Wine & Weed
If cannabis were legalised, would it attain the same cultural status as wine? Pour yourself a glass, spark up a fat one and read on, man.
Words by Richard Hemming
Illustration by Yoyo
Tim How laughs a lot. It’s a distinctive sound; a sort of cross between Beavis and Butthead’s snicker and the happy chuckle of wine being poured from a bottle: “h’yuh h’yuh h’yuh h’yuh”. When I joined Majestic Wine in 2001, he was Chief Executive. Back then, every new recruit had to ask him a question during their first orientation session at Majestic HQ. When my time came, I asked him whether Majestic would ever sell marijuana, were it to be legalised. There was barely a pause. “Yes,” he said. “H’yuh h’yuh h’yuh h’yuh”.
Just imagine. Bags of cannabis arranged according to region – Thailand, California, Afghanistan. A smoking counter. Free delivery. A minimum purchase of 12 mixed ounces. The mind quite literally boggles. I should probably have gone and trademarked ‘Majestic Weed Warehouses’ that same night, but I never got round to it. Know why? Because I got high, because I got high, because I got high. Devotees of early noughties novelty rap will doubtless recognise the potheaded perspicacity of Joseph Edgar Foreman, better known as Afroman, there. They may even know his other lyrical meisterwerke such as Let’s All Get Drunk, Drunk‘n’High and Gotta Stop Drinkin – all of which are on the same album. Anyway, the point is so subtle that you may not have noticed, but his oeuvre scrutinizes the effects of those most active of ingredients: THC and alcohol. As the former becomes increasingly decriminalised around the world, and the latter continues its perennial popularity, it seems timely to discuss their most beloved vectors: wine and weed.
Comparisons of their similarity are far too easy and far too naïve. You know – both have long histories of usage, both are natural products, both have connections with religious ceremony, both are powerful drugs with potential for benefit or harm, both are routinely used to enhance social situations. That sort of wide-eyed, tie-dyed rhetoric implies that the only difference between wine and weed is that Riedel don’t make bongs.
In reality, I’d wager that most wine drinkers – and I’m talking here about everyone around the world who drinks wine, from the occasional sipper to the most rampant drunkard – would be highly uncomfortable comparing themselves to cannabis users. The very term – user – is implicitly censorious. Why such repulsion? The obvious explanation is that in living memory, weed has always been illegal – although recently that is changing in many places – and wine has not. It’s therefore a cultural default for wine to be acceptable, despite the fact that the worst risks for both – memory loss, vomiting, cancer, all the fun stuff – are remarkably alike. Similarly, many of the benefits – relaxation, creativity, magically enhanced sex appeal – are the same for both too. Well, maybe not the last one.
So what are the real differences? If it were legal, would cannabis enjoy the same status as wine? Is it possible to neutrally assess their relative merits, or is our cultural bias now an engrained part of the argument? And is a hangover worse than a whitey?
Wine is a diverse and complicated drink with literally millions of incarnations. Some of them represent the highest sensorial pleasures humans can experience. Many more decidedly do not. The enormity of variation in quality and style is often cited as wine’s USP, but most modern wines originate from just a few dozen major grape varieties.
Cannabis Sativa has far fewer strains than Vitis Vinifera, but there are a similar number of mainstream variants. Wine has Chardonnay, Merlot and Grenache; weed has Skunk, Brainstorm Haze and, rather evocatively, Alaskan Thunderfuck. If only early ampelographers had been so analogical – we’d have Arsepucker Dogsoak and Million Dollar Fickleshit instead of Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir.
The olfactory sensations of the best wines are far beyond anything that cannabis would claim to offer. Indeed, there is no real appreciation of the flavours offered by cannabis at all. Wherever weed appraisal does exist, it tends towards a pseudo-psychological discussion focused solely on the type of effect imparted. “Extremely potent. But a completely mellow high, no paranoia,” as Ricky Fitts tells Lester Burnham. Lobbyists for wine may also insist that wine is made to go with food, whereas cannabis is not. This is undeniable in theory, but in truth most people drink wine by itself – yes, there may be food involved at some point, but it’s pretty much incidental to the wine. With present company excepted, dear reader, only very rarely is any significant attention paid to matching wine with food. And besides, anyone who doesn’t think that weed is made to go with food has obviously never had the munchies.
Another key area of comparison between wine and weed is cultural status, and seeing as this is Noble Rot, what better place to look than music? As Afroman ably demonstrates, marijuana’s musical locus is hip-hop. Wine, on the other hand, fits more neatly with opera. A pair of genres could hardly be more opposite in image. Rightly or wrongly, one is seen as dangerous and threatening while the other is exclusive and snobbish. Hip-hop is urban, opera is urbane. This mirrors the traditional attitudes towards weed and wine very neatly. In recent times, though, wine has decanted itself into hip-hop lyrics. The latest example was a spate of Moscato name-checking. It probably helps that it’s easy to rhyme, mind. Nobody’s rapping about Conegliano Valdobiadene. Perhaps this is the final proof that wine is becoming genuinely democratised. Of course, there still exists a wine elite, but for the last few decades an everyday form of wine has emerged that is accessible to all, and which has successfully infiltrated popular culture. It is intriguing to think whether cannabis would ever emulate this. There is little doubt that if – or perhaps when – cannabis becomes legalised, there would soon emerge a premiumised segment of the market to target the wealthy. This happens for every consumer product with an element of subjective appreciation. Alongside this would evolve the justification for the premium – haughty talk of rarity and purity, of sensation and revelation. The terroir of marijuana would surely be close behind, and as its value increased, an appellation system would form to enshrine its sanctity. With such recognition, greater attention would be paid to diversifying the varieties of cannabis and a culture of commentary and criticism would follow. Is this sounding familiar?
The crux of the difference between wine and weed centres on whether you believe wine can be truly appreciated for its aesthetic qualities alone, regardless of its inebriant effect. If it can, then it will always be different to weed, which is prized primarily for its impact – for now, at least. For as long as cannabis stays illegal, that won’t change. But in future generations, it may be very different, and perhaps the culture of weed will mature into something akin to the culture of wine, with all its exquisite variation, but also all its madly inflated pomposity. Perhaps passing a joint will become as normal as sharing a bottle. Perhaps the sound of corks popping and wine pouring in restaurants around the world will be joined by the gentle bubbling of smoke being drawn through a bong. “H’yuh h’yuh h’yuh h’yuh.”
Noble Rot #5 will be hitting doormats and shop shelves very shortly - we sent it to the printers today and expect it to be with you in the second/third week of September. We definitely think it is our best yet, and some of the highlights include:
* Recipes from James Lowe (chef/ owner of acclaimed new Shoreditch restaurant Lyles), Ben Tish (Salt Yard) and The Pontack’s Head (London’s first ever restaurant).
*A special guide to Champagne - one of the world’s fastest changing and most exciting wine regions.
*A tasting of the best Champagnes with chef Fergus Henderson & Trevor Gulliver, in celebration of 20 years of their iconic restaurant, St John.
*An interview with Paul Epworth, Adele’s co-songwriter and one of the most successful young record producers in the world.
* Profiles, stories and opinions about Pata Negra, Sine Qua Non, Wine & Weed and The Quality Chop House.
We have just spent a fantastic few days in Champagne, where we visited some of the regions best winemakers for coverage of the region that will be published in issue #5. Every tasting was fantastic, and the highlights included:
2009 Dame de Coeur at Savart.
1999 Cote at Bereche.
2008 Les Beguines at Jerome Prevost.
Substance and 2002 vintage at Selosse (we are pictured above with Anselme), but also an incredible Vin de Liqueur called ‘Il Etait une Fois’.
2000 and 2003 vintage at Krug.
NV Blanc de Noirs at Egly-Ouriet.
1983 Blanc de Blancs at Billecart-Salmon.
All in all it was a great trip, so look out for all the details in the next issue.
The first Noble Rot drinking club was a great success, so thanks to everyone that came and made it such a brilliant night. The tickets all sold out within a couple hours of going on sale and the response was so enthusiastic that we will definitely organise another one soon.
Stevie Parle and the team at Dock Kitchen served delicious food and the wine list was full of interesting bottles. Our favourite of the night was Clape’s 2000 Cornas, but the ‘85 Poujeaux, ‘86 Palmer and Ganevat ‘Chamois du Paradis’ were all top drawer.
Tickets are £35, which includes canapes and a main course by Dock Kitchen, plus a glass of Billecart Salmon Champagne on arrival. Please email us at email@example.com (subject title ‘Drinking Club’), telling us how many tickets you would like up to a maximum of 4 per person.
Unfortunately, tickets are very limited due to size of venue and will be sold on a first come first served basis. Act now to avoid disappointment!
For more information check out our Drinking Club page, and follow @noblerotmag on Twitter for regular updates.
We’re delighted to be taking part in this year’s Real Wine Fair at Tobacco Dock in East London. RWF is one of the highlights of the tasting calendar and many of the most exciting winemakers in the world will be pouring their wines and chatting to punters on Sunday 13th and Monday 14th of April.
The event will also be a chance for us to launch Issue #4 of the magazine - it will literally (well, hopefully) be back from the printers the day before.
We hope to see you there!
We’re big fans of Monocle magazine, so when Tyler Brulé invited us to go on their Stack podcast to talk about Noble Rot and the magazines we love, we were delighted to get involved.
You can listen to the show (#81) here: http://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-stack/81/ or by downloading it on iTunes.
Our goal with Noble Rot is always to make the next issue better than the last, so for #4 (due out mid-April), we decided to spend some time in the Jura - visiting the top producers, eating some great food and coming up with some ideas for interesting articles.
Here we are with living legend Pierre Overnoy in Pupillin.
#4 will also feature LCD Soundsystem, Paul Epworth, Valentine Warner, Bruno Loubet, John Niven, Chris Kissack, Keith Levenberg and loads more. It will be our biggest issue to date and, we hope, well worth the wait.
Issue #3 has finally gone to the printers. It is due to be back with us on December 3rd and is easily our best issue yet - 30 more pages than #2, lots of colour photos and illustrations, not to mention some fantastic articles. Neal Martin, Richard Hemming, Lily Allen and Zucca restaurant’s Sam Harris all feature, and we also have an article from Hugh Jones, the recently crowned 2013 Young Wine Writer of the Year.