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Sonoma County’s Vintage Wine Estates acquires cannabis brands as part of alternative beverage effort

Vintage Wine Estates is taking a big further step into adult beverages other than wine with the acquisition of two cannabis-infused drink brands, plans to launch a third and the hiring of a top executive from a major North Coast cannabis products company to oversee the effort.

The Santa Rosa-based group of West Coast wines announced Thursday that it acquired the intellectual property for Gem + Jane from CannaCraft, also based in Santa Rosa. It’s a women-focused sparkling water infused with botanicals and THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis.

Vintage also hired Tracey Mason, CannaCraft’s former chief strategy and innovation officer, to lead a new portfolio of alternative beverages.

Called NexDrinx, the portfolio will be led by ACE Cider, originally a Sebastopol-made brand that Vintage acquired in November. That purchase was part of a string of acquisitions since its initial public offering in early June 2021 that set up Vintage with a larger direct-to-consumer presence and positioned the company with a production hub for the East Coast.

The company also plans to build on national distribution for the brand to launch dealcoholized ACE ciders infused with hemp CBD.

Vintage plans to reformulate Gem + Jane so it can be distributed nationally, instead of just in dispensaries, as it has been since its launch last year. The drinks will be infused with hemp CBD and adaptogens, which are herbs or mushrooms touted by Eastern medicine for their health properties.

Another addition to the NexDrinx portfolio was House of Saka, a line of ultrapremium alcohol-removed THC- and CBD-infused beverages made from Napa Valley grapes, co-founded by Cynthia Salarizadeh and Mason in 2018. The Business Journal reported on a disagreement the following year between House of Saka and CannaCraft on co-production of that beverage.

CannaCraft helped Lagunitas Brewing Co. reformulate its HiFi Hops beverage to have flavors and a lower dosage of THC.

Terry Weatley, chairperson of CannaCraft’s board of directors since 2019, said shortly after being named president of Vintage last year that the wine company was “exploring innovation beverage projects that put the worlds of wine and cannabis together.”

Pat Roney, founder and CEO of Vintage, shared a similar outlook for the two.

“We believe alternative beverages share many synergies with wine, and developing a product category adjacent to our wine business presents an opportunity for further growth with diversification,” Roney said in the announcement. “While we will always be a wine company first and foremost, by leveraging our operational expertise across new categories, we believe we are building greater value as an enterprise.”

This effort parallels moves by even larger players in adult beverages. For example, New York-based Constellation Brands, which owns North Coast labels such as Robert Mondavi, has invested in Hop Wtr, a hop-infused no-alcohol sparking water brand.

The nonalcoholic segment of beverage alcohol has been growing by about one-third annually in the past two years, according to NielsenIQ.

For the 12 months up to last fall, low-alcohol and no-alcohol beverage sales for off-premises consumption totaled $3.1 billion, up 10.4% from the year before. That growth was led by no-alcohol beverages, up 33.2% to $331 million, compared with 8.1% growth for low-alcohol drinks ($2.77 billion).

According to IWSR consumer research, 58% of consumers of no- or low-alcohol beverages said they switched between those and full-strength beverages on the same occasion.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before coming to the Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.


Correction, May 6, 2022: Hop Wtr does not contain cannabis.

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