SONOMA’S CANNABIS CUL­TURE GOES BOU­TIQUE.

San Francisco Chronicle - - FOOD + HOME - By Rebecca Flint Marx

On a Satur­day evening in late July, the smell of cannabis per­fumed the air of a sprawl­ing Rohn­ert Park of­fice park. A small fleet of Ger­man lux­ury ve­hi­cles and at least one As­ton Martin filled the park­ing lot, while a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher stood sta­tioned on a green car­pet out­side a lowslung, non­de­script build­ing, ready to im­mor­tal­ize the al­most 200 peo­ple who had paid $175 a head to at­tend the first-ever NorCal Can­naCui­sine Gala.

Out back in a small red­wood grove, a band called Moon­al­ice played “It’s 420 Some­where” as a young woman in a hemp plant-pat­terned leo­tard twirled lan­guidly around a strip­per’s pole and a crowd sipped non­al­co­holic cock­tails, each en­dowed with 2.5 mg of THC. Ja­cob Freep­ons, the founder of an Oak­land hemp juice con­cern called Kanna Botan­i­cals, doled out sam­ples of green juice. “It won’t get you high,” he said. “My daugh­ter drinks this, and she’s 3 years old.” He was in talks, he added, to sell his $10 bot­tles of green juice at Whole Foods. “Hemp is gonna find its legs,” Freep­ons said. “It’s gonna be huge.”

Sonoma is home to some 5,000 cannabis op­er­a­tors, but they have long ex­isted in the shad­ows of both the county’s wine in­dus­try and the mighty Emer­ald Tri­an­gle formed by Hum­boldt, Men­do­cino and Trin­ity coun­ties to the north.

But Sonoma is be­gin­ning to emerge as a cannabis scene in its own right, thanks in part to a strong com­mu­nity and a host of new and so­phis­ti­cated en­trepreneurs like those at the Can­naCui­sine party. There’s a par­tic­u­lar Sonoma vibe go­ing on, with prod­ucts mar­keted us­ing ter­mi­nol­ogy more com­monly ap­plied to food: or­ganic, clean, bio­dy­namic and great for pair­ing with wine.

The crowd set­tled in for a three-hour, three-course din­ner pre­pared by Jeff the 420 Chef. The Los An­ge­les chef was in­tro­duced by the gala’s or­ga­nizer, Elise McRoberts, as “the Ju­lia Child of weed.” Each of Jeff ’s cour­ses could be or­dered in­fused or cannabis-free; per­sonal pref­er­ences aside, McRoberts said, “We’re here cel­e­brat­ing cannabis while hon­or­ing ac­tivism.”

As wait­ers served mar­tini glasses of wa­ter­melon gaz­pa­cho, Steve DeAn­gelo, the co-founder of Oak­land’s Har­bour­side Health Cen­ter and one of the evening’s hon­orees, ad­dressed the crowd. “Sonoma County is the cra­dle of cannabis cul­ture, and we’re get­ting ready to ex­pe­ri­ence the emer­gence of this cul­ture that’s been un­der­ground,” he said. “Thank you for putting to­gether some­thing re­ally classy for cannabis to emerge in a so­cial space.”

“There’s a new wave of busi­nesses and farm­ers, and a pro­fes­sion­al­ism at the new fa­cil­i­ties,” said Erin Gore. Gore is the founder and pres­i­dent of Garden So­ci­ety, a year-old edi­bles com­pany whose low­dose confections are made with lo­cal, or­ganic in­gre­di­ents and bear the la­bel “chef in­spired”; the idea be­hind them, Gore said, is to cre­ate “an ap­proach­able way to cannabis that tastes de­li­cious.” Many of her prod­ucts are de­signed to ap­peal to women; she de­scribed her typ­i­cal cus­tomer as a mid­dle- to up­per-class well-trav­eled pro­fes­sional. “We’re try­ing to take a well­ness approach,” she said. “You have yoga and vi­ta­mins; cannabis is just an­other tool in the ar­se­nal to help you man­age the rig­ors of life.”

Gore was in­volved with both the Can­naCui­sine Gala, where she handed out sam­ples of her wares, and the El­lipses El­e­vated Evening, a cannabis-and­wine-pair­ing din­ner that took place at a pri­vate Alexan­der Val­ley vine­yard es­tate also in the sum­mer. The main point of that in­vi­ta­tion-only event, which was held a few days be­fore the Wine & Weed Sym­po­sium in Santa Rosa, was to in­tro­duce mem­bers of the wine and cannabis in­dus­tries to each other, says De­vika Maskey, one of the din­ner’s or­ga­niz­ers and the co-owner, with her hus­band, Jonathan, of the El­lipses Wine Com­pany.

“I have a lot of wine in­dus­try friends who were cu­ri­ous about the cannabis scene, and skep­ti­cal and ner­vous about how it would im­pact the in­dus­try,” Maskey said, “so we wanted to throw a so­cial event so peo­ple could get to know each other from both sides of the spec­trum.” Maskey, who is about to launch TSO Sonoma, her own cannabis brand, also wanted a chance to “show­case Sonoma,” she said. “Most peo­ple, when they think about cannabis, they think about Hum­boldt. We wanted to show Sonoma has great prod­ucts.”

And so for the din­ner, Maskey en­listed other cannabis com­pa­nies whose op­er­a­tors cre­ate what she called “clean, pure prod­ucts mar­keted at the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. ” In ad­di­tion to Gore, Ali­cia Rose, the

founder of Her­baBuena in Napa, was on hand to of­fer mi­cro-dose herbal elixirs and or­ganic, cer­ti­fied-bio­dy­namic flowers, while Sa­mual Edwards, the co-founder of AYA by Sonoma Cannabis Co., paired wines with his line of sus­tain­ably grown, nat­u­rally con­cen­trated cannabis nec­tars.

Although Maskey knows other peo­ple who are or­ga­niz­ing cannabis pair­ing din­ners, it re­mains illegal to hold them as pub­lic events on pub­lic prop­erty. “I don’t think we’ll be see­ing larger events for a while,” Maskey said. “But I think there’s de­mand for it be­cause peo­ple are just re­ally in­ter­ested in the pair­ing of ” cannabis and wine.

But here’s the rub: In a place all about its Sonoma-ness, there’s no easy path for a cannabis busi­ness try­ing to en­gage all Sonoma. Thanks to con­stantly chang­ing state and lo­cal reg­u­la­tions, the cost of per­mit­ting, and a re­cently im­ple­mented zon­ing law for­bid­ding com­mer­cial cannabis cul­ti­va­tion on large tracts of land out­side city lim­its, run­ning a cannabis busi­ness in Sonoma is fraught with chal­lenges.

An­nie Hol­man, the pro­pri­etor of Derby Bak­ery, a 3-yearold edi­bles com­pany, has con­sid­ered mov­ing her pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity to Sacra­mento be­cause of the dearth of avail­able per­mit­ted lo­ca­tions in the county. With tem­po­rary bans on cannabis ac­tiv­ity in cities like Rohn­ert Park, Sonoma and Pe­taluma, she isn’t con­vinced that the county is the new epi­cen­ter of cannabis cul­ture. “I would say it’s a satel­lite, maybe,” she said.

Still, she’s en­cour­aged by the cannabis com­mu­nity in the county and the ef­forts of the Sonoma County Grow­ers Al­liance, a Santa Rosa ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion. “All the peo­ple in this in­dus­try are awesome,” Hol­man said. “They’re in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive. All my friends are mak­ing edi­bles, but none of us are afraid to share in­for­ma­tion. It feels like there’s room for ev­ery­body.”

And for all the chal­lenges in the county, many op­er­a­tors see the made-in-Sonoma la­bel as a way to add value to their prod­ucts. Be­ing based in Sonoma, says AYA co-founder Edwards, is “re­ally at­trac­tive for our brand­ing and our ethos; our three main sell­ing points are that AYA is Sonoma-grown, it’s or­ganic, and it’s pes­ti­cide free.”

Edwards is a third-gen­er­a­tion Sono­man, as is his busi­ness part­ner. Although they nearly moved their com­pany to an­other county be­cause of tax is­sues and have spent many thou­sands of dol­lars to meet per­mit­ting re­quire­ments, they wouldn’t dream of liv­ing any­where else.

“We love it here,” Edwards said. “It’s awesome, there’s an amaz­ing grow­ing cli­mate, and Sonoma also hap­pens to be one of the first coun­ties in the state is­su­ing cannabis busi­ness li­censes. It’s the best of all worlds.”

Ali­cia Rose, clock­wise from above, the founder of cannabis com­pany Her­baBuena, with cannabis grown or­gan­i­cally at a part­ner farm in Se­bastopol; lla­mas and sheep at the bio­dy­namic farm; edi­bles from Derby Bak­ery in Sonoma County.

Pho­tos by Mason Trinca / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Derby Bak­ery

Mason Trinca / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Ryan Terre hangs mar­i­juana in the dry room at Her­baBuena’s part­ner farm in Se­bastopol. Her­baBuena of­fers mi­cro-dose herbal elixirs and or­gan­ics.

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