Can marijuana farms affect the aroma or taste of wine from neighboring vineyards?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Driving through Sonoma recently, I noticed the smell of marijuana in the air. Subsequently I was told that west Sonoma County is now being called “Cannabis County.” As I understand, this is where very delicious Pinot Noir is grown. Will the taste of marijuana invade the taste of wine in future years?

—Jai, San Francisco, Calif.

Dear Jai,

The legalization of marijuana is relatively new, so we’ve yet to really understand its impact on communities and the wine industry. The whole issue is very complicated—after all, marijuana is still federally illegal.

I have heard some stories here and there about farmers replacing small vineyards with marijuana farms (it’s a lucrative cash crop), but I’d be surprised if that became more widespread.

Why? It’s my understanding that cannabis actually does better in controlled growing environments like greenhouses. Regulating temperatures, light sources, humidity and CO2 allows cannabis farmers to produce perpetual harvests (outdoors, they’d be at the mercy of Mother Nature and only get one harvest per year). Greenhouses also provide better security and odor control.

But in Sonoma County and elsewhere, cannabis farmers are trying to figure out how to be good neighbors, and local governments are defining where cannabis cultivation, processing and sales can take place.

While you might smell marijuana in the air, I don't believe that growing marijuana next to a vineyard will affect the flavor of wine. We know the eucalyptol oil from eucalyptus trees in the vicinity of vineyards can attach to the waxy surface of grapes, particularly when leaves fall into grape bins. And we also know that wildfire smoke can impact the flavor and aroma of grapes. But marijuana plants aren’t tall trees dropping leaves, and the oil from marijuana is more difficult to extract. And wildfire smoke only influences grapes when it hangs heavily in the air for a suspended period of time, usually weeks; I don't think even Cheech & Chong could manage that. If you believe local lore, there have been rumors for years of winemakers who grow cannabis in or near their vineyards, without any anecdotal evidence of flavor impacting the grapes.

I don’t think there’s any reason to worry about west Sonoma losing its reputation as prime Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay!) country. But it will be interesting to see if and how the influence of cannabis changes the landscape.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny Cannabis

More In Dr. Vinny

What’s the best way to remove the cork from an imperial (a 6-liter bottle of wine)?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains best practices for opening—and serving—large-for…

May 16, 2022

Are wine tasting note descriptors listed in order of prominence?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains that wine tasting notes are not …

May 9, 2022

How can a wine taster distinguish between so many different types of "pepper" in a wine?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains where some pepper notes in wine …

May 2, 2022

Is it OK to bring a bottle of rosé to dinner at a restaurant?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains corkage etiquette and BYO Dos and Don'ts

Apr 25, 2022

Why don't most 1.5-liter wine bottles have a vintage date?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why many wines are non-vintage, especially …

Apr 18, 2022

Should I apply wax or plastic film to prevent wine corks from drying out?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert, Dr. Vinny, explains how to prevent your wine corks …

Apr 11, 2022