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How This California Company Is Drawing Parallels Between Wine And Cannabis

poring wine

Oenophiles may recognize California’s Santa Ynez Valley for its syrah and pinot noir wines, however, budtenders celebrate the region for its cannabis extracts from Raw Garden.

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Founded in 2011, Raw Garden is now reputed for producing California’s most trusted cannabis extracts, using organic techniques to create single-source terpenes and oils. In the last decade, the company expanded to produce a catalog of more than 800 strains, including flavors like Lime Mojito and Blueberry Punch, through their ever-growing seed library and breeding program. 

This past summer, the brand extended its reach with the launch of Raw Garden Social Club, designed to engage and educate budtenders—a person serving customers where cannabis is sold—and national trade. Raw Garden’s head of product, Khalid Al-Naser, explained to Forbes, “The goal is to create connections that are lasting and to impart knowledge that may help these individuals better discuss Raw Garden Products as well as cannabis more generally.”  

Al-Naser further described the Raw Garden Social Club as an innovative education platform that presents itself as an immersive community experience, which borrows cues from the wine world, emphasizing the nuances of the different strains and terpenes in cannabis, just as a sommelier would compare varieties and terroir of wines. 

“Many people who enjoy drinking wine talk about how the critiquing and assessing of subtle nuances in the aroma and taste is their favorite part of consuming wine—the cannabis connoisseur follows a similar path, focusing on aromas and flavors,” said Al-Naser. “Subtle differences driven by terroir, weather, and the impact of the farmer are all encapsulated in a finished product that is meant to enhance what is likely a shared experience.”
The parallel between wine and cannabis is both an undertone of the education platform but also used directly in education, like with the Aroma Training Program. Al-Naser likens the program to a sommelier training, where budtenders can identify different cannabis aromas in different strains, which allows them to better address Raw Garden’s customers’ needs.
We spoke to Al-Naser to learn more about the likening of wine and cannabis, the goal of Raw Garden Social Club, as well as the company’s future plans. 

Jillian Dara: When did you first draw parallels between wine and cannabis? 

Khalid Al-Naser: The idea started to come together over the course of about a year. I have spent a good part of the last decade using my experiences with food as a way to help me offer comparisons and talk to others about cannabis aromas. As I became more familiar with wine, the parallels between cannabis and wine started to become obvious and abundant. Growing cannabis in a wine region, like the Santa Ynez Valley, also helped expedite this understanding. We grow in a region known for its pinot noir, and as I started to buy and drink the local wine, I started to understand the nuances which were very similar to how I was trying to describe cannabis. 

Dara: How did you work to foster this realization into the Raw Garden Social Club?

Al-Naser: Having the opportunity to engage in shared experiences has always been one of our favorite ways to connect with people. The Raw Garden Social Club was created to facilitate conversations and connections with our counterparts in the cannabis industry in an organic way while enjoying a shared experience. Like with wine, there is so much nuance to be found with cannabis, and this can lead to endless opportunities for continued education and exploration. We love to learn about the things we enjoy, so we thought building an educational platform based on subject matter that most people in this industry enjoy was a great place to invest ourselves. 

Dara: What is the most surprising similarity you've found between wine and cannabis in working with your senses?

Al-Naser: When it comes to finding a favorite wine or cannabis varietal, many people find that taste and aroma dictate what they prefer. Aroma compounds are found naturally in both cannabis and wine grapes, and they act to drive the flavor experiences we enjoy. 

RGSC Aroma Bar

Raw Garden Social Club Aroma Bar


Dara: What’s the feedback from budtenders? Do they have any surprising realizations from the Social Club?

Al-Naser: We were blown away by the warm reception we received from budtenders in each market. One of our favorite points of feedback we heard was that attendees really enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and the approachable way we presented aromas as a training opportunity for anyone that was interested. I knew people would enjoy the opportunity to connect, but was happily surprised by how engaged everyone was. Budtenders were genuinely excited to participate in our aroma training. To see such a high level of engagement and hear such great feedback makes us feel like we achieved what we set out to do.  

Dara: Why do you think it's important to provide this type of club?

We feel that engaging directly with budtenders is a long-term commitment that will ultimately benefit our brand’s success and the cannabis industry as a whole. Budtenders play an integral role in the purchasing experience as the customer's first point of contact, so a well-informed and enthusiastic budtender will yield a more informed and empowered end-consumer.  

Dara: Do you see more space in the market to combine these two genres? If so, where else do you see wine and cannabis co-existing?

Al-Naser: Food and wine festivals have become increasingly popular over the last decade so there’s definitely room at the table for cannabis to enhance that experience. While food paired with the right wine can elevate the dining experience, bringing cannabis into the mix only deepens that experience further. 

Much like aperitifs and digestifs, cannabis has the ability to heighten the consumption experience and also further aid in digestion after the meal is finished. Furthermore, breaking-bread, the sharing of experiences; food, wine, cannabis, gives us a chance to connect with one another more deeply. Bringing cannabis into the fold with food and wine events feels like a natural next step.

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