As the sun slowly rises on California’s newly voter-approved recreational weed industry, so does it rise on Michael Steinmetz’ grand vision of converting a giant Northern California former wine estate into a destination for all-things marijuana — with services ranging from a marijuana processing center - to a saloon where visitors can try-out a vast array of the area’s famous green products.
Steinmetz, who is CEO of marijuana brand Flow Kana, recently completed purchase of the sprawling 80-acre Fetzer family winery estate in the tiny Mendocino County town of Redwood Valley. Although the purchase price was undisclosed, the property listed for $3.5 million. He calls it the Flow Cannabis Institute.
Steinmetz eagerly lead a tour of the estate which includes four residences, 90,000 square feet of industrial space and tucks in against a hillside where some 200 weed farmers grow some of the nation’s most prized greenery.
“We’ve gotta dream big,” Steinmetz said walking briskly through a massive warehouse that once produced three million cases of wine a year.
Steinmetz said the property’s plentiful industrial space will become a one-stop processing center for the area’s numerous cannabis farmers who toil away in the three-county greenbelt of Trinity, Mendocino and Humboldt counties — known as the Emerald Triangle.
“The first third of this building would be the intake and the grading and the separating,” Steinmetz explained, moving briskly from room to room.
He said most pot farmers rely on seasonal help to trim their products — a roving canna-labor force that can pose security risks to farmers who have to house the workers. The facility would provide the labor with an abundance of space for drying and storing crops.
“What this place will be for us,” said local cannabis grower Simon Evers, “is basically a facility where we can bring our crop to have it be processed and potentially manufactured.”
Past a rippling spring and over a wooden bridge, Steinmetz wandered through a cluster of old wooden buildings that looked like the decaying carcasses of an old-West ghost town.
He stepped into a wood-framed building with the words Big Dog Saloon painted across its brow, which he said was built by the Fetzer’s children. Inside, stools lined a dusty bar with old fashioned lanterns swinging overhead.
“You can come in here to the cannabis tasting room,” Steinmetz said, also pointing out a dance floor near a working pizza oven.
“Look at all these little stools and benches,” he said. “So people can be sitting here with their laptops enjoying some cannabis and some freshly cooked pizza.”
Steinmetz envisions converting some of the property’s residences into B&Bs where visitors can stay while basking in the indoor pool or sauna, attending workshops on sustainable farming and getting first-hand growing lessons from local pot farmers.
“And that’s part of the vision,” said local cannabis farmer Cyril Guthridge, “is creating this place as a destination location for the world to come and see how amazing this is.”
The passage of Prop 64 in California last November is slowly phasing in sales of recreational marijuana in the state — which are scheduled to begin on January 1, 2018. While Steinmetz and other farmers said the co-op is still focused on supplying medicinal marijuana, the legislation is opening the door for a place like the Flow Cannabis Institute to exist.
“It’s already changing a lot,” said weed farmer Jennifer Gray. “I wouldn’t have gotten up in a room of people and talked about what I do all that long ago.”
Steinmetz said a towering faded, pea-green building with a stream running through lower floor would become administrative offices available to local farmers — while also housing cannabis-based medical practices, educational studies as well as yoga.
“So we’ll have real doctors here,” he said, “doing like real experimental cannabis treatment.”
The property sits at the edge of a quiet neighborhood of homes and small wineries — and abut a road where cannabis farmers drive to access their farms in the nearby hills. Neighbors were initially upset over Steinmetz’ plans although he said considerable outreach has helped thaw the relationship.
Even weed farmers were a bit nervous about the potential of marijuana-seeking tourists invading their tranquil setting.
“I’ve been driving down here since it was a dirt road,” said cannabis grower Jamie Beatty. “It’s going to be very different and it’s going to take some getting used to.”
But Steinmetz said the facility wouldn’t become a cannabis-themed amusement park with throngs of stoned visitors tossing frisbees across the manicured lawns.
He said his vision was an elevated version of that — with visitors listening to classical music while partaking in the numerous strains of local cannabis — and maybe even learning something about off-the-grid agriculture.
“A lot of people don’t really know where their cannabis comes from or how it was grown or by whom it was grown,” Steinmetz said. “And i hope this facility kind of answers their questions over time.”