Chip Forsythe and Alex Howe are rebels with a cause.
Forsythe came to California on a wrestling scholarship with a clear-cut path ahead (but mainly just to meet girls). After spending a weekend in Santa Barbara wine country on a party bus getting drunk and making out with 17 girls, he decided the vineyard was the only place for him. He changed his major to wine and viticulture and spent the next five years living out of a van, working in vineyards and wineries. He met Howe on a whitewater rafting trip. They started Rebel Coast Winery, and it's been a crazy ride ever since.
Their wines "are deeply rooted in societal rebellion, audacious love stories and watered down with the passion and lust of the entire Rebel Coast crew." There's Reckless Love, which is a Sonoma cabernet; Lost by Choice, a California red blend; and Sunday Funday, a chardonnay.
But their latest vintage is getting the most buzz: Rebel Coast's is the world's first tetrahydrocannabinol-infused sauvignon blanc. The rebels promise no alcohol, no hangover and, best of all, only 35 calories per glass.
"The process is pretty simple," Howe explains. "The wine is made traditionally with fermented grapes. Then we remove the alcohol by reverse osmosis through a still, similar to any other alcohol-free wine. Then we take 16 milligrams of a water-soluble version of organic THC from marijuana and infuse it with the alcohol-removed wine solution." Legally you can't have wine and THC in the same product.
Rebel Coast tastes slightly of cannabis, but the goal is to make it a premium bottle of sauvignon blanc.
"It's a very herbaceous, citrusy, grassy varietal. That's why we picked sauvignon blanc. Those notes are often the same to describe cannabis. They went together really well. It pairs great with fish, chicken and lighter meats," Howe says. "We're really trying to mimic the ritual of drinking a bottle of wine."
Forsythe says, "It's the perfect match for my chicken with rosemary and lemon pepper."
At 4 milligrams per glass, the wine's THC has a quick onset and a uniform result, as opposed to other edibles, which can take an hour to have an effect, leading over-ingestion. The effect comes on in seven to eight minutes, similar to a regular glass of wine. The first glass will have the same effect as the last glass.
Don't expect to see Rebel Coast on L.A. menus in the near future. Social consumption licenses, which would allow restaurants, bars and lounges to serve cannabis, are still being sorted out and are strictly regulated. They have been granted to a handful of West Hollywood venues, which likely will mean separate rooms where cannabis is served. It'll be a while before your waiter can serve you a joint and a beer.
State and local taxes on legal marijuana growers, retailers and manufacturers change this week and could surpass as much as 45 percent. This will likely cause sticker shock for some pot product users.
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Chiara Shannon, a sommelier in South Pasadena, thinks the $60 price tag of Rebel Coast is a little steep. "Weed-infused wine is not something our customers are requesting yet at Mission Wines," she says. "I think the $60-per-bottle retail is high for sauvignon blanc, domestic or imported. At that price, you are competing with top sauv blancs on the market and double or triple the price of most very good ones. ... I can buy three great bottles of sauvignon blanc for that price."
Cannabis industry regulations are being finalized, but Rebel Coast's sauvignon blanc is expected to be available in L.A. dispensaries in time for Valentine's Day.
Rebel Coast Winery has plans for other varietals including a rosé, a sparkling wine and a red to come out in 2018. Pre-orders can be made now on the company's website, rebelcoast.com.
[Editor's note: This story originally misspelled the last name of Alex Howe. We regret the error.]