Chem Tales: Francis Ford Coppola Announces ‘Grower’s Series’

The director and vintner is putting his name to pot.

For most people, directing cinematic masterpieces like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now would serve as a sufficient legacy. In the case of Bay Area resident Francis Ford Coppola, making movies was just the beginning. 

In addition to his largely impeccable filmography, Coppola has co-founded his own movie company, restored Napa’s Uptown Theater, opened the San Francisco restaurant Café Zoetrope, and launched his own literary magazine. Despite these numerous ventures, his most famous side gig outside of Hollywood is unquestionably his legacy as a winemaker, an industry he’s been involved with since his family released its inaugural vintage in 1977.

Clearly not one to rest on his laurels, Coppola is now extending his legacy by launching a limited cannabis line dubbed the Grower’s Series. The idea was first broached 10 months ago, when Coppola came to Kathleen Murphy with a hand-crafted concept.

“Francis handed us this papier-mâché bottle that he’d made at home,” Murphy recalls. “The papier-mâché bottle opens up, and inside there were three little Ziploc baggies. In those baggies were little signs for three different appellations of cannabis products. That was his big idea.”

As the innovation director for Sana Company, it’s Murphy’s job to take Coppola’s ideas and refine them into a commercially viable product. Fortunately, her boss was happy to offer guidance when it came time to determine how to turn papier-mâché into pot.

“He talked about how appellations’ location matters,” Murphy says, “and he wanted it in a tin shaped like a wine bottle.”

Appellations are a hot topic in cannabis these days, with small growers eager to establish a framework that will allow them to define their region’s terroirs (a term that encapsulates the entire nature of a specific geographic environment). Of course, appellations have been a vital component of winemaking stretching back to Biblical times. They’re also the reason why Champagne is technically only sparkling white wine unless it hails from the Champagne region of France.

Such distinctions have yet to take formal shape in the cannabis industry, although California has laws in place to prevent pot grown in San Diego from being marketed as a Mendocino strain. According to Murphy, Coppola is hoping to entice a demographic of affluent wine lovers by presenting his product with much of the same terminologies and concepts that they’ve come to expect from grapes.

“I think it’s an easy way for a consumer that might be intimidated by the cannabis category to feel more comfortable,” she explains. “We’re using familiar terminology and concepts — like the aroma tasting wheel. You can have an aroma tasting wheel with cannabis as well. The terpenes that exist in cannabis — a lot of times those exist in food and wine. We want to enable people to be able to connect the dots and see that it’s not maybe as overwhelming as it might seem.”

Naturally, one of the team’s top priorities was to partner with growers who shared Coppola’s vision. They found their perfect match in Johnny Deim and Brett Todoroff, aka the Humboldt Brothers. From the beginning, Humboldt was the only option for growing the three initial strains — a sativa, an indica, and a hybrid — featured in the Grower’s Series initial offering.

“Francis has vineyards in Napa and Sonoma,” Murphy says. “To him, those are the best growing regions for grapes in California. In his opinion, the best growing region for cannabis in California is in Humboldt.”

A founding member of the California Farmers Market Association and former judge at the 2007 Amsterdam Cannabis Cup, Humboldt Brothers’ Chief Farming Officer Todoroff is about as good as it gets when it comes to growing artisan cannabis.

“Brett really is the guy,” Murphy confirms. “It really is an art to be able to know that Sour Diesel needs to grow at a slightly higher elevation because it likes hot days.”

Following initial discussions, Coppola and his team narrowed their options down to a handful of possible strains before settling on the final three. Currently slated for limited release at the end of December, the Grower’s Series 2018 offering features a tin wine bottle and includes one gram of each strain. Working on the assumption that the products targeted demographic may not have much pot paraphernalia lying around, the tin also includes a pipe, matchbook, and rolling papers.

As one might expect, supplies are expected to be highly limited, with Murphy estimating that a total of 10 dispensaries in Northern California may ultimately receive stock (in addition to a “handful” of Southern California locations). While there are no concrete plans for what the line may yield next, Murphy points to the product’s name as a means of predicting what the future may hold.

“This is the Grower’s Series,” she says, “so it opens up opportunities to explore other appellations, other parts of Humboldt County, and other strains and how they might perform in different places. We want to celebrate each harvest. The label this time says ‘2018,’ but yes, we’d love to continue down the pipeline.”

Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music for SF Weekly. |  @zackruskin

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