I first read about the growing trend for some Californian winemakers to infuse certain cuvées with cannabis sometime last year, but I can't remember where. In fact, I tried to forget the whole thing; I was happy to scrub from my memory such whispered rumour and scandal. Then, a few days ago, The Drinks Business resurrected the story, timed no doubt to coincide with herbal enthusiasts the world over celebrating 4/20 (20/4 here in the UK).
For those in a rush, and not wanting to click on the link, the basic gist is that there are some winemakers in California who drop a pound of marijuana into a fermenting barrel of wine and leave it in there for anywhere up to about nine months. The first time I read about it, I thought it was a joke. Part of me still hopes it is.
First off, I'm not a prude. I would, were I in charge of the universe, legalise marijuana immediately and tax it heavily. I have, in my day, partaken of the magical herb. At one point, during my second year at university, I was probably one or two joints shy of permanently cladding myself in hemp hoodies, a silly wooly hat, combats, uneven facial hair, living on a commune and flipping a peace sign at passing pigeons. These days such events are more of a rarity, and usually result in me collapsing in bed well before everyone else.
So it isn't the cannabis part of cannabis-Cabernet blends that makes me shake my head in disbelief. It's not even the Cabernet part, though there are a fair few Californian Cabernets that have left me shaking my head in disbelief. It is the combination of two things that can only result in something far, far lesser than the sum of its parts. Why would you do that?
Actually, let's start with why you wouldn't do that.
First of all, marijuana tastes fucking awful. That's why people tend to smoke it. People who eat it bake it into chocolate brownies in an effort to mask the taste as much as possible. People who drink bong water sit so low on the evolutionary ladder that we can only hope they never procreate. Any time I encounter notes of dope in a drink I'm tasting (usually beer, usually if it's been hopped with a clumsy hand), it counts against it. It counts against it because it's unpleasant and awful. Apparently these wines wind up smelling like a college dorm or a Grateful Dead concert. Are you kidding me? Give me farmyard-y Burgundy any day.
Second of all, wine shouldn't taste fucking awful. So, you know, don't add something that tastes fucking awful to it.
Third of all, it's hard to make wine. It requires, especially at the top level, herculean effort. Nothing should go to waste. That includes wasting a barrel by dropping a pound of ganja in it.
Fourth of all, Californian Cabernet is potent enough as it is, nes pas?
Fifth of all, wouldn't Cabernet Franc, with its vegetal leafiness, be a better match than Cabernet Sauvignon?
So, why, then?
The only reason I can come up with is that it gets you really fucked up. And that shouldn't be a reason to make good wine. That's what we folks that make quality wine fight against, tooth and nail, is that what we make is just a means to an end. Of the roads to intoxication, this is the autobahn; our own, funky, reeking version of a speedball. And that leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.
Not quite as nasty as bong water, though. Don't ask.