Wine and Cannabis: Comparative Anatomy

Comparative Anatomy

Last time, I framed wine and cannabis as sisters to one another, similar in many ways, and that metaphor extends beyond their place in human culture. Both are relatively small, green, flowering plants, and both generate truly remarkable byproducts in the service of their reproductive cycle. But if grapevines and cannabis plants are sisters to one another, they are certainly sisters with their own distinct personalities. One is fussy and high-maintenance, while the other is friendly and adaptable. One is prudish and prudent, always looking to the future, the other sensuous and decadent, a classic annual, totally focused on the now. It doesn’t take an oenologist or master grower to figure out which is which.


The Grapevine

The grapevine is the older sister, the quintessential firstborn: focused, productive, brilliant, but self-centered and a little cold, preferring to keeping company with those who appreciate her tastes and sensitivities. From the first she is focused on her task, to be fruitful, and multiply. In nature, most grapevines, like cannabis, are dioecious, meaning they produce males and female varieties which must cross-pollinate in order to fertilize and reproduce. Only the females produce grapes, just as only female cannabis plants produce potent psychoactive buds. However, the vast majority of cultivated vines are hermaphroditic.

Thanks to this, she produces both male and female flowers, and requires little contact with other vines. Her flowers are tiny and tight, joined at the tips to create a little umbrella with no wild fragrance or colorful bloom. While she does occasionally employ wind, bees, and other insects for cross-pollination, they are largely unnecessary, as she contributes everything needed for reproduction within her own vine. The work is intensive, and sometimes less than efficient, but she can’t afford to spend any energy on flashy flowers or seductive organs. She doesn’t have time to play games. She’s planning for the future.

A grapevine needs to grow, to creep and explore, uncrowded and free, in order to be really happy. She knows this about herself, and knows her children will feel the same way, so she spends all of her energy on securing that space, for her sake and theirs. Biologists call this a dispersal strategy, and hers is to hide her seeds inside delicious, mouth-watering fruit, and leverage animals to carry her them far away from her. Her fruit is her magnum opus, and it must be succulent enough to be eaten before it rots.vine

In order to produce her finest work, however, the grapevine can be a diva. The wine grape, Vitis vinifera, comes in a constellation of different genetic expressions. In cannabis, we call these expressions strains, and we name them things like “Purple Haze”, “Headband”, or “Sour Tsunami”. In the wine world, they’re varietals or cultivars. “Pinot Noir”, “Chardonnay”, and “Xinomavro” are all examples of varietals.

Each varietal has a very specific set of growing conditions which she prefers as a workplace. Some grapevines like to be planted in shale, next to the sea, in high wind with lots of shade, while others prefer a high-calcium loam in full sun, with small temperatures fluctuation. Too much or too little light, heat, water, or nutrients and she becomes unproductive and discouraged, but when conditions are perfect, she is a true artist, producing fruit with depth, flavor, and complexity. Sometimes she engages with her surroundings so deeply that her fruit develops a unique character specific to that environment. When she does this, wine drinkers say that she is expressing terroir, or place.

Even in the best environment, grapevines may not produce good fruit for wine unless carefully cultivated by a winegrower with a great deal of knowledge and experience. Working with the older sister can be rewarding, but it requires devotion, commitment, and respect for her needs, in order to avoid disaster.

After her fertile fruit is a banquet for critters or a harvest for people, at the end of the summer, she goes dormant for the winter, many varietals appearing completely dead until the next spring. She is playing the long game, and in many cases, her best work doesn’t appear until she is twenty, or forty, or even ninety.

The Cannabis Plant

She is the younger sister, gregarious, flirtatious, and radiant. She reaches for the sun, soaks up as much as she can, and when she’s ready becomes a blaze of blossoms! She is all about performance, display, and sexuality, because unlike her hermaphroditic sister, she hasn’t been blessed with the ability to pollinate herself. In nature, cannabis relies on wind for pollination, rather than other living things. This means that it’s very important to for males to get their pollen out in the fresh air, and for females to provide ample places to catch that drifting pollen where they will be productive in pollination.

She doesn’t mind living close to other plants, including her own children. As long as everyone has enough access to the sun, the party can continue! In nature, cannabis often ends up growing in great stands or clusters, and many indoor growing techniques rely on keeping plants very close to one another in order to distribute resources efficiently. Since she doesn’t mind if her babies grow up right next to her, she doesn’t need to worry about dispersing her seeds, which means she doesn’t need to worry about producing a tempting fruit.
8700414776_5d3f0a254d_cThat means all her energy goes into growth, and ultimately into her spectacular, voluminous flowers! Cannabis grows up all year long, until the fall, when the nights descend more quickly. When there is as much darkness as light in a given 24 hour period, she knows that winter is coming, and begins to flower. If there’s only time for one more party, she’s gonna bring some fire!

The crystal-laden leaves, petals, and pistils of the cannabis flower are all surfaces on which wind-borne pollen can land and fertilize the plant. Cannabis can produce flowers and trichomes of fabulously diverse shapes, sizes, and chemical constitutions! The more fluffy the flower and the stickier the oils, the more effectively the pollen is captured. When fertilization happens, the plant begins to produce seeds inside the flowers or buds, which protect it while it develops until it ultimately falls off of her branches to germinate. In modern growing conditions, the female plants are not allowed to be fertilized, but instead of letting this get her down, the cannabis plant laughs and produces buds that are even bigger, richer, and more aromatic, because she put all of her energy into them. These buds are traditionally called sensimilla, literally “without seeds”.

Unlike the grapevine, cannabis is quite adaptive. She can learn to appreciate many different environments and climates, though she always loves the sun above all else. She can also produce beautiful flowers with minimal intervention, though she welcomes partnership with even the most novice growers, and generously rewards their assistance. Different strains have slightly different preferences, and some are more finicky than others, but by and large, cannabis laughs in the face of weak soil and inclement weather. As many, many before me have pointed out, we don’t call her a weed for nothing. She wouldn’t take it personally.

After she buds, in most circumstances, cannabis will die, or produce a substantially reduced yield the following year. When grown for commercial production, cannabis is usually uprooted or pruned at the base at the time of harvest. However, a skilled grower can induce cannabis to grow indefinitely without ever flowering, by manipulating the amount of light she receives, or even encourage her to flower multiple times while minimizing the loss of yield and potency that multiple blooms usually represent.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, the girls are pretty similar. Their differences are primarily stylistic, because they both produce their gifts in the service of various parts of their reproductive cycle. Yes, wine has a well-earned reputation for being more difficult to work with as an agricultural project, and perhaps a very small measure of its acclaim can be attributed to that. However, to comprehensively understand where the cultural differences emerge, we need to look elsewhere. Perhaps at the chemicals themselves. Next week, we’ll talk about pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics, or the scientific side of drinking up and burning down.

A Note About Safety: Judicious use of cannabis and alcohol produce a natural synergy that some people find very enjoyable. Cannabis and alcohol can potentiate, or enhance, one another’s effect. At a certain dose, which varies from person to person, this combination almost always results in nausea and a certain level of disorientation, even for people who may have high tolerances to either or both of the constituent drugs. The point is, when combining, dose small, and accent one drug with the other, don’t combine them equally. No one under the influence of alcohol or psychoactive cannabis derivatives should operate a motor vehicle or heavy machinery. No one combining the two should operate anything more complex or dangerous than a corkscrew, and be careful with that foil cutter, buddy. As always, combustion is stressful to the lungs, and alcohol is neurotoxic and hepatotoxic. Small doses of alcohol are much safer than large doses.


Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône & OG Kush

Last time we paired a lively white with an energetic Sativa as a recipe for a great, lighthearted time. This time let’s slow our roll. Rather than accenting the wine with the weed, I recommend enjoying the OG Kush liberally with just a glass or two of the red for a contemplative, comforting, introspective experience as suited to brainstorming as it is meditation. Enjoy this pairing with roasted red meat, porcini mushrooms, and steamed broccoli.

  • Eric Texier AOC Côtes du Rhône – Neither a heavyweight nor a pushover, this restrained blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Carignan from the Southern Rhone demonstrates the classic savory dark fruit and rich earth notes associated with the region. It evokes soil, spice, and ripe balsamic strawberry.
  • OG Kush – A rockstar strain all over America, but likely originating in either the San Fernando valley or the garden of a certain North Florida “Bubba”, OG Kush is a well-muscled indica with powerful stoning effects, a wonderful body high, and a quieting, centering influence on the mind. It’s unforgettable smell recalls many of the same savory notes as the wine. Earth, musk, mushrooms, and just a hint of mouthwatering spice dominate the nose of this strain. An awesome strain for the end of any day, given a further introspective, contemplative character by the addition of the wine.


Jackson Holder made the pilgrimage from the Deep South to the Northwest in search of equality, opportunity, and really excellent weed. He found all three.





Photo credit: <a href=””>MarihuanayMedicina</a> / <a href=””>Foter</a> / <a href=””>CC BY-SA</a>

Photo credit: <a href=””>shjauzmn</a> / <a href=””>Foter</a> / <a href=””>CC BY-NC-ND</a>

Photo credit: <a href=””>Riccardo Maria Mantero</a> / <a href=””>Foter</a> / <a href=””>CC BY-NC-ND</a>