It could be said that all legendary pairings started out as unlikely duos: peanut butter and jelly. Simon and Garfunkel. Miss Piggy and Kermit (never mind that Miss Piggy could do so much better). And presently, in the wake of cannabis’ new wave post-legalization, a new duo is making a bid for icon status: weed and wine.

Considering both substances date back to ancient times, it’s highly likely our ancestors were getting that crossfade on long, long ago. But for the first time, under new California regulations, weed and wine are getting to make their official public debut as a consumer couple.

But there’s a catch: In accordance with the parameters of Prop 64, which legalized the recreational use of cannabis in California in 2016, no product is legally allowed to combine alcohol and cannabis. So how does one create weed wine, exactly?

Navigating the tricky process of combining weed and wine(ish)

At present, the only producer of legal THC-infused wine that is available for public purchase is Rebel Coast. The company, which announced the launch of its first THC-infused wine at the end of 2017, acknowledges on its website that there’s a long-practiced, simple way to make weed wine: add flower part of the way through the fermentation process, strain it once it’s done, and voila: You’ve got some dank weed wine on your hands.

But if that all sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is: Bonafide weed wine has always been and continues to be highly illegal. Under the watchful eye of the government, the illicit weed wines of yore have been transfigured into something else entirely. To create a legally sanctioned THC-infused wine, first you must produce a traditional wine. Then, you strip it of its alcohol via reverse osmosis. Finally, you supplement it with a specified amount of THC.

Removing alcohol from a process intended to produce alcohol—all the while ensuring that it remains pleasurable to drink and the added THC adheres to strict testing regulations—has proven to be a challenge.

While there are a number of companies with forthcoming offerings, including Napa Valley-based CannaVines and House of Saka, Rebel Coast remains the sole supplier. And with a full-on winery currently being built in Northern California, in addition to production facilities in Desert Hot Springs, they’ve clearly got their eye on that green.

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

The two products Rebel Coast currently offers—a California blanc infused with sativa, and a rosé infused with an indica blend—are marketed in a very wine-like manner. They are sold in wine bottles with cork stoppers, for instance. And Rebel Coast’s promo video leans heavily on the idea that it’s very much like the wines you already know and love: “Imagine the crisp, refreshing citrus and white peach notes of a California white wine infused with mildly intoxicating effects of cannabis… We left behind the great taste and smell of a California white wine.”

“Removing the alcohol from a centuries-old beverage whose defining characteristic is alcohol—it begs the question: Is this really wine? Or is it needlessly complicated grape juice with THC added in?”

Rebel Coast’s marketing is adamant that this is indeed wine you’re drinking, as opposed to something more akin to the vast array of THC-infused drinkables already available. But considering the complicated process of reverse osmosis being utilized to remove the alcohol from a centuries-old beverage whose defining characteristic is alcohol, it begs the question: Is this really wine? Or is it needlessly complicated grape juice with THC added in?

We taste-tested a bottle of Rebel Coast’s California white with Steph Sloan, a sales rep for natural wine importer Fifi’s Import and a bartender at the buzzy Echo Park natural wine oasis Bar Bandini, for additional insight into THC wine’s potential as both the weed and wine industries continue to carve out niche markets.

“You just get hit with the weed”

It doesn’t take long to notice that there’s going to be a distinct difference in taste when drinking a THC wine versus a traditional wine. Uncork the bottle and the smell hits you in the face like Pepe Le Pew finally learned about consent and has been crushing the game ever since. But it also smells kinda like wine.

“It’s aromatic in some classic ways: tropical fruit notes, stone fruit,” notes Sloan, adding that the weed notes are equally if not more pronounced. But upon taking her first sip, Sloan registers some surprise: “It tastes like juice. And instead of the hot finish of alcohol, it has the aftertaste of… weed,” she says, laughing.

“Typically, when you’re drinking a glass of wine, you’ll have the longer finish of fruit, or maybe the finish even evolves into something else. And because the aromatics here are so big, it suggests it’s going to be a larger experience. But it falls off a cliff really quickly, and then you just get hit with the weed.”

“It doesn’t have much of that fermented quality,” she adds, noting that in this respect, it doesn’t really play like a traditional wine does. “But there’s more acid in here than just straight grape juice, which you could say helps it lean a little more toward wine.”

So is it wine, then, or just the stoner version of Welch’s? Sloan is hesitant to pass judgement. She is more convinced that while THC wines may appeal to those who are looking for a non-alcoholic alternative to wine or are just diehard cannabis fans, the process employed by Rebel Coast is out of step with the general ethos of the natural wine movement—which advocates for low or non-interventionist methods and allowing the wine to be a true expression of the fruit and terroir as much as possible.

THC vs. alcohol: Who’s the queen of chill?

It’s worth noting, of course, that the foremost selling point of THC wine is not its nuance on the palate, but in fact the THC. And in this respect, there’s no question as to whether it gets the job done. Originally, Rebel Coast produced wine that contained 20mg of THC per bottle, which means that a glass was roughly 5mg per—a relatively mellow (but effective for relative newbs) dosage. But each bottle now comes equipped with 40mg of the good stuff, meaning each glass dishes 10mg. Still a manageable dose, if it’s not your first weed rodeo, but more comparable to the recommended servings of many edibles on the market today.

But here’s the kicker: With edibles, the release of THC into the system happens during the digestive process, which is why it can take an hour, give or take, to feel the effects. THC wine functions very much like regular wine in terms of how quickly you can feel the spread of good vibes, and it’s absorbed by the body much more rapidly than edibles.

“About 20 minutes after having my first glass, I was relaxed, warm, and giggly, and it was clear that the effects would far outpace those of a normal glass of wine. A full hour after the fact, I was stoned. Like s-t-o-n-e-d.”

The effects of a single glass of traditional wine versus a single glass of THC wine are significant. About 20 minutes after having my first glass, I was relaxed, warm, and giggly, and it was clear that the effects would far outpace those of a normal glass of wine. A full hour after the fact, and I was stoned. Like, s-t-o-n-e-d. The kind of stoned where you laugh so hard you snort, and you remain blissfully convinced that it’s the cute kind of snort, as opposed to that one time you snort-laughed at a sushi restaurant and rice came out your nose.

The high was pretty persistent, too. As someone who partakes fairly regularly in THC as a sleep aid, I was surprised at just how buzzed I got. Which I suppose is a good thing, in terms of value; the list price for a bottle of Rebel Coast is $45, but after $15.53 in sales taxes, a $5 delivery fee, and a 20 percent tip for the delivery guy, the damage came to $72.08 for a bottle. And for the time being, this is the only method of obtaining THC wine at home.

Still, if it’s the high you’re after, THC wine seems like a bit of a tough sell. At roughly $18 per serving, it’s not exactly the most economical way to get your kicks (though to be fair, a glass of natural wine can often come to about the same if you’re at a bar or restaurant). It’s by no means a chore to drink a glass of the stuff, but it’s also a far cry from the out-and-out gulp-able nature of, say, a small-batch gamay pet nat from the Loire.

And while Rebel Coast makes much ado about the fact that their wines contain 45 calories a glass, as opposed to a standard glass of about 150 calories, the vastly different effects and taste seems to render that point moot (in addition to it being, y’know, kinda fat-shamey). The brand also boasts that it won’t give you a hangover, but as any cannabis user knows, overindulging in THC can come with its own drawbacks.

All of which is to say: I don’t really see a reason to splurge on THC wine when you could just get a nice bottle of wine and/or some nice cannabis.

Should the laws ever change so that cannabis can be introduced during the fermentation process, yielding a fully intact wine with THC properties, well, that’d be a different ballgame. But with only one producer officially in the market right now, it’s too early to tell whether the grass is really that green when it comes to the viability of weed wine as anything more than a novelty product.

By Deena Drewis

October 30, 2019

Deena is the founder of Nouvella, an award-winning, independent publishing company. She was a finalist for the WeWork Creator Awards in 2017, and a recipient of the Girlboss Foundation Grant in 2015. Previously, she worked as an editor at Girlboss.