It is no secret that celebrity sells. Cannabis is no exception. Think Tommy Chong, Willie Nelson, Snoop Dog, Jay and Silent Bob and Whoopi Goldberg and the advent of “luxury cannabis.”
“Luxury brands and luxury products are definitely a growing part of the cannabis industry,” John Hudak, author of “Marijuana: A Short History,” told Vice. “They're marketing to a group of people who are not traditionally seen as cannabis users, but who are willing or ready to get into the new legalization culture.”
But the most recent celebrity to join the fray may make the most sense: Francis Ford Coppola, the Academy Award-winning writer and director who popularized mob dramas with “The Godfather” trilogy and brought us the fever dreams of “Apocalypse Now.”
Coppola's vineyards have been producing award-winning wines for decades and are certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance (CSWA). The program verifies the winery's commitment to sustainability, meaning they focus on wine production practices and techniques to minimize their adverse environmental impacts. The brand has also joined Sonoma County Winegrowers' efforts toward becoming the nation's first 100 percent sustainable wine region by 2019.
This is to say that while the brand is undeniably part of the new celebrity melee, they have a history of caring as much about as the land as the bottom line. It is in the spirit of sustainable growing that Coppola created a new company called Sána, which is Sanskrit for marijuana, and rolled out the Grower's Series in December 2018 — a limited-edition package in collaboration with The Humboldt Brothers.
Coppola's described cannabis in a press release as “an ancient and bounteous gift of mother nature, linked by great care, terroir, and temperateness.”
When asked what compelled Coppola to move into the cannabis space, Kathleen Murphy, vice president of innovation and business development for The Family Coppola, the director's lifestyle business brand, told Weedmaps News, “Francis has always been a supporter of cannabis. It's been integral to his creative process. He wants to offer all kinds of delights, experiences, and enjoyments to consumers everywhere and that doesn't stop with just wine or resorts or magazines or movies … .”
From Papier-Mâché to Rolling Paper
In an effort to understand how the idea progressed from concept to collaboration, Weedmaps News asked Murphy for the lowdown.
“One day I received a little papier-mâché vessel with a lid that popped off and inside there were three little Ziploc baggies,” Murphy explained. “One said something like Mendocino, one said Trinity and another said Humboldt. 'This is what I want to do,' Francis told us. 'I want to make appellation-specific cannabis. I want to mirror what we're doing in the wine world, with cannabis.' ”
The resulting product is not far from this early prototype: a wine bottle made out of aluminum that unscrews a third of the way down from the neck. Inside, is everything needed to fire up your fun — organic rolling papers, a box of matches, a pipe, and three 1-gram baggies filled with Sour Diesel, Tangie and Blue Zkittlez. There is also a sheet explaining each strain's flavors, possible effects, and suggested activity pairings.
For Corey Beck, chief operating officer of The Family Coppola and someone whose own family farming history in The Valley goes back to the early 1900s, cannabis is a natural progression for the area's land use.
“Agriculture is a living organism with time and trends helping find its way,” he told Weedmaps News. “The wonderful thing is we are blessed with some of the best terroir and natural resources in the world so we will continue to define leadership for whatever agricultural crop our regions grow.”
“I think Humboldt County is going to be a premium flower growing region,” said Johnny Deim, CEO and co-founder of Humboldt Brothers. “And I believe it's going to keep a lot of families going for years to come.”
The F.F. Coppola Growers Series markets itself differently than other luxury cannabis players: with focuses on Napa, Sonoma, and Humboldt counties, rather than placing emphasis on Coppola. There is no imagery of Coppola on any of the packaging and most of the published interviews and articles about the Grower's Series defer to the Humboldt Brothers.
“When we met with the Coppola team and realized how focused Francis was on the terroir and beauty of Humboldt, it was really exciting,” Deim told Weedmaps News. “And I think that's reflected in the cannabis.”
On the Coppola team's end, the journey to find collaborators who shared their commitment to sustainable practices like water conservation, using recycled materials and building strong grower relations and who also “knew how to navigate PowerPoint and read a P&L [profit and loss] statement,” was a serious challenge, Murphy said. After what she called “a colorful few months” meeting growers, they happened upon the Humboldt Brothers one Halloween night and found their perfect pairing.
Testing and Pairing
Next was the goal of finding three distinct strains to offer consumers by way of showing how each one uniquely expressed itself. After assembling a tasting panel of veteran cannabis users as well as novices, they gave everyone a spreadsheet. The Coppola team, in tandem with the highly fortunate testers, tried 20 strains over a matter of months, taking notes on each strain's aromas, tastes, and sensations they awakened. They were tasked with pairing activities with each one, notating the results. Naturally, there were food and wine pairings, with all results collected and ranked.
“It was pretty remarkable how we all netted in the same space,” Murphy explained. “What we were looking for was a consensus on which ones most resembled sharing a bottle of wine with friends, which is why none of the strains' THC levels goes above 20 percent. We wanted people to be able to pass the joint or bowl around a few times, rather than hitting it once and being done.”
As the field of celebrity-backed luxury cannabis continues to grow, deciding whose products to try may as simple as going with whoever you dig the most. Certainly, some brands are capitalizing on the power of celebrity, jumping on what they see as a trend, but others, like Coppola, seem to be using their name to promote cannabis for growing and marketing thoughtfully.
“Humboldt County is the gem in the north,” Deim enthused. “It's one of the most beautiful places in California … it's the Napa Valley of weed!”