When Tom Rodrigues looks out the window at his Yorkville winery, he can see two worlds collide.
Some of the most coveted wines in the United States emerge from the vineyards of California’s North Coast. But in the hills overlooking his Mendocino County winery, and just to the north in California’s famed Emerald Triangle, another thriving crop is pulling millions of dollars into the region: cannabis.
Increasingly, these two worlds are bumping into each other as the state’s newly legalized cannabis industry steps out from the shadows and begins to vie openly with California’s long-established wine industry for workers, water, land and customers.
The two industries find themselves facing a common question: Are they competitors or collaborators?
The answer is complicated and depends on who you ask. Rodrigues, who straddles both worlds, sees a natural affinity between wine and weed. He farms 164 acres, devoted primarily to pinot noir, chardonnay and zinfandel. He also has used marijuana since the mid-1970s to treat glaucoma, and grows several cannabis plants for his personal use.
“Mendocino County has been growing cannabis longer than it has been known for wine,” said Rodrigues, owner of Maple Creek Winery. “Whether you like it or not, we got it here.”
He serves on the boards of Mendocino WineGrowers, a trade group for the county’s wine industry, and the Mendocino Cannabis Industry Association, which represents cannabis farmers and businesses.
Both industries seek to position their products as high-priced premium brands, not low-priced commodities, by emphasizing quality and a connection to the people and place that created them.
The region’s cannabis industry is copying many viticulture practices — from naming appellations to tracking crop tonnage — to help market its products in an increasingly crowded and competitive market for cannabis. A few local entrepreneurs are cautiously exploring business opportunities that would