For those looking for the ultimate cannabis adventure in the heart of the Emerald Triangle, Emerald Farm Tours is offering the coolest weekend itinerary to date in the heart of America’s most famous ganja-growing region.
The Taste, Sip and Smoke Tour is looking to be a fairly dynamic dive into the gastronomy, viniculture and cannabis culture of Mendocino County, California. Many of the world’s best cannabis cultivators and manufacturers call the county home and regularly travel South on 101 to show their wares and collect various Cannabis Cups, trophies and accolades to bring back to the hills with them.
This is the first time the county has officially backed a pot tourism getaway weekend. Emerald Farm Tours will also be partnering with full-sun pot distributor Flow Kana, Cannaisseur Series, and the Mushroom Feast Mendocino Festival that will hopefully take advantage of the first rains of the season that kick off winter mushroom picking season.
Those taking part in the three-day/two-night tour will head to the redwoods from San Francisco on November 1. That evening they will wine, dine and obviously smoke, with some of the premier legacy cultivators that have survived California’s robust regulatory process. They will also see the fruits of effort those farmers put in this past summer at Hopland’s Solar Living Center.
The evening will also feature a gourmet farm-to-table reception dinner and cannabis pairing prepared and curated by Cannaisseur Series founder, Chef Coreen Carroll.
It will not be bud exclusive. Saturday will feature a range of a-la-carte options during one of Mendo’s most popular destination weekends. Folks will be able to hit the craft beer festival or tour the redwoods, all while surrounded by the amazing fresh pot.
The University of California’s Hopland Extension will get in on the action on Sunday by hosting a tasting of region local olive oils before tour participants head south to be back in San Francisco in time for 4:20. They’ll actually drive by San Rafael High School, where 4:20 was started by The Waldos.
The weekend is essentially the beta test for Mendocino’s bubbling pot tourism industry. This kind of event had been a dream of many for years as the industry continued to move into the light, eventually leading to Proposition 64.
We spoke with Emerald Farm Tours founder Victor Pinho to get the tale of how the weekend came together and what folks can expect. [Full Disclosure: I’ve known Victor for 13 years. We were both members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and our local NORML chapters in college on the East Coast.]
Pinho had been eyeing this kind of tour for a bit, but he ran into roadblocks last summer as everyone was coping with the new regulations and fearful they could do something wrong by taking part in this kind of event. This year, Visit Mendocino ended up being one of the major backers of the effort to put the tour together.
“We wanted to launch something like this last summer, but due to the regulations and challenges we were facing as a new company with the uncertainty of Mendocino/Humboldt County we were never able to get it up and going,” Pinho told L.A. Weekly. “But this was the perfect opportunity if you will because it seemed like the county was ready for it and it was a ‘calling on us’ kind of thing.”
Pinho said Visit Mendocino’s executive director Travis Scott proved critical in getting the services lined up for the size of the group coming North for the tour, most importantly some boutique lodging in the middle of the redwoods to accommodate 30 people.
We just put it all together based on the moving parts,” Pinho said, “Travis and his team basically gave us all of the event tickets and connections that were going to be built in this tour, so we just made it happen.”
Pinho is especially excited to welcome people into the trip by meeting the cannabis community and farmers that are up there right off the bat. “They’re going to be getting a chance to rub elbows with some of those folks and really get to know them a bit,” he said.
We asked Pinho what it was like to have all the support from the county after the challenges he faced in the past.
“Everyone had really signed on to the opportunity well before they reached out to us,” he replied, “So this was kind of a plug-and-play situation for us and we got to do what we do best, which is creating these experiences and tours. We were welcomed with arms wide open by these providers, locations, and events that are participating in our tour.”
Pinho went on to speak on the fact this is essentially the test run for this kind of pot tourism in one of it’s most famed regions; it’s just another reason to work to represent the county and community to tour participants in the most accurate light possible.
“These are people with families. It’s an entire generation, multiple generations, that has been providing for America and providing for California. It’s now their time to come out of the woods and have their time to shine, have their time to meet the consumer that supports them,” Pinho said.
Over the past couple of years, Pinho received at least a weekly call from farmers looking to take part in this kind of opportunity.
“This is a test run to prove to all parties involved, not just ourselves and the county, that there is viability in this model. There is success, and at the end of the success it’s a positive outcome for the farmer, the county, for everyone involved including the consumer of this tour. This is just the beginning of sanctioned cannabis tourism models popping up in counties around the state.” he said.
Scott told L.A. Weekly that, from his perspective as the executive director of Visit Mendocino, the subject of cannabis tourism is still very much a hot button issue. He said the roots of the idea of sanctioned events came in 2017 when Visit Mendocino’s leadership took on the task of educating themselves about cannabis tourism as part of their strategic plan.
In 2018 the board of directors passed the issue off to the Mendocino County Promotional Alliance.
But as they worked together with MCPA and the board of supervisors, “Our board finally realized it really was our responsibility and we needed to help curate the conversation of how do we message this? What do we tell the world about cannabis tourism in Mendocino County?” Scott said.
In early summer the Visit Mendocino board reaccepted the assignment of cannabis tourism.
“Since then I have been heavily engaged in going to every meeting I can go to and learning everything that I can,” Scott said, “Basically, we believe the nuts and bolts is it’s going to be a really great thing for Mendocino County, we want to be on the forefront of it, and we want to do is try to help our cannabis partners develop their message and marketing.”
We asked Scott what it’s been like working with farmers who had spent decades trying to do the exact opposite of what he’s doing trying to get them the recognition they deserve.
“What I can say on that is, the farmers are working incredibly hard to get licensed, to get compliant with the county and state,” he replied, “What I don’t see yet is that they are ready to actually brand the message.”
Many farmers in Mendocino are white-labeling products for larger entities that have popped up in the era of legalization as opposed to attempting to brand it directly to their farm. This can be for various reasons. Sometimes the pot’s just not worth it. Sometimes farmers believe the time they would spend getting even more organized would take away from the time they are spending trying to grow the best pot possible.
We asked if that’s where Visit Mendocino came into the picture.
“That where we come in,” Scott replied, “We‘re waiting in the wings to help them do that when they get to that point. They’re still looking at how do we become ADA compliant? How does somebody get to our property with a dirt road?
Scott said those kinds of issues, the basics of doing business with tourists, is what farmers are working on. “They’re working really hard, it’s commendable” he reiterated.
Scott said essentially that they already had all the wagons in a circle before Emerald Farm Tours reached out. “We wanted to promote it, we are promoting it, and we’re hoping it’s successful.”
Scott hopes more things like this come Visit Mendocino’s way so they can keep promoting those who are organized and ready. “It’s really exciting for us to have put this out on the wire so to speak,” he said.
Flow Kana will be curating the Friday night festivities’ cannabis with some of the freshest wares. They’ll have three farms featuring some of the best pot of the moment (T.B.A., the cannabis still needs a bit of time to dry and cure).
Dr. Amanda Reiman helped lead the effort to legalize marijuana in California during her time with the Drug Policy Alliance, and has since moved to Mendocino to help farmers get organized as Flow Kana’s vice president of community development.
“We’re super excited Visit Mendocino approached us about having this dinner,” Reiman told L.A. Weekly, “It’s been something they’ve been considering for a few years, how is cannabis tourism going to fit in with their broader mission around tourism in Mendocino County? I think they are really starting to understand the potential here. People do want to come up here and they do want to see the farms.”
Along with that cannabis sightseeing, Reiman says people want to experience all the region has to offer.
“Working with a tour company like Victor’s to create these experiences that aren’t just a dispensary visit, but really get into the culture and community associated with the Emerald Triangle Is really the next step in cannabis tourism.”
Reiman admits that getting on a bus to go to a bunch of dispensaries is certainly one brand of cannabis tourism, “but coming up to Mendocino and having a four-course dinner, hiking and really enjoying that atmosphere is really where a lot of this tourism is headed.”
Reiman has dealt with policymakers around marijuana issues for years, so we asked what it was like seeing this one come together. “I was just excited they called,” she said with a laugh. The county wanted to talk about the mushroom festival and how they could incorporate cannabis.
“It’s much more than just cannabis and I think the county is realizing that,” Reiman said, “They’re seeing that cannabis can be a driver for people who want to come and experience the other beauty and interesting things that exist here in Mendocino.”
All-inclusive tickets for The Taste, Sip, and Smoke Tour are $599 for a single-occupancy ticket and $999 for two people in a shared room. Act fast on this first of its kind experience.