Dealcoholized wines made with cannabis are hitting dispensary shelves this fall, but producers must still contend with legal hurdles
Prehistory of Cannabis Wine
During the days of Prohibition, federal law decreed the production of alcohol to be illegal, but it was not illegal to consume it, so one of the ways drinkers could get their fix was by obtaining a prescription for medicinal use. Today, another medicinal substance—cannabis—stands on complicated legal ground, caught in the contradictory crosshairs of federal and state regulations, while on the brink of contributing to whole new categories of consumable products, including cannabis-infused wine.
In the race to capitalize on all the ways cannabis can be consumed, only a handful of companies have set their sights on cannabis-infused wine, and only a few, it seems, have been successful in actually bringing a product to market.
What is cannabis-infused wine, exactly? Of the few examples in the marketplace, each begins as an alcohol-based wine before being dealcoholized and blended with a CBD- or THC-infused emulsion.
Aaron Silverstein, the managing director of BevZero, a company based in Santa Rosa, California that’s focused on producing dealcoholized wine, beer, and other beverages, is at the forefront of assisting cannabis companies. Silverstein says that while the process of removing alcohol from wine has traditionally stripped away aromas and flavors, his company’s process “captures” the esters, thiols, terpenes, and pyrazines in a liquid that he calls “the pure essence of the original wine,” so that the new, nonalcoholic beverage “smells great and tastes as good as the original wine.” At that point, it’s primed for blending with the cannabis emulsion.
Many of the first cannabis wines produced in the past couple of years focused on infusions rather than blended emulsions. The two differ in that infusion requires cannabis plants to be submerged directly in wine—like making tea-—while emulsions are oil-based, water-soluble solutions that are more smoothly incorporated into other liquids, like wine. Infusions extract all kinds of terpenes, good and bad, and some of the first wines made this way exhibited pungent, off-putting, skunky pine flavors and aromas. New technologies have made it possible to strip away those unwanted flavors to produce aromaless and colorless THC- and CBD-rich emulsions.
One such cannabis emulsion is created in a laboratory by companies such as Vertosa (previously branded as Nanogen Labs), based in Oakland. Nanogen uses “nanoemulsion technology” to create tiny droplets of CBD- or THC-rich fluid that are stabilized so the emulsion doesn’t separate.
Such nanoemulsions are revolutionizing the food and beverage industry. They are “created by using energy to break up oil droplets into billions of smaller droplets and then using specially formulated solutions to encapsulate them while suspending them in water,” says Nanogen’s CEO, Ben Larson, “essentially redefining the relationship between oil and water.
“The small droplet size of a nanoemulsion formula provides greater advantages and wider benefits when compared with conventional colloidal systems [emulsions with larger particles that have a greater potential to separate],” Larson continues. These benefits include “long-term stability, high water compatibility, high optical clarity, and increased bioavailability.” In the last case, cannabis-infused wines derived from nanoemulsion blends are more efficiently absorbed and processed by the body than edible forms of cannabis.
Understanding the Intoxicating Effects of Cannabis Wine
Evans, whose lifestyle book on CBD will be published in Spring 2020 by Fair Winds Press, says, “Cannabis is a botanical medicine, and it really does affect people in different ways. It’s critical for brands to know exactly who their consumer is so they can tailor the dosage levels for the right audience.”
Evans believes that micro-dosage drinks are likely the future of cannabis-based beverages. “If you’re having a drink with maybe 1 mg of THC,” she says, “that is a low dose and super approachable for beginners.” She admits, though, that a low dose isn’t for everyone. “I’ve met users who needed 30 mg of THC to feel the effects,” she says. “It all depends on [each person’s] endocannabinoid system—the cannabinoid receptors in the body. [For instance,] I don’t need as much THC as my husband, who requires a higher dose, so it depends on your body and your metabolism.”
A handful of startups are hoping cannabis-infused beverages become a trend. But while other CBD purveyors have leaned more heavily toward fizzy drinks, these producers are reaching for the brass ring with the development of “cannabis wine.”
A wine-like product, these THC- and CBD-infused concotions are made with wine grapes sourced from reputed regions, including California’s Sonoma County and Napa Valley. But instead of getting a buzz from alcohol, the sensation stems from the addition of a water-soluble cannabis mixture added to dealcoholized wine. And like real wine, you’ll feel the effects in a matter of minutes.
What Is Weed Wine?
When you think of wine you’re most likely thinking of the bottles you buy from the store that are made out of various fruits. You might be surprised to learn that weed wine is actually pretty close to your traditional bottle of wine.
Wines made with weed are made from grapes and then infused with weed. There are many ways to infuse weed into wine from cold in-barrell processes to putting the concoction in a plastic jug.
No matter what the method is the idea here is to infuse the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant itself into the wine mixture. If you think of how herbs can be infused into wine (such as mint and thyme to name a few) it’s the same age-old process.
Even though the process seems simple there is a lot of planning that goes into each bottle. Just like master winemakers choose each grape they bottle carefully winemakers that infuse their vint with weed choose each strand carefully.
Lighter wines such as moscatos will have sativa strands that are fruity and have citrus-heavy terpenes. On the other side of the spectrum, heavier wines such as merlots will have pungent and bold indicas.
How to Make Your Very Own Cannabis Wine
Now that you have a better understanding of what marijuana wine is you’re probably ready to get fermenting. Below we have listed out the steps to creating the perfect wine at home.
Using a Wine Making Kit: Infusing Wine you Already Have
Step 1: Have the Right Tools Ready
As we have noted above there are a few ways that you can go about making your wine infused with weed. We have found that the simplest way to do so is to have the following items on hand:
- 1/8 to 1/4 ounce of high-grade cannabis’
- Wine of your choice
- Coffee grinder (or herb grinder)
- Punch bowl (or a pot will do)
Now you’ve may have already noticed that we aren’t going ahead and making our own wine from scratch. We are going to be showing you a simple way to infuse store-bought wine but if you have a vint that you bottled a few years ago made by yourself, by all means, go ahead and use it.
Now when it comes to selecting the wine of your choice make sure you are thinking about what weed you’ll be infusing into it. Remember that bold and robust wines work best with bold indicas and lighter, sweeter wines work well with fruity sativas. It is noted that dryer wines will have a more effective infusion than lighter wines.
Step 2: Weed Activation
After gathering all your ingredients you will need to activate your weed. You can skip this step if you buy activated marijuana oil from your local dispensary.
To activate your weed you will need to use the process of decarboxylation. Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that happens within the weed bud when heated up. Once your weed is properly heated the tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) will be activated.
To properly activated your buds go ahead and line your pan with foil. Layout your weed into an even layer, making sure they don’t overlap. Next, break your buds into small pieces by pressing a glass over them.
When your buds are broken into tiny pieces shake the pan a few times to ensure they are not laying on top of one another. Cover your broken pieces with another piece of foil to help mask some of the aromas. Lastly, throw them into a 230-degree oven for 110 minutes.
This may seem like a long process but this low and slow method was proven to have the best results in a scientific study. It’s good to note that this process is fragrant and will make your home aromatic.
After your weed is done baking it’s time to pull the pan out and let it cool. When you remove the top layer of foil take note on how your weed looks.
It should be less green and dryer than when you popped it into the oven. If it has this appearance then this means decarboxylation has happened properly and it’s ready to be infused into your wine.
Step 3: Time to Steep
After letting your weed cool completely you will then need to grind it up into fine pieces. We use a coffee grinder since it gets the job done fast but your herb grinder will work just as well. If you have neither on hand don’t fret, a motor and pestle will do the job.
Keep in mind when grinding your weed that it is more brittle than fresh flower. With this said, make sure you don’t crush it into a fine powder.
Now that you’ve ground your weed down into tiny pieces it’s time to grab that cheesecloth. Place the weed into the center of the cloth and bring the corners together, tieing them tight so they are secure.
Make sure you don’t overstuff your little bags. If you do then pieces of weed will fall out into your wine and will have to be strained out of the final product.
If you find that you ground your weed too fine don’t worry. Just use multiple layers of cheesecloth to help ensure that the herb won’t fall out into the liquid.
Pop or twist the top off of your wine and pour it into your bowl or pot. Now place your weed baggies into the mixture, covering the pot with plastic wrap when finished.
Pop the pot into the fridge for anywhere between 24 to 48 hours. Make sure to stir the mixture occasionally to ensure that any settled herb on the bottom is disrupted.
Step 4: Enjoy
After letting the pot chill in the fridge for a day or two it’s now time to take it out and serve. Pull out your weed bags and make sure to squeeze them to get any excess liquid out.
Before serving make sure to strain the liquid to get rid of any excess pieces that may have fallen out of the cheesecloth baggies. To do this you can use any leftover cheesecloth or even a sieve to get the job done.
Now it’s time to serve up your wine infused with marijuana and to enjoy. Keep in mind that drinking weed can be a potent experience.