Terpenes & Tannins: Comparing Cannabis to Wine
In order to help put cannabis into a more relatable context, I'm going to use the analogy of producing wine, which is a more familiar process for many. Cannabis is very similar to vino – each variety has a unique name and an accompanying history. When selecting a bottle of wine, the label indicates the vineyard from which it was produced, the type of grape, the year it was produced, the alcohol percentage, and of course, the price. As cannabis has modernized, its labels now indicate the grower, type of strain, harvest date, THC percentage, CBD ratio, and price as well. These are all characteristics a consumer takes into consideration when deciding which bottle of wine or strain of cannabis to purchase. Lets walk through the process from start to finish.
Vineyard = Garden
There are thousands of vineyards in different climates around the world – each with their own (sometimes secret) unique set of cultivation and fermentation practices. In the cannabis world, gardens can be outdoor or indoor, soil or hydroponic, and are often referred to simply as 'grows'. Each master grower operates just like a vintner; they each employ a different growing, drying, trimming, and curing method based on all the dynamic factors that going into growing a living thing. The environment plays a critical role: temperature, light, nutrients, growing medium, water, etc. The next time you purchase cannabis, take the time to ask your caregiver or budtender if they know anything about the garden in which it was grown, the same way you'd inquire details from the sommelier. Some gardens are organic, while others may utilize harmful pesticides. It's an important distinction when selecting cannabis.
Type of Grape = Strain of Cannabis
There are at least 6,000 cultivated varieties of grapes – some are native to certain regions and others are hybrid grapes. As the name indicates, native species of grapes will only thrive in their certain climates and soils; thus began the process of creating hybrid grapes. In addition to increasing wine production in regions with poor climate or soil, hybrids were created to combat diseases, increase commercial production volume, and alter flavor profiles. Each grape varietal has a distinct flavor, aroma, and appearance.
Cannabis, like grapes, grows naturally on several different contents and countries – these indigenous strains are called landraces. Like the native species of wine, these strains will only grow in certain climates. Breeders began hybridizing cannabis for many of the same reasons as wine makers; climate tolerance, disease resistance, yield, potency, flavor, appearance, growth structure, and effect. Some dispensaries have coveted house strains; the same way vineyards blend grapes to make more unique flavor profiles.
Year of Production = Harvest Date
Year of production is important as it indicates how fresh or aged your bottle of wine is. Some bottles are intended to be consumed in the year they’re released, while others should be aged, or cellared, for years to achieve the desired flavor of the vintner. Wine that will not be consumed immediately should be stored in an environment-controlled mini-fridge, closet, or cellar to prevent spoilage.
The harvest date of cannabis is important for the same reason; it indicates when the plant was chopped down. Following the harvest, the plant is prepared for consumption. This will include drying, trimming, and curing the flowers produced by the cannabis plant. Curing cannabis is similar to cellaring wine; over time, the molecular structure (cannabinoid profile) changes, which creates distinctions in appearance, effect, smell, and taste. Just as the year 2001 California reds pale in comparison to the 2005's, cannabis gardens will have better and worse harvests. Growing top quality grapes or cannabis requires a great caretaker and the optimal climate. Cannabis should also be properly stored for maximum preservation; preferably a sealed mason jar or similar airtight container away from direct sunlight.
ABV% = THC%
Alcohol is the component that induces wine’s intoxicating effects. When selecting a bottle of wine, the label will indicate Alcohol by Volume, or ABV (usually expressed as a percentage). This helps consumers be mindful of the wine’s potency when choosing to indulge.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary chemical responsible for most of the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis. Legally purchased cannabis will include a label with a THC percentage by weight, also expressed as a percentage. This helps cannabis users identify how potent a specific strain is. THC percentages of dried cannabis buds can range anywhere from >1% to 25+%.
Liquor Store = Dispensary
The same factors that impact wine pricing also impact cannabis pricing (legal status excluded); supply, demand, branding, reputation, scarcity, production volume, quality, etc. This factor is largely preference based, but as a general rule of thumb, you get what you pay for – think ‘Two Buck Chuck’. A lot of us have that friend with great connections, you know, the one who's on the wine-deal email list and always wants you to jump in on the next big order? He's researching the vintner and the year. If you really want to learn how to buy the right cannabis, look past the dispensary (it's not the name of the liquor store that matters, but what they have in stock).
A capable budtender will know whether they wholesaled the strain from another grower or cultivated it in their own garden. As you try different strains from different dispensaries, keep track of what you smoked and who grew it to find strains that will work for you (like buying different wines from different liquor stores). Just like a there are dozens of California Cabernets from different vineyards, the Sour Diesel grown in one garden will vary slightly from another.
Learn to Pack a Pipe
The easiest way for most people to resume using cannabis or try it for the first time is a simple one hitter pipe.
Determining your favorite wines takes time and cannabis is no exception. Do not expect your cannabis preferences to manifest themselves overnight. You will likely have to try several strains and dispensaries before finding your favorite – it's part of the fun! Although the strain names are often times a little whacky (Super Silver Haze, Master Kush, etc.), they serve the same purpose as identifying the type of wine (Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.). There are a number of online resources for learning more about the background, effect, and aroma of specific strains. Did you know that some strains don't even get you 'high'?