Innovators

Infusing Wine Events with Cannabis

Jamie Evans is finding new ways to bring cannabis, wine, and food together in recreational and educational settings

Jamie Evans' wine and weed pairing
Photo courtesy of Jamie Evans.

Adult-use cannabis is now legal in nine U.S. states and Washington, D.C., and according to a report by BDS Analytics, based in Boulder, Colorado, legal pot sales are expected to grow from $9.7 billion in 2017 to a staggering $24.5 billion by 2021. While many have jumped into the cannabis business with branded buds and gourmet edibles, wine-savvy entrepreneurs in Northern California are hosting upscale wine-and-weed pairing dinners, as well as infusing wines with cannabis.

On the heels of a decade-long career in wine-related public relations, marketing, and hospitality, Jamie Evans is now educating consumers about weed through the lens of wine. Last year, she launched The Herb Somm, a blog and lifestyle brand she’s positioned as a “gourmet guide to cannabis.” Along with recipes and stories on chefs, the site features a wine-and-weed pairing guide and a primer on terpenes, the aroma- and flavor-producing compounds found in the essential oils of certain plants, including cannabis and grapes. Evans also hosts a series of monthly events called Thursday Infused, an educational showcase for local cannabis chefs, edibles, and wine.     

A Wine-Forward Approach to Cannabis Events

While Evans is not the first to incorporate wine into gourmet cannabis events, her approach is distinctly wine-forward, which has propelled her to the forefront of the movement. Wine is an integral part of everything she does, whether that’s tutorials on terpenes, sensory aroma and flavor pairings, or creating food-pairing menus.

Far from attracting a “stoner” audience, Evans’s events draw a crowd that’s well-versed in fine dining and wine experiences, although largely new to cannabis. “When I took my first sensory evaluation class for wine in college,” says Evans, “in the wine and viticulture program at Cal Poly [California Polytechnic State University], San Luis Obispo, I remember my teacher setting up an expansive aroma bar that contained different scents commonly found in wine. I loved this approach to learning, so I adapted it for cannabis terpene education.”

In the same way that wine educators might place vanilla beans or freshly cut grass in containers for students to smell and then look for connections in a glass of wine, Evans presents samples of different cannabis strains to help her guests understand aromatic similarities. For example, the Lemon Haze cannabis strain possesses the limonene terpene, which has noticeable citrus aromas, making it a good pairing with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Albariño.

Evans also uses wine as a model for cannabis sensory evaluation. “When people smell the two side by side, it’s like a lightbulb comes on,” she says. “Cannabis is a complex herb that has many layers of aromas. You must train your nose to identify certain terpenes, just like you train your nose for wine. This also opens the door for education about similar growing practices and terroir.”

SevenFifty for Importers

Tastings and dinners take the concept a step further. “After collaborating with a chef [on a dinner menu], I’ll select the wines to be featured with each course, highlighting a certain terpene profile,” she explains. “I put jars of cannabis on the table for people to smell with each course, bringing together both sensory and flavor components of food, wine, and cannabis.”

Some of the dishes served are lightly infused with cannabis—for example, pickled chile- and avocado-topped rice crackers with cannabis-infused coconut powder, or baklava made with infused honey. Others allow guests to dose their own dishes with infused olive oil, from bottles that are labeled with dosage information to help guests avoid overindulging.

While it’s not currently legal in California for cannabis and wine to be served simultaneously at public events, Evans stays compliant by hosting her events at private locations. She approaches these events just as she would an upscale winemaker dinner, with pricing to match. The cost typically ranges from $110 to $150 per guest. Thursday Infused events are designed to be more intimate than dinners, topping out at 34 guests, while dinners may number up to 85 people.

The goal of these events is not only to introduce people to the sophisticated side of cannabis but to end the stigma that surrounds weed by bringing it into familiar scenarios. “In my view,” Evans says, “cannabis is a very intellectual product that can benefit your life in so many ways,” including social, culinary, and wellness aspects.

New Wine and Cannabis Collaborations

Evans is currently expanding her reach by teaming up with others in her field to host cannabis and wine experiences, including one created specifically for women cannabis entrepreneurs with chef Coreen Carroll of San Francisco’s pop-up Cannaisseur Series. Carroll’s dinners typically feature lightly dosed appetizers, followed by noninfused dishes paired with curated cannabis that’s smoked or vaped between courses, and alcohol is only sometimes available at her events. In collaboration, Evans brought wine to the table.

Evans has also collaborated with TSO Sonoma (pronounced “so Sonoma”), which started out as an upscale brand of curated products made from organically farmed cannabis and expanded into hosting events at the end of 2017. Like Evans, TSO Sonoma founders Allison Kosta and Devika Maskey have wine industry backgrounds—Kosta as the former co-owner of Kosta Browne Winery, and Maskey (who was Evans’s college classmate) as the president of Ellipsis Wine Company.



Dubbed “TSO Elevated,” TSO Sonoma’s events are designed to incorporate cannabis into the “wine country experience” of fine food and wine and make it more approachable to high-end consumers. “It’s been a very organic transition,” Kosta says, “taking everything we know from the wine industry and applying it to the cannabis space.” Future events will include winemaker dinners and yoga wellness retreats.

Kosta and Maskey are also combining wine and cannabis more directly. This fall, TSO Sonoma will launch a cannabis-infused Pinot Meunier rosé. Because state regulations forbid infusing alcohol with pot, the product will contain THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis) but no alcohol. Each glass will have 2.5 mg of THC, formulated to be both odorless and flavorless.

TSO Sonoma joins Sonoma’s Rebel Coast Winery in the cannabis-infused wine space. Rebel Coast just launched its THC-enhanced, nonalcoholic Sauvignon Blanc in California dispensaries this summer, after months of regulatory delays (the winery had to relabel the wines three times because of changes in California law). Made from Sonoma County grapes, the wine retails for $59.99 a bottle. Another luxury brand, SAKA Wines, is set to launch next year; Kosta and Maskey are on the company’s advisory board. “I know a lot of winemakers have secretly been making cannabis-infused wines for years and years now,” Maskey says. “We’ve found a creative way to legally make a product, and we’re really excited to share it with the world.”

Evans is equally convinced that the wine and weed worlds are compatible. “I am a firm believer that cannabis, wine, and food belong together,” she says. “As cannabis use continues to evolve, I believe the wine and cannabis industries will become even more parallel. By observing the evolution of social consumption, opportunities for collaboration are on the horizon. I hope that one day we’ll see cannabis-infused restaurants with award-winning wine lists.”

Read our Q&A with Jamie Evans.

Tina Caputo is a writer based in Northern California who covers wine, beer, food, and travel. She was formerly the editor in chief of Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, and her work has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, Visit California, Sonoma magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications. She also produces the podcast Winemakers Drinking Beer.

Most Recent