Last year, at a Burgundy dinner in New York, I was given a wine that smelled like no Burgundy I’d ever encountered. Instead, it had a pungent herbal aroma that called to mind a college dormitory on a Saturday night—that, or a Grateful Dead concert. The devilish grin on the face of the friend who offered me the mystery liquid confirmed it: what I had in my hand was a glass of pot wine—yes, as in marijuana-laced.
In the spirit of inquiry, I took a sip, and while it neither got me stoned nor made me want to ditch the glass of 1985 Roumier Bonnes-Mares that I was holding in my other hand, it was certainly a novel experience. But it turns out that pot wine isn’t such a novelty in California wine country; there apparently are quite a few winemakers surreptitiously producing cannabis cuvées.
Curious to learn more about this weediest of wines, I recently spoke with a California vintner who makes it on the side. For obvious reasons, he didn’t want his real name used, so I will refer to him as “Bud.” He told me pot wine holds an important distinction: in his view, it is “the only truly original style of wine created in the New World.”
Bud said he is just one of a number of winemakers on the Central Coast who are blending two of California’s most prized crops. The recipe for pot wine, such as it is, consists of dropping one pound of marijuana into a cask of fermenting wine, which yields about 1.5 grams of pot per bottle; the better the raw materials—grapes and dope—the better the wine.
The fermentation process converts the sugar in grapes into alcohol, and alcohol extracts the THC from marijuana. Bud goes for maximum extraction: he keeps his weed wine in barrel for nine months before bottling it. He said he and other winemakers produce pot wine in small quantities, to be shared in “convivial moments with like-minded people.” Those who enjoy it evidently enjoy it a lot: Bud said that at certain wine events in San Francisco, New York, and Las Vegas, “I can’t show up unless I have some with me.”
Drugs have been on the periphery of the California wine scene going back a long time. In the late 1960s, Ridge Vineyards, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Silicon Valley and one of California’s most storied wineries, was something of a magnet for counterculture types.
In his 2001 book, Zin: The History and Mystery of Zinfandel, David Darlington wrote that on “spectacular Monte Bello Ridge, psychoactive drugs proved quite popular; one Ridge acolyte—a full-bearded, red-headed individual named Jerry—reportedly ate LSD 64 days in a row, and bottling was frequently performed by someone who held a 750-ml glass vessel with one hand and a joint of primo sinsemilla with the other.”
Having tasted Ridge wines from that period, I can tell you that they have aged beautifully and that I have never found any decayed roaches in the sediment. I can also tell you that this sort of thing no longer happens at Ridge.