Sam Edwards is a third-generation Sonoma County resident, and while wine will always be the chief export of the region, he’s applying the tasting format to another plant that’s also grown with immense love and care.
For the past two years, Edwards has hosted pairings that offer attendees the chance to taste cannabis without actually getting high, and pairing the plants with suitable wine. The Sonoma Cannabis Company co-founder says the idea is part of a larger mission to appreciate the sensory complexities of various pot strains.
“These cannabis wine pairing dinners are not about consumption,” Edwards explains. “If you’re doing a tasting club for wine in a professional sense, sometimes you’re doing a tasting at 8 a.m. You’re not consuming. So we’ve figured out ways that allow for these tasting formats but do not incorporate any cannabis consumption.”
Attendees to a tasting — which for now remain invite-only — may be given the chance to “dry hit” a selection of joints. (That is to say, they can experience the flavors without technically smoking anything.) There may even be a salad mixed with cannabis leaves. Edwards says Herba Buena cannabis founder Alicia Rose hosts similar dinners where she juices fresh cannabis leaves and freezes them into Popsicles.
Taking concepts from the wine world and applying them to cannabis extends beyond these dinners, which Edwards says are “actually a very small portion” of his business. One area of focus is getting Sonoma to adopt cannabis appellations. In the wine industry, these define the legal geographic identity of a given varietal. It’s the reason why sparkling wine can only be referred to as Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France.
“I’m really passionate about appellations,” Edwards says. “I’ve worked on the state level with the California Growers Association to help develop them with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Cannabis appellations are an area where we’ve seen a lot of pushback from the wine community. They want to know how cannabis can have terroir, and what that means and why.”
Terroir, or the environmental conditions that affect a harvest, is used as a core tenet of serious viticulture. It’s also how geographical origin is established and certified, meaning that one would need to define the terroir of Sonoma-grown cannabis in order to say what makes it unique to the area.
Edwards says that some of the concern he’s seen from the local wine community stems from worries that cannabis will somehow cut into the region’s market share.
“I think that is just not the case,” he says. “Cannabis may steal market share away from Two Buck Chuck and Budweiser, but it is not going to steal away market share whatsoever from luxury wines, high-end wines, or even eateries around here. It’s a complement to those things.”
For now, one way Edwards educates local farmers and builds a stronger understanding for cannabis is through these unique pairings. Offered through Flowers and Vines, and organized largely by Edwards’ fiancée — a licensed sommelier — these events are not an impromptu affair, but a carefully curated experience.
“You’ve probably gone and done a sensory experience at a winery where they have 20 different jars of different herbs, and you’re trying to bring out those scents of the wine by doing a side-by-side of all these different aromas, to train your palate,” he says. “We do a similar experience for people that want to do that with cannabis. I’m really passionate about bringing that out in cannabis, just like how it is in wine.”
The dinners, which Edwards says are always intimate affairs — 20 people or fewer— come together almost entirely through word-of-mouth. He also emphasizes that the pairings aren’t solely meant to feature his company’s product.
“We’re fully open to any other brand,” he says. “It’s like if you were going to a wine dinner and you had paid for the wine pairing throughout, and it was just one brand. There are some brands that do that, but if you go to a nice restaurant, it’s five different brands that might pair with five different courses. We’re not holding the monopoly on it, whatsoever.”
While fun is always on the menu, Edwards emphasizes there is a serious intent behind these gatherings.
“The official dinners we do are still quarterly, but we have a little tasting group that gets together monthly,” he says. “We have a full tasting format, and everyone brings their pen and takes notes.
“We are really trying to do something important here,” he adds, “and you can’t just come and drink and smoke and not participate.”