Commissioner organizes meeting between wine, cannabis growers
In an effort to bridge the gap between two groups that appear to be at odds with one another, Casey Kulla is organizing a meeting in Newberg early next month between local leaders in the wine and cannabis industries.
Kulla, chairman of the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners, is owner of Oakhill Organics farm on Grand Island as well as Walnut Rise, a cannabis farm. While he hasn't personally had any disputes between winemakers and his business, he's heard through his role on the commission about issues that have been bubbling up over the past few years.
It started, Kulla said, even before he joined the commission. The tensions may well have been building since marijuana was legalized in Oregon in 2014.
"I became aware of it when I attended a commissioners' meeting and was watching a cannabis site design review for a processor just west of McMinnville," Kulla said. "That decision was in 2018 and a big vineyard from across the way vigorously opposed it and was joined by other winemakers.
"At this point I don't really know many of the underlying issues, which is why we're doing this. That particular site design review had plenty of opposition from winemakers and so did the one up on Jaquith Road that we recently approved."
Kulla said winemakers have expressed opposition to cannabis growth near their property because – in their view – there is potential for the odor of the crop to taint their grapes. Taint in the wine grapes can be caused by the smell emanating from cannabis plants, they argue, and that can impact the flavor and quality of the wines produced.
Cannabis growers have their fair share of disagreements with winemakers as well. Some in the cannabis industry, Kulla said, believe their crops are sensitive to the overspray of pesticides by some grape growers – a process done using the "blast spray" method that can waft over to nearby properties if not limited.
Kulla is partnering with David Adelsheim of winemaking fame to put on the discussion, which invites wine and cannabis producers in the area to take part in the discussion.
Neither Kulla nor Adelsheim say they've dealt with these kinds of conflicts, but they acknowledge a forum such as this one will be beneficial for both industries.
The event is scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. March 2 in Room 201 of the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. Members of the public with connections to the industries are welcome to attend, but the discussion is intended to create a dialogue between the two parties.
"As a cannabis farmer and big supporter of the wine industry, it's my view that we have a lot more in common than we have differences," Kulla said. "I wanted to provide the opportunity for people to talk to each other about that.
"I am picturing it as a starting point. It's not going to be the end all to solve everyone's problems. It's a way for people to start a conversation."
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