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A craft marijuana brand is turning a famous California winery into a Wonka Factory for weed

The Flow Cannabis Institute

The Flow Cannabis Institute is a first-of-its-kind marijuana tourism destination in California.

Marijuana tourism is on the horizon for California's famed wine country.

A craft cannabis brand called Flow Kana is building a marijuana processing and manufacturing hub on the site of a former winery in Mendocino County. The company purchased the 80-acre parcel once owned by the founding family of Fetzer Vineyards for $3.6 million in 2017.

Much like a winery that hosts tours and tastings, the Flow Cannabis Institute will build experiences around the operation. Visitors will eventually tour the facilities where small farmers test, dry, cure, trim, process, and package marijuana for distribution; learn about the plant in seminars and pairing dinners; take a yoga class; and stay at an on-site, pot-friendly bed and breakfast.

Flow Kana was founded as a boutique delivery service in 2014 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company only sources from farms that grow outdoors without pesticides.

The Flow Cannabis Institute is the first of its kind in California, and it enables small and independent farmers to scale and compete with Big Marijuana brands. But is also offers an opportunity for the company to educate new consumers in the long-stigmatized industry.

This Wonka Factory for weed comes with one major caveat: Flow Kana has no plans to grow or sell cannabis on the property, though a future "tasting room" will give away marijuana for free to adults over the age of 21. California law allows up to an ounce of marijuana to be gifted.

On January 1, recreational marijuana became fully legal in the Golden State, where medical use has been legal since 1996.

We spoke with Amanda Reiman, head of community relations at Flow Kana, about what we can expect from the Flow Cannabis Institute.

  • The Flow Cannabis Institute is located two and a half hours north of San Francisco.
  • The new home of Flow Kana was the original ranch home for the Fetzer family, regarded as California wine royalty. In its hey-day, the winery produced 1 million cases of wine a year.
  • Fetzer Vineyards was sold in the 1990s and continues to operate nearby under its parent company. Now, the bucolic property set on 80 acres is about to get even greener.
  • Some 80 to 100 farmers in Mendocino and southern Humboldt counties will bring their marijuana grown off-site to the Flow Cannabis Institute for processing and packaging.
  • Storing cannabis requires the same type of facilities used for wine production — dark, dry cool places. The buildings come equipped with ventilation systems that allow for air flow.
  • The Flow Cannabis Institute will also offer lab testing facilities so growers can ensure their product meets quality-control standards laid out by the state of California.
  • Flow Kana wants to get the manufacturing center up and running before it invests in what it calls the "leisure" arm of the business. The facility should be operational by Spring 2018.
  • Support for marijuana legalization in the US reached an all-time high in 2017. But even as cannabis becomes more normalized, stigma against the industry remain.

Reiman, a former professor at UC Berkeley who taught classes on substance abuse and drug policy, recalls taking college students on field trips to marijuana dispensaries. Some went into the experience with preconceived notions about what a pot shop is like. They imagined shopping for marijuana like going to a house party where people passed around joints — instead of the highly-regulated and increasingly boutique retail experience that it is today. "Seeing with your own eyes is sometimes the only antidote to what you see in the media," Reiman said.

  • The Flow Cannabis Institute has lofty ambitions to overcome that stigma. A 22,000-square-foot facility will be renovated into an event center with classrooms and conference areas.
  • Someday the white clapboard house will be a bed and breakfast. Guests may light up on the patio, nibble on food pairings, and relax with a marijuana-infused spa treatment.
  • There are no plans to open a dispensary on the property, but, California law permits gifting cannabis for free.
  • The once-popular tasting room at Fetzer Vineyards — Big Dog Saloon — sits in shambles. Flow Kana will give it new life as a marijuana tasting room. The goal, according to Reiman, is not to get visitors stoned but to educate them on incorporating cannabis into their lives.

In Colorado, where recreational marijuana was first legalized in 2014, some cannabis companies have taken a distinctly "4-20" approach, loading tourists onto party buses and hopping from one dispensary to the next. "I call that the spring break tourism model," Reiman said. At Flow Cannabis Institute, "we want them to come away feeling that they know a little more about cannabis and that they can achieve the outcome that they want," she said.

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*Photos by Flow Kana.
Story by Melia Robinson