Mendocino County growers plan pot appellations to promote Cannabis Country
Justin Calvino raked a hand beneath a shimmering marijuana plant, combing through chips of century-old apple trees and manure? from his stable of miniature horses.
Come fall, the rich soil on his North Mendocino coast pot farm coupled with other factors like characteristic foggy mornings will yield high-grade sativa buds dripping with mind-altering potency - as well as notes of chocolate and lime.
It’s a unique product for discriminating palates and one Calvino hopes to market to consumers across California through a legally defined and protected geographical identification system similar to what’s used in the wine industry.
The onetime Haight-Ashbury dope dealer is leading a movement to establish the nation’s first countywide cannabis appellations recognizing the region’s diverse topography, climate and weed-growing culture. The hope is it will cement Mendocino’s reputation as a premier growing region in a market that could be flooded with more generic weed.
“This isn’t your average wake-and-bake stuff,” said Calvino, 36, looking over his crop at the Albion Ridge homestead he shares with his wife and seven children. “It’s more of a dessert.
The effort comes on the eve of a historic November election in which voters will be asked to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use - 20 years after the state voted to approve medical marijuana.
Given approval, California’s current multibillion-dollar market is expected to explode, quickly dwarfing those in four other states where cannabis is now legally grown, sold and consumed.
Entrepreneurs are hoping to cash in, developing indoor megafarms across the state to fill the demand for potent strains with names such as Sour Diesel, Blue Dream and Ghost Train Haze.
But the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, or Proposition 64, also is mindful of the plight of farmers of small outdoor plots. The measure delays the issuance of licenses for five years to anyone planning to grow 1 acre of pot or more. And state regulators with the new Bureau of Marijuana Control will have broad discretion to discourage cultivation monopolies.
At the same time, Proposition 64, along with medical marijuana legislation enacted last year, opens the door to establishing county-level appellations, requiring cannabis labeled with any county to be grown there - just like with wine.
In addition to touting the Mendocino brand, Calvino proposes carving the sprawling county into 11 smaller zones he says produce pot with distinct variations in psychoactive strength, smell and taste.
The idea is to call out regional influences - known in the wine world as terroir - including the amount of sun and water plants get, soils and farming innovation passed from generation to generation dating back to the 1960s.
“Just like you have Anderson Valley pinot noir, you’d have Anderson Valley pineapple,” Calvino said, referring to a whimsically named strain of pot. “The pineapple grows the way it does because it enjoys the same regional and environmental effects as the wine.”
Exact boundaries and names are still being hammered out as some of the county’s estimated 700 marijuana farmers weigh in with a range of opinions. Calvino is meeting with groups and circulating a questionnaire seeking input.
But he’s got the general idea. The Mendocino Appellation Project divides the 130-mile coastline into separate northern and southern appellations while identifying nine inland regions from Piercy to Hopland. Mirroring the American Viticultural Area, Anderson and Potter valleys will get their own appellations. Others are unique to cannabis including Spyrock-Bell Springs, Covelo-Dos Rios, Long Valley-Branscomb-Leggett and Comptche.
A final map will be published by December in time for the annual Emerald Cup outdoor marijuana competition in Santa Rosa.
“It’s a really cool thing, especially from our perspective,” said longtime northern Mendocino County pot farmer Casey O’Neill, whose Strawberry OG would be included in the Spyrock appellation.
The higher-elevation zone with its hot days and low moisture is known for big plants, high THC content and a hard-to-define “chunky, dense” quality.
“It’s a very smooth and tasty product,” said O’Neill, a second-generation farmer.
California’s 50,000 pot growers have been eyeing appellations for years but have only recently made real progress.
It’s a way to develop brand recognition, similar to the way North Coast winemakers have built the Napa and Sonoma labels.
But it’s also a means to legitimizing a product that has been in the shadows of a nearly 80-year federal prohibition, bringing transparency about origin and growing conditions that isn’t often associated with buying weed on the street.