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Exclusive: Napa Wine Veteran Launches Premium Cannabis Brand LakeGrade

September 3, 2019

Eric Sklar, one of the founding members of the Napa Valley Cannabis Association, has been a longtime participant in the region’s wine industry, founding Alpha Omega Winery in 2005. Two years ago, he launched Fumé, an upscale cannabis company that brings his viticultural knowledge to bear on a new crop.

“There are real similarities, and the skills I’ve learned from the wine business over the decades are coming into play,” Sklar tells SND. “I’m also learning new things, because it’s not the same plant.”

Fumé has just launched its first cannabis brand, called LakeGrade. Named for Lake County, north of Napa and Sonoma, the brand is the initial label in a planned Grade series. Each product in the series will emphasize the importance of origin and soil, much like in wine. “LakeGrade will be the first of many,” Sklar says. “We’ll eventually have NapaGrade, MendocinoGrade, and HumboldtGrade.”

Fumé planted a half-acre plot in Lake County in the spring of 2018 and this year expanded to one full acre, but the plan is to follow the wine industry’s negoçiant model, partnering with growers and highlighting their work as part of the brand. “We’re associating with farmers who share our philosophy of making high-quality, hand-grown, hand-trimmed products,” Sklar says. “It will give people, first in California and then elsewhere in the country, the opportunity to have a brand from their place. We think that’s very unique.”

LakeGrade’s product range currently consists of three types of bud: a sativa, an indica, and a hybrid. It soft-launched on the Eaze platform earlier this month and can now be purchased from the LakeGrade website at $32 an eighth. In the coming months, the line will be bolstered by a selection of “leaflets”—pre-rolled joints that feature a filter and a straight cut end instead of the customary rolled and twisted end. LakeGrade brand vape cartridges will follow early next year.

LakeGrade’s relatively low price point is part of a long-term brand strategy. An eponymous Fumé brand will launch around the new year that will be “significantly pricier, but will be the top bud from every plant, just like with wine, where you take the best grapes on your first pass,” says Sklar. Plans for the Fumé brand also include high-end infused products like olive oil and sea salt.—Danny Sullivan

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