California Weed

Famed Northern California winery site to become major pot production center


Marijuana investors are converting a famed Mendocino County winery site into a major regional processing center for cannabis.

Flow Kana, a San Francisco Bay-area based marijuana venture, has announced it has purchased 80 acres once owned by the founding family of Fetzer Vineyards, one of California’s largest wine producers.

The property in Redwood Valley, which includes former wine production and storage facilities and a tasting room, is to be redeveloped into a marijuana processing and packaging center that will ready products from local cannabis farmers for distribution to California retail dispensaries.

“The facilities are very, very magical,” said Flow Kana CEO Michael Steinmetz. “The same facilities for wine are the same that you need for cannabis – dark, dry cool places.”

Steimetz said the venture spent about $3.5 million to acquire the oak-studded property, including 87,000 square-feet of industrial space.

Flow Kana bills itself as a branding, marketing and distribution company for small marijuana farmers who grow “sustainable, sun-grown cannabis ... that embraces California values and the small farmer ecosystem.”

In an interview, Steinmetz said the venture will create a facility – called the Flow Cannabis Institute – that will acquire marijuana grown by 80 to 100 farmers in Mendocino and southern Humboldt counties. The facility will then dry, cure and trim the pot and package it for sale at dispensaries with branding labels for Flow Kana and individual farms.

The facility is expected to be operational by the fall harvest, said Steinmetz, whose company biography describes him as a former investment banker for Merrill Lynch and founder of a food distribution company, Distribuidora DanMic, in his native Venezuela.

Reached for comment, Fetzer Vineyards said the company wasn’t involved in the sale of the property and has no association with the the marijuana venture.

The property was the original home ranch for the Fetzer family and, in its hey-day, produced produced 1 million cases of wine a year and operated a popular tasting room that closed in the 1990s. Fetzer Vineyards was sold in 1992 to the Brown Forman Corp., a Kentucky-based liquor conglomerate, and then resold to Chilean wine producer Viña Concha y Toro in 2011.

Although an ebullient promotional video by Flow Kana said the purchased property “once housed the third largest winery in the world,” two-thirds of the Fetzer wines came from vineyards and facilities in the Mendocino community of Hopland, where wines under the Fetzer label are still produced today.

“At Fetzer Vineyards, we continue to operate out of Hopland, California and focus exclusively on the production and sale of wine from premium California vineyards,” Fetzer chief operating officer Cindy DeVries said in a statement.

Now Steinmetz said he hopes the Redwood Valley location will become a center for premium California cannabis.

He said the facility eventually will add tenants operating manufacturing centers that will process marijuana buds and leaf trims into cannabis oils using safe “cold water hash” or carbon dioxide extraction methods. The oils, often inhaled from pen-like vaporizers, have become popular consumer products.

Steinmetz said the goal of the Mendocino County operation is to create a marketing cooperative that will allow small marijuana farmer to compete in the California market place against large cannabis producers who are buying or leasing greenhouse or industrial cultivation space in places such as the Salinas Valley or the Southern California desert.

“This is about how we take a small craft farmer industry to scale,” he said. “Bringing everybody together really creates the volume to compete with these larger players.”

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