Cannabis Terroir: The symbiosis of earth, plant and people

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At any wine-tasting event, the French term “terroir” is probably used. The influences of where, how and when the grapes were grown all contribute to the “terroir” of a particular bottle of wine. Many describe this as the “specificity of place,” or why a sipping on a Pinot Noir is a different experience than enjoying a Zinfandel. A bottle of wine may reflect this symbiosis between human influence, earth and crop — skilled tasters may be able to differentiate between bottles based on the terroir. A high-quality bottle of wine will encapsulate a region and growing season in its flavor, creating a unique experience sip-by-sip.

There’s no reason why this term cannot also be applied to cannabis, in particular sun-grown cannabis. A cannabis plant incorporates the same climate and soil into its growth as a grape being cultivated to create wine. Just as there are a plethora of grape varietals, there are thousands of cannabis strains. A properly cured and dried cannabis bud is going to have more complex flavors and effects than a brand-new bud trimmed directly from the plant, just as an aged wine will most often be chosen over a brand-new one. As cannabis is legalized across our country, tastes will become more particular; already, some people buy cannabis based on where and how it is grown. A trained nose may become adept at finding out where and how certain strains are grown.

Different cannabis strains have emerged from even the most unlikely corners of the globe.The cannabis plant is hardy; it has thrived in a number of regions from the high elevations of Nepal, to the coastal humidity of northern California. These geographical locations leave specific imprints on the strain once it is matured. Durban Poison is named for the South African port city, Durban. It is known as an African “land-race” strain, meaning it is well adapted to the climate and conditions of the African region (similar to the “terroir” of wines grown in certain regions). It’s known for its sweet, earthy aroma and its energizing, cerebral effects. Because of where this strain originated, it elicits a specific sensory experience. Durban Poison, if grown right, should be easily deciphered from, say, Girl Scout Cookies. The two strain shouldn’t taste or smell the same, or have the exact same effects.

In Oregon, there are actually more cannabis grow licenses than wineries. The number of strains that people have access to is ever-growing, meaning we have the privilege of tasting the unique differences between each one. Furthermore, in the famous Emerald Triangle of northern California, cannabis connoisseur Justin Calvino began the Mendocino Appellation Project, mapping micro-climates and watersheds — essentially, terroir — talking to longtime cannabis farmers about how these factor in to the flavors/effects of the final product. He has described Mendocino as becoming the “Napa Valley of cannabis.”

Because of prohibition and heavy regulation, many cannabis crops have been forced inside. While this is good for some–complete control over the growing conditions–it does lose some of the natural individuality that can only be found with soil, air and organic sunshine. But as normalization and legalization makes its steady sweep across the country, more cannabis plants will feel the light of the sun.

— Words by Taylor Haynes

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