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Wine & Weed

First-ever event heralds new era.

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This past December, when the Wine Industry Network (WIN) held its annual tradeshow, the marketing and media company scheduled a one-hour session on cannabis legalization and its impact on the wine industry. "It was packed," says George Christie, WIN president. "It was the busiest workshop we've ever put on by far in five years."

Following that experience, Christie struck upon the idea of an all-day event dedicated to the subject. Thus the Weed & Wine Symposium was born. The event is Aug. 3 at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa. Tickets sold out long ago.

"There are just so many more questions then there are answers," says Christie (pictured) "I think that's what's really the impetus behind why it's so popular."

Here are my questions for Christie.

How did you design the format for the symposium?

The curriculum is geared for people in the wine industry who want to better understand what just happened [with legalization] and what the potential impacts and opportunities might be. Everything is built around that.

Has WIN taken an official position on cannabis?

It's too early [to take a position], but I will say that I believe strongly that if you've got an emergent industry like cannabis and you are going to be sharing the neighborhood with them, then it is in your best interest to know them as best you can and really understand their industry to the best of your ability. To do otherwise is just naïve and bad business.

What's the basis of wine-industry opposition to cannabis?

It's across the board depending on whom you're talking to. [It ranges from] competing for labor, water, warehouse and commercial space and land, to the morality piece. There's definitely still a stigma attached to who some people think the cannabis-industry people are. But I think it's really rooted in basic human nature and fear of the unknown.

What do you think the landscape will look like in five years?

I think five years from now you're going to see a lot of collaboration between these two industries. You're going to see wine and weed events. I think you're going to see, if not partnerships, then definitely strategic alliances.

I think it would be naïve to believe that there aren't going to be grape farmers out there who are going to dip their toe into the cannabis waters. If the realities kick in and they are able to make two, three, five or 10 times the amount of money per acre than they are able to make with grapes, I think you are going to see some growers diversify. I do not think were going to drive down Dry Creek Road and the vineyards are going to disappear. That's definitely not happening. But are we going to see little pockets of commercial grows? I think so.

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