Summit County ganja-preneur looks to expand culinary ventures with cannabis, food and wine tours | SummitDaily.com

Summit County ganja-preneur looks to expand culinary ventures with cannabis, food and wine tours

In the years since recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado, Philip Wolf, founder of Cultivating Spirits, has set his sights on the industry at large, hoping to spread his business of unique cannabis, food and wine tours outside of the mile high state.

Wolf's idea to blend marijuana with a wine pairing experience came to him while he was visiting Barcelona, Spain. He was at a wine tasting, and realized that tourists seek out specialized experiences. As someone who had been working in the cannabis industry since its founding, he began to connect the two.

"I had this big picture with the advocate in me, of 'how can we tap into mainstream America?'" Wolf said. "Most of the Americans I know, 90 percent of them are going to do some sort of wine experience in their life."

As a grower, Wolf already knew a lot about the effects of marijuana plants, but upon further research discovered the importance of terpenes, the organic compound that produces the aroma in plants.

"In the natural world it's used to attract pollinators and detract predators for the plant," he said. "By teaching people how to identify terpenes through their aromatic attributes … you can tell how you're going to feel before even, or without even, consuming that certain strain of cannabis."

According to Wolf, he was the first to work out that terpenes impact people's moods when smoking marijuana, and that different strains could have different effects. From there, he began pairing specific strains to food and wine.

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Cultivating Spirits offers private events, which bring a group to a dispensary where customers will get a private buying experience. Because it is still illegal to smoke on public property and in many private businesses, the event will then go back to the customer's house to consume the marijuana. The basic package includes a three course gourmet meal with wine that is planned out by the chef from Cultivating Spirits to match the specific strains and the terpenes of marijuana. Much of the experience is about educating customers about not only better ways to consume, but ways to make marijuana use safer. Wolf said that some customers won't smoke during the event at all, but still leave learning about the product.

"This isn't you go out, and get an eighth of OG Kush and then you eat a hamburger, this is so much bigger," said Branden Nadon, Wolf's new business partner.

Nadon joined Wolf recently and joked that he's still so new he didn't have an official title. He's hoping to work on the back end of the business so that Wolf can go back to networking with contacts throughout the cannabis industry, as well as making new contacts in the culinary world. One of Wolf's goals is to tap into the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen.

"This is something that's changing our culinary culture," Wolf said.

Now that recreational marijuana has been legalized in California and Nevada, Nadon said that they are hoping to expand the business into the untapped tourism markets of those areas. He also has plans to expand to other Colorado locations.

"We tested the model in Summit County by doing our food, wine and cannabis tours, and once we saw that they worked, we decided to go after the big picture," Wolf said.

Wolf has predictions on where the industry will head once sales begin in states that voted to legalize this past November. Nevada, California, Maine and Massachusetts all voted to legalize and their new laws will go into effect in January of 2018. Now that the entirety of the West Coast has recreational laws, Wolf plans to spread his business, starting with Las Vegas.

"Las Vegas would be the first out-of-state site," Wolf said. "We're looking at Sonoma, Napa … and then San Francisco, ultimately that Bay Area is going to be the financial hub of the cannabis industry in the future."

Since starting his business in 2014, Wolf said that the response to pairing a culinary experience with marijuana has been bigger than he anticipated, starting a new trend in the cannabis industry.

But despite the success of Cultivating Spirits and his other ventures such as the Cannabis Wedding Expo, Wolf said that there are still roadblocks to navigate. Because marijuana is still federally illegal, businesses are unable to go through traditional lending routes. Wolf also said that networking can be a tiring process because while some people are curious and want to learn about the industry, they may still be unwilling to become investors due to the stigma of the product. The industry is also still in its infancy, with recreational sales entering their third year in Colorado. Businesses have to face gray areas with questions that may not have solid answers.

"It's been an interesting ride because then you're also dealing with the challenges of operating in the cannabis industry," Wolf said. "It's still the cannabis industry so it's not easy."

This article was originally published April 1, 2017, and also appeared in the 2018 Explore Summit winter magazine.