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California’s Viv & Oak Targets The Nascent Cannabis Wine Segment

January 28, 2020

While the market for cannabis beverages remains in its very early stages, a number of small but ambitious players are laying the groundwork for growth in the years ahead. Among them is Viv & Oak, which last month launched its first products, including a sparkling rosé in two different dosages.

Like all cannabis wines, Viv & Oak’s products are dealcoholized and then infused with cannabis—in this case, the beverage is infused with either 50-mg of THC or 25-mg each of THC and CBD (both $38 a 750-ml. bottle). The higher dosage bottle makes for approximately 10-mg of THC a glass, depending on the pour.

The Woodland, California-based company was founded by Alana Burstein, who was inspired by the need for a hangover-free alternative to traditional wine. Burstein says Viv & Oak’s appeal stems from its potential to enliven social occasions without the worry of an impending migraine or other negative consequences of alcohol, with women in the 35+ segment forming the brand’s target demographic.

Around 10,000 bottles of Viv & Oak’s rosé were produced last year for distribution to approximately 30 dispensaries across the state. Burstein expects production to double this year, even before factoring in the brand’s newest release, which will include a rare and exotic cannabinoid.

Next month, Viv & Oak will release the Shimmering Scarlet collection, a trio of red blends at varying dosages. Shimmering Scarlet will be the first cannabis reds to hit the market, not only from Viv & Oak but from any cannabis winemaker. In contrast to whites and rosés, the chemistry of red wine complicates the typical cannabis beverage infusion, Burstein tells SND. “It’s been challenging to integrate cannabinoids into red wine because of the tannins,” she says. “They resist the infusion process and keep all the cannabinoids at the top of the liquid. It took us two years to figure out, but we’ve managed to incorporate our cannabis so there’s no separation and it’s blended beautifully.”

Shimmering Scarlet (also $38 a 750-ml.) is made from 100% Zinfandel grapes and comes in three variants: 50-mg of THC a bottle; 100-mg of CBD and 4-mg of THC; and, most notably, 25-mg THC, 25-mg CBD, and 25-mg THCV. This last cannabinoid, THCV, short for tetrahydrocannabivarin, is highly elusive and sought-after. It typically occurs naturally in infinitesimal quantities in cannabis plants and can’t be synthesized from cousins like THC. Media outlet Vice News once accompanied cannabis strain hunters on a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo searching for THCV-rich plants; their big find ended up yielding only 1.1% THCV.

THCV’s reputed effects explain its appeal. It’s said to induce an energizing, uplifting high that leaves one clear-headed and alert, while also showing appetite suppressing effects that pharmaceutical companies are eyeing for weight-loss drugs.

THCV remains so rare that Viv & Oak is sourcing theirs from the one company in the U.S. that seems to have a reliable supply: California Cannabinoids. With 200,000 square feet of licensed cultivation area, California Cannabinoids stumbled onto a strain that produces approximately 12.5% THCV after buying seeds online for what was supposed to be a CBD-rich varietal. Instead the seeds were something else entirely. The company named the strain Doug’s Varin, after the farmer who raised the initial plants and made the discovery. In addition to supplying Viv & Oak, California Cannabinoids now sells vape pens containing 28% THCV as well as pre-rolls and tinctures under the Doug’s Varin brand.

Burstein says the novel effects provided by THCV could prove a key differentiator for Shimmering Scarlet as the cannabis beverage market continues to develop. “We wanted to provide our consumers with something unique and not yet available on the market, which led us to THCV,” she says.—Danny Sullivan

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