California is recognized worldwide as a leader in cannabis cultivation and a hotbed for cannabis culture. For many in the industry, that reputation comes with a responsibility to forward sustainable business practices and keeping a professional, community-minded focus.
In this Q&A, Eric Sklar — CEO and co-founder of the Lake County, California-based Napa Valley Fumé — discusses how his company pursues its sustainability goals through donations for tree planting/reforesting efforts, how they develop their terpene-rich and proprietary cannabis strains, as well as their strategies for fostering a healthy and well-balanced cannabis farm environment. Eric also discusses the sense of tension between Napa Valley’s cannabis and wine industries, how Napa Valley Fumé works to destigmatize the cannabis plant, and more.
Ganjapreneur: How has your experience with California Fish and Game influenced your work at Napa Valley Fumé?
Eric Sklar: I wouldn’t say my work with Fish and Game has necessarily influenced my work at Napa Valley Fumé but when California passed Prop 64, the State was left to write a lot of regulations and how they were actually carried out. We played a really big role at the state level–helping them improve and perfect the regulations as they’ve written them and revised them. It was and still is a massive effort. We worked with our partner extensively in Sacramento, lobbying and working on the regulations. And then, in the cities and county where we operate, Lake County, the city of Clearlake, we spent a lot of time partnering with them, trying to get the regulations in those places to be as sensible as they can. We wanted to be a properly regulated business, but, at the same time, you don’t want it to be over regulated to the point where it’s too difficult to run a business. Some have argued that in California the regulations are too onerous. But, in the cities where we operate, we try to help them by operating as professional, green businesses that create lots of great jobs and in turn, provides local tax revenue. They seem very willing to work with us to make things run more smoothly by fine tuning the regulations making it work for both sides.
Why did Napa Valley Fumé choose to establish an outdoor cultivation site in Lake County, California?
Lake County has some of the cleanest air in California, certified by the American Lung Association. And the county welcomed us with open arms. We were lucky enough to have access to an incredible property that had the right growing conditions. We met a team of very talented local farmers who looked at farming the way we do – it needs to be sustainable and produce high quality with consistency. The care our team puts into our gardens, while being responsible to the planet, helps us produce high-quality sun-grown cannabis that highlights the unique terpene profiles of each of our strains.
How did you develop your proprietary strains? What drives the focus when choosing genetics for the brand?
Our cultivation team has spent decades honing their craft. They have dedicated their time to propagate the perfect components of each strain that create consistent crops, with high yields, that have complex terpene profiles. Focusing on unique strains that have rich terpene profiles was key for us. The thought was to focus on strains that have deep terpene profiles and that highlight all of the positives that come from growing cannabis outdoors under the warm California sun.
How does sustainability play a role in Fume’s business operations and ultimate mission?
This is at the core of how we’ve built our company. For starters, growing outdoors curbs a significant amount of electricity as compared to growing indoors. Afterall, sunlight is free. We use solar for the electricity we do use and bring in a swarm of beneficial insects to help us avoid using chemicals or pesticides. We have an abundance of water on our property so we do not have to pipe in water minimizing our footprint to almost zero. Plus, you tend to have bigger yields with sun-grown cannabis as you can let the trees, yes, trees, grow big and tall. Now, something that is near and dear to my heart and is part of our company’s mission–Planting Trees for Future Generations. My Chief Marketing Officer, Ian Hackett, developed our Give Back program. Part of this program is our partnership with One Tree Planted—an amazing organization that is focused on reforestation efforts around the globe. We plant a tree for every product sold and we focus our donation dollars in the area impacted by the Tubbs fire of 2017 and the Kindcade fire of 2019 as our farm and many of our team members were affected by these fires and we want to help our local communities as much as we possibly can.
How does your partnership with One Tree Planted contribute to your goal of sustainability?
We are not only Planting Trees for Future Generations within our organization, we also want to support 3rdparty outfits looking to do the same. With One Tree Planted, we are literally able to work with them to help reforest areas affected by the northern California fires in 2017 and more recently.
What is the interplay between terpene expression and growing in sunlight? How does Napa Valley Fumé harness this to create premium cannabis products?
There are many points-of-view around indoor and sun-grown. Given how the industry was forced indoors under prohibition, there was a lot of advancement made with cloning, grow lights, water systems, nutrients, additives, etc. that coupled with genetics of the various strains, and a lot of brain power, has created some good cannabis that has never seen a ray of sunshine. Then there is the other side that honors the plant, grows it from seed, feeds it water, warm sunshine, and a lot of TLC. These trees grow up to 16’ tall in our gardens and have a span of about 8’. We grow these trees in rows but give each tree the space it needs to grow and spread out. This allows each branch and fan leaf to absorb every inch of sunlights and the flowers seem to multiply. The roots run deep with these trees and we let them wander. The colas are as big as your arm and the trichomes glisten in the sun. From my point of view, the result is a spectacular, sun-grown, sustainable product that has a rich terpene profile as a result of the natural, full-spectrum light that the plant gets from the sun during the day and a few moonbeams at night.
How do you foresee the notions of terroir and appellations being used to categorize cannabis brands as the industry grows, and how does the LAKE GRADE brand harness these ideas?
Terroir and appellation are becoming part of the cannabis industry lexicon just like they are in wine. The appellation of origin is designed to protect and market the unique traits of a certain place to consumers. But, the county of origin is very important and needs to be respected. There are some iconic locations where cannabis has traditionally been grown in California. We also believe that there are appellations that have not been established yet and that have distinct beneficial properties, such as Napa County. We’re proud to start having the ability to cultivate in a region known for its amazing agricultural products.
What are the quality control methods put in place when processing cured flower? What is the LAKE GRADE rule of thumb, and why is it important?
We harvest all of our trees by hand. The colas are rack dried and hand trimmed. We monitor the quality at each step in the harvest process through to trimming and then storage. All climate controlled with frequent quality checks. We have operating procedures documented so each team member is aware of what needs to happen along the way. We take great care with our plants when we are growing them and that care and attention doesn’t stop once the plants are harvested. To that, our trim team are experts at their craft. They listen to some really great music in the trim room and they are always cracking jokes and telling stories while they trim our beautiful cannabis. The trim team came up with the ‘Rule of Thumb’ as they love big nugs and there is a good reason for the name. When you have trees that grow up to 16’ tall they produce colas the size of your arm. From these colas we get big buds so their benchmark for the bud size that we pack into our LAKE GRADE 1/8ths, is that each bud should be the size of your thumbnail – it’s actually the size of an average human thumbnail but when you see some of our packing puckered around the 1/8ths, you know you are pulling out a nug that is more like the size of your entire thumb. As I said, they like big nugs!
Where can California consumers find LAKE GRADE flower?
You can order LAKE GRADE statewide in California through Eaze.com and you can find us in premium retail locations such as Doobie Nights in Santa Rosa and Sweet Flower in Los Angeles. We are onboarding retailers with care but based on the growing demand for our sun-grown flower and pre-rolls, we will be in a retailer near you soon.
Napa County has been a difficult place for cannabis operators to do business since California legalized adult use, largely due to the negative stigma that cannabis still carries. Why has this developed in Napa specifically?
Prop 64 gave a great deal of control over what kinds of cannabis businesses may operate in their jurisdictions, and since the passage of Prop 64, many City and County Leaders have blocked or resisted the development of cannabis businesses. In hindsight, too much control was given to local elected officials. In many of the places where the elected officials have been obstructionist, the local voters overwhelmingly supported Prop 64. Napa is among these. I think that in many cases the elected officials are risk averse and see doing nothing as the safest path. In Napa this is compounded by the opposition to cannabis by some, not all, of the more powerful members of the well established wine industry.
What issues do prominent wine industry leaders cite when they oppose increasing cannabis business in Napa Valley? Does a sustainable approach to cultivation help mitigate these objections?
Many vintners in the area are mainly conflicted between two different areas. One, the terpenes affecting grape flavor and drift from nearby cannabis grow operators. And two, the overall vibe that cannabis farms could bring into the mix. Thankfully, these misconceptions are just that. As mentioned, all plants omit terpenes when growing and have been coexisting as long as plants have been around. Farmers have worked side-by-side year after year without harm, so the cannabis plant would be no different. To answer the second objection, canna-tourism would bring a much younger and fruitful demographic to the wine region. With that will come more tourism revenue and an overall forward-looking solution to an aging industry.
How does Napa Valley Fumé’s mission help de-stigmatize cannabis businesses in this area?
Napa Valley Fumé is working closely with the Napa Valley Cannabis Association to educate the public and local leaders about the reality of cannabis while trying to put to rest the negative myths that are associated within the cannabis industry. The Napa Valley Cannabis Association has held in person educational events before COVID, and have transitioned to virtual events for the last year. We’ve featured experts to talk about how cannabis businesses operate in the current landscape and are working to destigmatize the negative impact they have on local communities. It’s been great to work with the Napa Valley Cannabis Association to show that where cannabis cultivators operate, they’ve actually enhanced the cities and counties that allow them.
Thanks, Eric, for answering our questions! Learn more about Napa Valley Fumé at FumeBrands.com.