SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, California – Two agricultural crops on the Central Coast are still trying to find common ground.
Deep divisions remain between the established, decades-old grape-growing industry and the burgeoning cannabis business that has taken root. The multi-million dollar companies are learning to grow together side by side.
Grape grower Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management in northern Santa Barbara County grows grapes for multiple labels. He says the problem lies in the way cannabis is grown.
“It’s openly grown cannabis that is a problem for winemakers like us,” Merrill said. “For example, the Farm Bureau’s stance is that cannabis should be grown indoors, then you don’t have to worry about drift falling on it, they do that in other counties – they do that in Ventura County. The smell is the other issue that people deal with. “
Merrill’s company has grown grapes in the area since the 1970s. He says the business is constantly evolving and the challenge now is to find a way for the two industries to coexist.
“Not everyone is okay with or comfortable with cannabis, and that’s fine,” said Teddy Cabugos of Sunstone Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Sunstone Winery was one of the first local wineries to introduce legal cannabis cultivation.
“This is a new industry. It is new to a lot of people and so I have to be sensitive to this fact, ”said Cabugos. “Next year we will convert a very small part of the acreage of our grapes into cannabis and thus diversify – not just the land – but the product, change over time, the coming generations and really look to the future.”
Merrill and his fellow Central Coast winemakers have grown grapes for decades that are now some of the finest in the industry. He knows cannabis will stay here.
He says winemakers and legal cannabis growers in different growing areas can work side by side in many cases. But he says it has to be a “one-way street”.
“This is what winegrowers are looking for. How can cannabis growers work with the grower next door to ensure they can keep growing the grapes they grew for many years before they hit the market, ”said Merrill.
Cabugos said the biggest challenge will be to fill the generation gap so the industry can reach its full potential.
“I think the younger generations are all or most of them okay with cannabis or either using cannabis or some type of product,” Cabugos said. “It’s going to take a while, especially in this county, but I believe that in five years after all this talk and everything figured out, maybe with all this federal stuff, California will be the king of this industry, what the.” Production, and on top of that, it will be Santa Barbara County.“