Jim Shaw
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Mapping Mendocino Cannabis Appellations

Mapping Mendocino
Wine enthusiasts know terroir—the complex blend of conditions, climate and farming practices that culminate in a wine’s unique flavor profile. Wine lovers know appellation—the proscribed geographical region where those wine grapes were grown.
Justin Calvino, executive director of Terroir Mendocino is bringing these significant concepts to the world of cannabis.

“I started a successful company in my mid-twenties installing infrastructure for large-scale golf courses. When the market tanked, I decided to walk away and become a subsistence farmer. I came to Mendocino, not for the Green Rush but for salvation.”

Calvino refocused, pairing his knowledge of marketing, graphic design, food and philanthropy with permaculture and biodynamics. Now that he was living in Mendocino County, his love of cannabis informed the next step of his journey.
“I’ve long believed in the safety of cannabis. In 2009, after the market crashed, I grew a little garden to help subsidize my permaculture and design enterprises,” he smiles.

Justin Calvino

Justin Calvino

But Calvino knew there was a lot more to the cannabis world than growing. “My primary skills were in economics and assisting small farmers. I came out of the cannabis closet. I got into cannabis policy, and through that began to formulate the Mendocino Appellations Project.”

Mendocino County is known for its complex subset of climatological regions, famous among consumers for the unique strains of cannabis that were developed here. Knowing this, Calvino had an “Aha” moment. “Identifying appellations could secure the agricultural sovereignty of our county, honoring specific micro-economic hubs for growing regions. It was a poetic mechanism, and is so necessary, not just for cannabis, but for other crops.”

Calvino sketched out ideas and shared them with colleagues, creating a rough appellation map. “Then I went to the county and got a watershed overlay. I began sketching the map on top of the watersheds.”

Calvino was introduced to attorney and author Richard Mendelson, who assisted vintners, grape-growers and policy makers with the creation of a New World appellations system for the Napa Valley. “Richard was excited. He offered professional resources to continue with development of the map.”

Eleven distinct cannabis appellation regions are identified within Mendocino County. But unlike traditional mapping, Calvino took the process a step further. “We utilized information based around cultural designations, watershed and food-shed maps, including where agricultural products had been traded in the past.”

Proposed Appellations Map

Proposed Appellations Map

Calvino’s long associations with farmers, and his knowledge of Mendocino County cannabis strains informed the drawing of appellation boundaries. “We were able to demonstrate there was a method to the madness out here,” he smiles. The borders, notes Calvino, don’t necessarily follow geographic lines. “We wanted to see where and how people wanted to define themselves. They gravitated first around a sense of personal place, and secondly around their environment. I call this ‘cultural terroir.’”

“We noticed different methodologies from different areas. The map took into account who you ran into at the nurseries and the grocery stores, the conversations shared between neighbors. This had a tremendous impact on which plants were grown in a region and the techniques people used to grow them. “Local farmers would see each other around town and say to one another, ‘I’m using trellis netting over 10×10 growing beds with coco coir medium,’ or, ‘I started tying my plants in a new way and it substantially increased my nodal points.’ This is cultural terroir.”

As the map refines, microclimates come into play. “In areas with so many ridges in so many directions, with variances in elevation and marine layers, we found locations with distinctive, unduplicated growing conditions. These will become sub-appellations. It’s impossible to designate strains without recognizing them.”

This year, Calvino will tour the region, one appellation to the next. “We’ll partner with agricultural leaders from each community. We’re hoping to install weather, elevation and altitude stations at a variety of farms. Everything is proposed. Nothing is set in stone. We hope to quantify terroir through hard data and ultimately, register the appellations as they do in France.”

Calvino is a state consultant for appellations and is helping to create state metrics. He’s creating a stakeholder treaty that he hopes will help bridge remaining gaps between cannabis farmers and producers, the environmental community, neighbors, government and business. “Let’s say yes to responsible policy. Let’s find common ground.”

“Mendocino County deserves this map. Cannabis is part of our legacy and our heritage. If we don’t think and plan for longer increments, we’re failing our community and our children.”

Ultimately, Calvino hopes the map will help to further the identification, branding and the protection of Mendocino County-grown cannabis—ensuring that consumers purchasing “Mendo-Grown” products will be guaranteed to receive what Calvino lauds as the finest cannabis in the world.

Last month, Calvino was honored to lecture students at the UC Berkeley Law School. “Pretty amazing, for a kid who left home in the ninth grade,” he smiles.