CA: Wine Veteran Hopes To Elevate Cannabis With Wine And Food Pairings

Photo Credit: Mason Trinca

At a February dinner party in San Francisco, the classic wine-pairing dinner got an upgrade. The theme was “herbal romance,” and the love affair was squarely with cannabis.

The venue evoked a speakeasy, with a “secret” second-story room entered through an alley in lower Nob Hill — although now, with Prohibition over, both wine and weed flowed freely.

That’s thanks in part to San Francisco’s Jamie Evans, who is parlaying her 10 years of experience in the wine world to focus full time on the gourmet possibilities of the burgeoning cannabis industry.

As 85 guests sipped cannabis-infused cocktails from Chron Vivant founder John Korkidis, the talk was very San Francisco: who had just paid off their student loans using cryptocurrency riches, where to find handmade leather goods in the Mission and, of course, what was the latest buzz on cannabis. The ambiance created by DJ Trop (nee Tyson Leonard), who plays violin to electronic music, suggested a modern, slightly younger approach to the traditional wine-and-dine format.

Some attendees were friends of the hosts; others were industry types (such as Gretchen Miller, creator of CBD lubricant brand Kiskanu). But most were simply “canna-curious,” either out on a date or trying something fun with friends.

As curiosity about marijuana usage builds, Evans has found that elegant, curated events like this are the best way to educate a new class of consumer that just collectively “turned 21.” In 2017, Evans started a website called The Herb Somm, where she writes about the cannabis-meets-culinary world. Now she’s parlaying those chef interviews, tasting tips and recipe ideas into a full-fledged lifestyle brand that leans on her hospitality chops and wine industry contacts.

Billed as “bites, bubbles and buds,” this event, Evans said, was to promote the relationship between terroir and terpenes (which give wine and cannabis, respectively, specific aromas and flavors). This was the most elaborate event so far for Evans, who organized it with former Cal Poly San Luis Obispo classmate Devika Maskey, founder of “luxury cannabis” brand Tso Sonoma. The sold-out tickets, $150 each, included a three-course dinner, wine pairings and cannabis-infused caramel cookies from Higher Confections.

After the reception, guests sat at three candlelit tables. In addition to standard accouterments such as wine glasses and menus, tables included bottles of infused olive oil from Pot d’Huile, jars of marijuana flower from small-batch cannabis purveyor Flow Kana and a turpene aroma and pairing guide.

“We are entering a new era in which dinner experiences aren’t just about wine and food anymore,” Evans said, pointing out that, just as in wine, the land, soil, water and growing practices each play a role in the characteristics of the plant.

During the first course of albacore tuna crudo, Evans encouraged diners to “self-dose” with drops of olive oil. One milliliter of Pot d’Huile contains 1 milligram each of THC and CBD, the psychoactive and nonpsychoactive components of the plant. “Go low, start slow and don’t overdo it,” Evans advised as guests dabbed and drizzled the oil on rustic bread.

Pot d’Huile founder Yannick Crespo has a background in financial modeling. He started the company as a passion project to bridge what he saw as a “huge disconnect” between the worlds of wine and food with cannabis. By infusing olive oil, he thought, he could help chefs create food that would encourage the connection that happens when people crowd around the dinner table. Plus, he added, “what grows together, goes together” — a common refrain among those in the canna-culinary movement. (Similarly, Korkidis, who makes cannabis flavoring agents that can be used in alcohol-free “mocktails,” came to cannabis cocktails from an unrelated industry.)

For the following courses (winter squash soup followed by braised short ribs), Evans instructed guests to compare the bouquet of various Ellipsis wines with the aromas of the cannabis flowers in jars, pointing out that just as in food, specific wines and cannabis strains can complement each other.

Evans said that growing up, she would “never have imagined in my wildest dreams we would be here doing this,” adding that to break the stigma facing cannabis, education is key. “It’s used for many pleasurable experiences, but also know this is a medicine used to heal the heart, body and soul.”

In March — a year after she created The Herb Somm — Evans began hosting a monthly event series, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. At $110 a ticket for up to 34 people, the “pop-up” style events will introduce the San Francisco audience to local chefs who are cooking with cannabis. For now, restaurants with an alcohol license cannot host cannabis events, but Evans thinks it would be cool to one day have a full-fledged restaurant where people can experience both wine and cannabis in one place.

“I just want people to realize that you can incorporate cannabis into so many different experiences. It can be more high-end,” she said. “It’s important for people to realize it’s not just for ‘lazy stoners.’ It’s actually a very intelligent, intellectual plant. People can think of it like they think of a wine.”