Wine, Weed and Ale
A new day-long cannabis tour features the triple-whammy of cannabis, craft beer, and Cabernet in the green pastures of Sonoma County.
Legal marijuana has given California “marijuana tourism,” wherein visitors come to the Golden State simply to sample our world-famous kind bud. And with marijuana tourists, we now have marijuana tours that whisk you weed-lovers to points of interest across the Bay Area.
A Google or Yelp search directs you to a couple of cannabis walking tours in San Francisco, which visit various notable dispensaries or places of significance in our city’s rich marijuana history. But a new tour called the Sonoma County Experience slips the surly bonds of San Francisco and takes you to the glorious, ganja-growing regions up north, with a full-day itinerary that combines cannabis, craft beer, and wine tasting.
“Sonoma County is already well known for world-renowned wine,” Sonoma County Experience founder Jared Giammona tells SF Weekly. “It also has the microbrewery capital of the U.S., so overall it’s producing some of the best beer and wine there is.”
“It’s the perfect place to produce wine, beer, and cannabis agriculturally,” he says, explaining how Sonoma’s unique Mediterranean climate is well-suited to producing our three favorite legal intoxicants. ”Getting all three in one area is a luxury. Sonoma County’s proximity to San Francisco, and the fact that you can cover wine, beer, and cannabis on a one-day trip, is a great experience.”
SF Weekly embarked on the company’s Wine and Cannabis tour, a variation on the typical luxury wine country tour that rolls the marijuana industry into the mix. The tour does require waking up around 7 a.m. on a Saturday for an 8:45 departure time. But it also involves eight hours of frolic through Wine Country in a limousine van stocked with mimosas, the picturesque scenery of Sonoma County, and a delightful crash course in cannabis, craft beer, and wine.
“There are so many factors that come into play in wine and beer that people don’t realize apply to cannabis, too,” Giammona says. “Our mission is to help normalize cannabis by showing people the ins, outs, and similarities between other thriving industries in the area.”
The Sonoma County Experience offers your pick of three different tours — Cannabis, Craft Beer and Cannabis, or Wine and Cannabis. Depending on which tour you book, your day-long weed adventure may also visit Sonoma’s Larson Family Winery Wine, Petaluma’s 101 North Brewing company, or other tasting rooms and taprooms.
“All of the Sonoma County Experience tours have a similar model,” according to Giammona. “We’re taking you to wine country, craft breweries, and cannabis dispensaries and farms that will give you a taste of Sonoma County.”
“Depending on which tour you’re on, we’ll visit a variety of wineries, breweries, dispensaries, farms and extraction labs,” he says. “We want to make it as fun, comfortable and carefree for our guests, so we include all tastings in the fees.”
Indeed, those tastings have the potential to get you good and hammered in a lengthy session of daytime drinking. “Jeff Sessions or Steve Bannon, who would you do?” one of the intoxicated fellow tourists on our journey shouted. Thankfully, this excursion also includes plenty of snacks, water, and a hot lunch to soak up some of that booze.
Sonoma is not technically part of the famed “Emerald Triangle” of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties. But it has been a respected and distinct unofficial marijuana appellation for decades, just as wine grapes are classified according to their own geographic appellations. There’s a lot of overlap between farming Sonoma County wine grapes and cannabis — the seeds are planted in April or May, the plants are harvested in October, and similar soil and water techniques are used.
You might not know that Sonoma County’s largest city Santa Rosa was recently declared the “microbrew capital of the U. S.,” thanks in large part to the nearby Lagunitas Brewing Company (now part of Heineken, technically). The Craft Beer and Cannabis tour highlights how marijuana farming and microbrews employ many of the same approaches.
“With craft beer, the industrial process is very similar to producing cannabis products,” Giammona says. “The hops and barley are grown outside, then brought into an industrial space and manipulated to get the results the brewmaster is looking for. For extracts, the flower is typically grown outside, then brought into an industrial space and manipulated to what type of concentrate they’re looking to create.”
For a day of drinking and marijuana, the Sonoma County Experience gets extremely technical at some of its various stops and presentations. If you’re a cannabis science nerd, the high point of your tour will be a stop at the chic Sebastopol dispensary Solful, where they’ll break down the complex topics of endocannabinoids and terpenes.
The dispensary gives you a little keepsake reference book called The Solful Field Guide to Getting the Most Out of Cannabis that simplifies the science of schwag. Solful CEO and co-founder Eli Melrod tells SF Weekly, “I’ve even gone out to senior centers and given the presentation of this booklet.”
Giammona has expanded the tour to cover marijuana grows and extraction labs.
“The purpose behind this is to help people fully understand the seed-to-sale process,” he says. “We want our guests to be able to walk through farms, touch and take photos with the plants, and be exposed to an industry that has been stigmatized for a very long time.”
Those nuggets were just added to the Sonoma County Experience tour, because of that county’s evolving regulatory landscape. Sonoma County currently bans “events” at legal cultivation operations, but the county’s Cannabis Program just ruled that tour stops do not constitute events.
With marijuana farms now added, the Sonoma County Experience is a fantastic trip to some of the world finest cannabis, craft beer, and wine destinations that we so rarely visit even though they’re just an hour north of us. And you won’t just learn about this cannabis capital, you’ll help it directly. A portion of all Sonoma County Experience go to the United Way of Wine Country to help support the Northern California Wildfire victims.
The Sonoma County Experience, every Saturday, 8:45 a.m.-4:45 p.m., departing from San Francisco, $350; thesonomacountyexperience.com