceived.
One of the classic arguments presented by the wine industry when complaining about potential marijuana-growing neighbors is that the smell of cannabis will interfere with their clientele’s vinicultural experience. Other vintners hold that cannabis terpenes will travel through the soil to the vines’ roots, weed-ifying the mouthfeel of their pours.
Cabugos has anticipated the odor conundrum, pledging to plant less than the maximum harvests his grow op can accommodate, and to carry out the pungent art of processing the weed on another site.
Not to mention, he’s planning a somewhat space-age outdoor perfuming system for the crop, characterized by eucalyptus, lavender, and citrus essential oils being “shot skyward by vapor jets,” according to the Independent. Would’ve been nice to know about these systems when we were living in college dorms.
This new development is part of a larger shift in the brand’s target audience under Cabugos’ watch. As the Independent puts it, “transitioning the tasting-room experience from one dominated by the older whiter demographic to a younger, more ethnically diverse crowd.”
Cabugos recently won a permit to open a Sunstone cannabis dispensary in an old Santa Barbara County gas station. He is in the process of getting the OK to open a Sunstone tasting room in Santa Barbara’s so-called downtown "Funk Zone."
It should be noted that Sunstone is not going to be a massive grow — the site has been approved for 6.5 acres of cannabis cultivation, to be built out over the next three years. Acreage is not the issue, says Cabugos. “Fifty or two, it doesn’t really matter,” he commented, re-enforcing that that on-site grow op is “all about building the brand.”