Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Cannabis as a farm product: an interview with Autumn Shelton of Autumn Brands

Autumn Shelton in the Autumn Brands greenhouse
Cannabis is quickly becoming big business, but it gets further every day from farming. The trendiest cannabis products are all heavily processed so that they're more like day-glo Cheetos than green leafy weeds.

That might be the future of much of the business, but in these early days of legal cannabis farming in California, there are still people making a living selling their product more-or-less as is. Autumn Shelton, co-founder of Autumn Brands in Santa Barbara County, is one such farmer.

Autumn Brands currently sells almost exclusively flower -- the dried cannabis itself, for smoking. No lozenges, chocolates or other concoctions. The company prides itself on the quality of its strains. I had a chance to sample three of the strains before interviewing Shelton and I'm a big proponent of its classic Sour Diesel, and a fan of its Chocolate Hashberry as well.

A few days before my phone interview with Shelton, the Los Angeles Times published a story about residents in Carpinteria, where Autumn Brands is located, complaining about the smell from cannabis farms. That was on both of our minds when we chatted. Here is an edited version of our conversation (which was not done after sampling the product, at least on my end; you can tell by the absence of "uh ....")

The Gray Report: How much resistance do you get to the idea of farming cannabis?

Autumn Shelton: The odor has been an issue for a number of years. About 12 of us have got this very good odor control system, and another two have a different one. The problem is there's still 10 to 20 farms that don't have odor control. Some people in the community are frustrated and that's understandable. What's unfortunate is that this group seems to be going after the compliant ones that have the odor control.

Gray: Where are the main cannabis areas of Santa Barbara County, compared to the main wine growing areas?

Shelton: The wine industry is up in the northern part of the county. They have their own issues with cannabis because odor control is not required up there. But it is affecting the wine industry because the odor can be in the air for miles.

Gray: I've been reading that the cannabis growing industry has expanded so much that there's a risk of a glut of weed with not enough buyers. Are you seeing that?

Shelton: There's always a risk of too many cultivators and not enough market for it. Cannabis is just like any other market. It shifts. In cannabis, the outdoor market peaks in October. They have one harvest, all year. And the product floods into the market and prices just plummet at that time. Then in the spring, the outdoor product starts to go away and the prices start to go up again and the market starts to go up again. We've seen this before. Right now we're in spring/summer. Prices just keep going up up up. We get calls all day (from buyers).

Gray: Is there still a lot of competition from unlicensed growers?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Some countries' wine is not as green as you think

Is this vineyard environmentally friendly? If it's not certified organic, how would I know? Answer: I wouldn't.
New Zealand has built its wine export business in the US on two things: a potent, tropical style of Sauvignon Blanc, and a green image.

At least one of those is true.

The American Association of Wine Economists released a simple statistical tweet yesterday, Organic Share of National Grape Area. It is what it sounds like: the percentage of organic vineyards for each country.

It's far from a perfect stat. First, it includes both table grapes and wine grapes. This helps some nations that take their foods seriously, while hurting the U.S.

Second, it's only certified organic vineyards. I can hear New Zealand's protest as I type this, "But we're sustainable." (Whatever that means.)

And third, it's not an indictment of any single grapegrower or winery. Just because Portugal has the lowest percentage of organic grapes of any major wine-producing nation doesn't mean there aren't some Portuguese vineyards doing all the right things for their customers and the Earth.

With those provisos out of the way, here are some shocking takeaways, after the table itself: