Imagine a Napa Valley wine region as famous for its fine wine as it is for its quality cannabis. To some, this may seem highly unlikely. For others, it’s just a matter of time. Stephanie Honig, Partner at Napa Valley’s Honig Wine Estate, and co-founder of Yolo Brand Group, a cannabis branding and marketing agency, is part of the latter group. Honig is also president of the Napa Valley Cannabis Association and founding board member of the Cannabis Media Council.
As someone who has worked in the wine and spirits industry for more than 25 years, Honig had limited exposure to cannabis until the passage of Prop 64 in California. Comparing this to the end of Prohibition in 1933, she quickly became interested in how she could get involved in the legal cannabis industry.
“A friend of mine founded a vertically integrated cannabis company shortly after Proposition 64 passed in the state of California,” she explains. “I was fascinated by the transition from an underground and illegal industry to a legal and regulated market. It was like the end of liquor prohibition in 1933, all over again.
Honig also saw her mentor, who she says was like a second father, manage her pain and improve her quality of life as a war veteran through cannabis use. “I never understood why such a widely used and beneficial plant would be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, not tested, controlled or regulated and readily available to consumers,” she continues. “We are facing the end of Prohibition, which creates a tremendous opportunity to participate in the transition from the underground industry to the regulated industry.”
Napa Valley is a rich agricultural region that produces some of the best wines in the world. That said, Napa produces just 4% of the wine produced in the state of California, while generating more than a third of the revenue for the California wine industry.
“Our goal is for Napa Cannabis to follow a similar model and provide locals and visitors with the best cannabis they can find, which will only add to their experiences with Napa wines, Napa restaurants, and our beautiful valley.” , explains Honig. “Our terroir, our long growing seasons, our cool nights that allow us to grow some of the best grapes in the world are also beneficial for cannabis and cultivate the best expression of the plant.”
With the rise of cannabis-infused gastronomy, high-end cannabis products and curated high-level experiences for those who seek them, it seems only a matter of time before destinations traditionally conservatives, like Napa Valley, are joining the movement.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, clandestine cannabis diners started gaining popularity years ago, and more recently, high-end properties are joining the industry. One example being Berkley’s luxury property, Claremont Club & Spa’s Limewood Restaurant performed its first dinner at home with food and weed earlier this year in partnership with Cultivating Spirits.
While cannabis edible experiences aren’t new to the Bay Area, the way they’re produced and preserved is as varied as the strains themselves.
Cultivating Spirits, which has collaborated separately with Chef Joseph L. Pairee III of Limewood Restaurant on their Enlighten Dinner series, hosts cannabis pairing dinners where they select the perfect cannabis strain to enhance your menu’s flavor profiles. . However, unlike infused dinners, this is done by smoking and not by infusing dishes.
Currently, forty states have some form of legal cannabis, and it looks like the industry isn’t going away anytime soon.
We sat down with Stephanie Honig to discuss where she sees the industry going; what are its obstacles; how hospitality and catering relate to all of this, and more. Here’s what she had to say.
What excites you the most about the industry and where do you see it heading in the next few years, particularly in terms of restoration?
I will be delighted the day when legal cannabis operators dominate the market. Excessively stringent regulation, taxation and lack of banking security create a very difficult environment for legal operators to compete with the illicit market.
Since counties and cities are empowered to issue licenses for cannabis-related activities, distribution points (licensed dispensaries) are extremely limited. This creates a disadvantage for consumers who have to work harder to find a product they like. It is also extremely difficult for legal cannabis brands to compete for the limited storage space available.
One day, cannabis products will be sold in mainstream retail and grocery stores, the same way alcohol is sold. Consumers shouldn’t be restricted from accessing what they want.
Napa Valley is known for its alluring lifestyle that encompasses wine, dining, farming and more. Several world-renowned chefs work closely with the Napa Valley Cannabis Association to create cannabis culinary experiences. The events are intended to showcase cannabinoids throughout the meal in the form of sauces and condiments. Some of these cannabinoids are non-psychoactive, which helps balance and prevent overdose.
Once Napa begins growing its own cannabis, the area will become a destination for these elevated experiences. Just like in the luxury wine market, the luxury cannabis market will depend on its authenticity, appellation and sense of place.
What are some of your main goals to accomplish within the industry?
I co-founded an agency called “Yolo Brand Group”. Yolo’s primary mission is to market and provide legal, safe and tested cannabis products to existing communities that currently consume cannabis from the illicit market. We work and market strains and product types that serve these communities. We also help non-cannabis operators to enter the cannabis industry.
I previously founded a cannabis consulting company called “8 of March” whose mission is to elevate women-led businesses in male-dominated industries such as cannabis and
alcoholic beverages. We worked with a leading wine and spirits wholesaler to develop and execute their go-to-market strategy with hemp-derived CBD beverages and cannabis products.
In addition, I am a founding member of the board of directors of Cannabis Media Council. CMC is the first business consultancy dedicated to using the power of mainstream media to enhance advertising campaigns that show positive experiences with cannabis in order to normalize and de-stigmatize the plant.
Talk about the place of cannabis in Napa Valley, why should this particular industry thrive here? Why Napa? Why now?
Visitors to Napa Valley are primarily baby boomers and Gen Xers. This is partly due to their income levels, but also to consumer trends among Millennials and Gen Zers. offer a diversity of experiences. They also drink less alcohol and incorporate cannabis as a wellness product into their lifestyle.
If some hadn’t had the vision of Napa Valley in the 60s and 70s, we would still be growing prunes and nuts. Someone has to have the foresight of the future of 30 years and as a parent of 4 children, winemaker and landowner, I care deeply about the future of Napa.
Additionally, the illicit cannabis market leads to issues such as; consumption by young people, crime, chemicals used in agriculture which are both detrimental to the health of consumers and to the environment. Those who oppose these challenges should actually be in favor of a legal market and treat it like alcohol and other regulated products.
How is cannabis related to Napa’s hospitality and dining scene?
There are currently 7 licensed cannabis dispensaries in the city of Napa. Hotel concierges direct curious customers to these businesses. Our visitors regularly seek out these experiences.
The Napa Valley Cannabis Association is currently developing a training program for frontline hospitality workers on how to identify and treat intoxicated customers, just as they have learned to do with alcohol. . It is very important for everyone’s safety that they have these tools.
Our visitors consume cannabis throughout their tastings and meals, which in many cases heightens their experiences. Once we incorporate Napa-grown cannabis into our offerings and participate in premium cannabis consumer shows, we will create remarkable interest.
How will cannabis evolve for people in terms of consumption via edibles or pairings vs smoking?
Currently, the current cannabis consumer driving the market is vaping and smoking. However, once the mainstream consumer becomes familiar with the benefits and cannabis products become more accessible, we will see a dramatic shift towards edibles and beverages. I believe that in less than a decade, beverages could represent around 50% of the cannabis industry.
Do you see any challenges in the burgeoning infused dining experience scene?
I see the same challenges we have with wine experiences that ensure the consumer is safe, over 21, and not overserved.
There is also a learning curve for the consumer in understanding how certain strains and doses impact their body. This is when training and the art of micro-dosing is most relevant.
There is still some stigma around the plant among some groups. This transition is only a matter of time. Napa Valley is known for its leadership, agriculture, quality and innovation. I have no doubt that we will catch up with the market and be the best for cannabis, just as we are for wine.