Michael Steinberger is an author and for nearly ten years was a wine columnist at Slate. Steinberger also contributed to publications such as The New York Times, Food & Wine, New York Magazine, Wine Spectator, The World of Fine Wine, and Sommelier Journal, among others.
Last year, at a Burgundy dinner in New York, Steinberger was offered a mystery beverage he was told was a glass of pot wine — wine laced with cannabis — and remarked that the taste was a novel experience.
“But it turns out,” added Steinberger, “that pot wine isn’t such a novelty in California wine country. There apparently are quite a few winemakers surreptitiously producing cannabis cuvées.”
Later at dinner, a California vintner told Steinberger in confidence that pot wine has been produced and circulated in California wine country as far back as the early 1980s.
The vintner said in those days pot wine was typically made with rosé wines and that because of the legal risk involved, bottles were selling for more than $100.
The anonymous vintner claimed that today, marijuana is ordinarily blended with robust reds such as cabernet sauvignon and syrah, and because cannabis is now virtually decriminalized in California, “there is not much of a paying market now for pot wine; it’s really just a party drink that winemakers break out whenever the mood strikes.”
For obvious reasons, the California vintner didn’t want his real name revealed, so in Steinberger’s article, he refers to him as “Bud.”
Bud confessed he is just one of a number of winemakers on the Central Coast who are blending two of California’s most prized crops, and said “the recipe for pot wine 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. Steinberger said that because Bud wants to attain maximum extraction, he keeps his weed wine in a barrel for nine months before bottling it.
Bud and other winemakers produce pot wine in small quantities, to be shared in “convivial moments with like-minded people.” Bud said that at certain wine events in San Francisco, New York, and Las Vegas, he doesn’t dare make an appearance unless he brings some of the wacky vino with him.
Gourmet Magazine’s Matthew Kronsberg notes that in wine country, pot-infused wines are the open secrets that present themselves in unmarked bottles at the end of winemaker dinners and very VIP tours.
Crane Carter, president of the Napa Valley Marijuana Growers, told Steinberger that in Napa, much of the marijuana used for wine comes from Humboldt County, which is California’s weed capital, but there’s also plenty of stuff locally grown.
Carter said cabernet, Napa’s main grape, is the variety of choice for marijuana-seasoned wine, and that fruit from the Stag’s Leap district is thought to pair particularly well with pot.
According to Carter, “pot wine delivers a quicker high than pot brownies, and the combination of alcohol and marijuana produces ‘an interesting little buzz’.”