Wednesday, February 8, 2023     Volume: 23, Issue: 49

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 11th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 29 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 29

Farm groups hold first cannabis, wine panel to promote tourism

By Zac Ezzone

Despite the tension between the wine and cannabis industries in some parts of Santa Barbara County, the two share many similarities, from their customer bases to regulatory burdens. 

Two farm groups and a few vintners held a panel discussion to identify ways the wine and weed industries can work together in Santa Barbara County.

More than 100 vintners, farmers, and interested residents packed the event space at Industrial Eats in Buellton on Sept. 11 to discuss these similarities and how they can be used to benefit both industries and tourism within the county. Cannabis groups—the North County Farmers Guild and Good Farmers Great Neighbors—and a few local vintners sponsored the event.

The panel discussion took place the same week that the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission was scheduled to continue hearings for two appeals filed by a winemaker against cannabis cultivation projects in Buellton. In numerous public meetings, Blair Pence—who filed both appeals—and a few other local winemakers and farmers have raised concerns about cannabis not being compatible with other crops grown in the county.

During the Sept. 11 event, the panelists discussed the validity of some of these compatibility issues, and ways to overcome them, but overall the conversation struck a positive tone about how the two industries can work together. 

Cannabis farmer Sara Rotman led the panel and kicked off the conversation by recounting discussions she’s had with local winemakers about the similarities between their products.

“Like with wine, the end product of cannabis is vastly different than what we harvest in the field,” Rotman said. “There are many layers of artistry and science between harvest and customer, necessary to coax out the nuance of our final product.”

Aside from the way the products are produced, the overlap between the two industries’ customer bases creates the potential for joint tourism ventures in Santa Barbara County, said Jennifer Zacharias, a public relations expert with experience in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries. Cannabis farmer John De Friel said that statewide market data his company has examined backs up this idea.

“We have access to an immense amount of market data and … one thing that’s abundantly clear is a lot of the people that consume our products, they don’t just consume our products, they go home at night, they crack a bottle of wine, have a glass of wine, and they hit a vape pen or they smoke a joint,” De Friel said.

While these customers could create the potential for shared tourism experiences, wine grape grower Steve Pepe said county regulations are an impediment to growing this effort. He said the county doesn’t embrace itself as a wine destination the same way Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County does.

Some decisions by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors have exacerbated these challenges, Pepe said. He specifically pointed to the county’s decision in 2017 to prohibit short-term rentals as a major issue. Additionally, he said, county regulations don’t allow for restaurants on vineyard property, while Paso Robles does.

“If we’re going to talk tourism, we’ve got to talk about serious reform with the county’s attitude on tourism,” Pepe said.

The panel participants discussed why there’s a sense of urgency to act on the momentum swelling in Santa Barbara County sooner than later.

Groups in other places, such as Sonoma County, are already effectively promoting cannabis and wine tourism ventures. The Sonoma County-based Wine Industry Network held its third annual Wine and Weed Symposium in August. There are also tour companies such as The Sonoma County Experience that offer customers combined wine and cannabis excursions.

One idea the panel discussed as a way to potentially drum up support for the cannabis tourism industry in Santa Barbara County is to focus on the soil from which it grows. Winemaker Wes Hagen said that akin to the Santa Rita Hills’ designation as an American Viticulture Area, maybe there’s a possibility to explore a similar designation for the cannabis industry. He said based on what he’s learned from touring local cannabis farms, the properties in the soil that benefit wine grapes also benefit cannabis plants.

“[Santa Barbara County should] lead the charge to show our dirt, our sunshine, and our environment is not only conducive to growing some of the best cool-climate grape varietals on the planet … but to say, ‘What can our dirt and our sunshine do to make us famous in another industry and bring more people and more money in?’” Hagen said.

Although some cannabis farmers and winemakers are looking at ways to work together, there are some neighbor-to-neighbor issues that need to be addressed. Chief among them are the concerns about the odor cannabis farming emits, pesticide spray wafting over from other farms onto cannabis plants, and cannabis terpenes’ potential to affect the taste of wine grapes. 

Pepe said the concerns about spray shouldn’t be an issue because it’s a common farm practice that’s been used for decades. Additionally, concerns over terpenes, so far, aren’t backed up by science. However, Rotman said there are studies in the works to determine whether these organic compounds released by cannabis plants actually affect grapes. 

“The notion of science-based information so that we really can work from hard, defensible scientific facts rather than conjecture to address the issue of potential odor or any of those other things,” Rotman said. “And I think we certainly all advocate for that, and I know there are studies that are underway to help us sort through those things.” 

Reach Staff Writer Zac Ezzone at

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