BOOZE and drugs usually belong together like Fred and Ginger. But not, it seems, in California’s wine region. Wine-makers are fretting that recreational marijuana use, which became legal in the state in January, could challenge their dominance of what is delightfully known as people’s “intoxication budgets”. They also complain that they can no longer afford seasonal labour to harvest their grapes because workers have better-paid, year-round jobs on cannabis farms. Sonoma County, one of the state’s main wine-producing regions, recently imposed restrictions on who may grow weed, and where.
According to Rabobank, a Dutch firm that specialises in financing agriculture, marijuana and alcohol are to some extent substitutes. Legalisation, a recent report from the bank argues, will encourage more women, baby boomers and high earners—all stalwarts of the wine business—to smoke weed instead. In other states, the legalisation of medical marijuana has been associated with a roughly 15% fall in alcohol consumption. Cannabis is taking off because it appeals especially to the health-conscious inebriate. In one poll, 72% of American consumers said they thought marijuana was safer than alcohol.
Weed sellers are already paying the wine business the compliment of their most sincere flattery. Marijuana dispensers in California have created “tasting wheels” and 100-point ratings systems, both based on techniques for describing and marketing wine. Wine Spectator, a magazine, is suing Weed Spectator, published in northern California, for trademark infringement.
But not all wine makers are bummed out. Some Californian sommeliers are giving classes on pairing wine and weed. A handful of wine makers in Napa Valley, another centre of wine production, have set up the Napa Valley Cannabis Association, with the idea of planting the stuff in the region next year. And—on the principle that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em—Rebel Coast winery in Los Angeles County has produced a marijuana-infused sauvignon blanc. Andrew Jefford, a British wine writer, thinks drinking, not smoking, is the future of weed. “Cannabis drinks,” he writes, “may become the leading medium for recreational consumption.” Perhaps booze and drugs do belong together after all.