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Getting High, Not Stoned

California Winemaker Chip Forsythe will Discuss the Key Factors that Go into Creating a Successful Cannabis-Infused Wine.


Chip ForsytheWith the passage of Proposition 64 in California legalizing recreational marijuana as well as the passage of similar legislation elsewhere in America, we could be on the verge of a vibrant new era of product development for the cannabis drinks industry. This period would be similar in many ways to the new era of product development that America’s spirits industry experienced with the lifting of Prohibition in 1933. That’s the big picture view from cannabis winemaker Chip Forsythe, Owner of Rebel Coast Winery, who will be discussing the future of product development in the liquid edibles category of the cannabis industry at the upcoming Cannabis Drinks Expo in San Francisco in July 2019.

As Forsythe will explain to participants at the event, there are important historical parallels between now and the earlier period of Prohibition in America. Before the end of Prohibition, a mason jar of extremely strong moonshine - the kind of moonshine immortalized in Hollywood films about infamous bootleggers - was considered the highest and best form of alcohol. Since it was illegal to consume alcohol in public, those who went underground to buy and sell alcohol tended to favor stronger, higher-proof alcohol. But 85 years later, there is no longer demand for strong, higher-proof alcohol such as Everclear; instead, the demand for great-tasting alcohol made by artisanal distillers is what is driving much of the demand in the market today.

And, according to Forsythe, the trajectory of the cannabis drinks industry is likely to follow the same path after legalization. When recreational marijuana was illegal, people tended to buy high-dose THC marijuana. But with its legalization, there is no longer the need or desire for the strongest cannabis. Dispensaries now sell a wide variety of products with a wide variety of effects. And the important takeaway lesson says Forsythe, is that not everyone is looking for a 100mg drink that gets him or her stoned.

Instead, Forsythe points out, the trend is toward low-dose THC edibles, especially edibles in liquid form. That’s an important lesson for today’s product development leaders, who might be tempted to create THC-infused products with the highest dosage permissible under law. Consumers simply are not looking to get stoned anymore.

By way of experience, Forsythe points to his own experience at California-based Rebel Coast Winery, which he founded in 2012. Prior to the passage of Proposition 64 in California, his winery sold a line of Reckless Love wines made with grapes grown in Sonoma. But once cannabis became legalized, he shifted his focus to creating a cannabis-infused Sauvignon Blanc.

Cannabis Infused Cabernet Sauvignon BlancA lot of thinking went into crafting the perfect cannabis-infused Sauvignon Blanc, Forsythe notes. For one, it’s illegal in California to combine both alcohol and THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) in the same product, or even to sell both wine and cannabis in the same location. Thus, Rebel Coast Winery needed to come up with an innovative way to first remove the alcohol from the wine, and then to infuse that same wine with THC - all while preserving the aroma, taste, and flavor of the original wine. The end result was a wine with 20mg of THC per bottle (about 5mg per glass), high acidity, bright citrus flavor, and a crisp, clean finish.

The most important point was to create a wine that wouldn’t get people “stoned” after a glass or two. Thus, Rebel Coast Winery opted for a sativa strain of cannabis rather than indica. And the production process was specifically created so that a glass of wine would get you high, but not stoned. After a glass or two, you might start feeling happy, giggly or sunny - just the same as a glass of traditional wine helps to make people feel better. Drink too much, and the THC will definitely intoxicate you – just as if you decided to drink an entire bottle of wine by yourself.

Thus far, consumer reaction to the cannabis-infused Sauvignon Blanc has been even stronger than expected. Right now, for example, online sales of the wine are no longer available due to much higher than expected initial sales. That should be proof enough that consumers in today’s market are not looking to get stoned, they just want to get high. If you are looking for more insights into where product development is headed in the cannabis industry, you’ll want to meet Chip Forsythe in person at the 2019 Cannabis Drinks Expo.