Pot growing is going underground in wine country

I have a friend—let’s call him “Bob”—who is in his 60s and has a vacation home and small vineyard in the hills above Calistoga. He made a fortune as an early investor in some of the biggest tech companies around, and now he drives expensive cars and is often traveling through some distant country in search of adventure. Bob flies his own helicopter and sits on the boards of three or four successful companies, and his children are being groomed to attend Ivy League colleges. Bob is also a total stoner, smoking marijuana daily.

“Dude, I can’t believe they took all of it,” Bob said as we walked through an acre field of tiny dusty stumps. “They didn’t even leave me a single bud to smoke.”

We stood in what he called his “experimental garden,” which consisted of an acre field of marijuana that he planted after Proposition 64 passed. But what had been lush fields of verdant rows of cannabis now resembled a clear-cut miniature forest.

“What happened?” I asked.

“A bunch of criminals waited until just the perfect moment to come in and harvest my crop before I did,” Bob said, kicking at the ground.

“Didn’t you have any security?” I asked. “I mean, for a crop that you told me was worth up to $3 million an acre per year, I imagine that you had considered the potential threat.”

“Of course I did,” Bob said. “I had a service watching the place for me when I was out of town, but either they were in on it or it was just bad timing—those crooks snuck in at night and removed everything.”

“At least no one was hurt,” I said.

“No one was hurt,” Bob repeated as he scooped up a handful of dirt and let it slip between his fingers. “I’d heard that up north the drug cartels are sending out their thugs to threaten legit farmers, but I hadn’t really considered it even possible down here—we’re more civilized.”

Bob stood, brushed off his hands and then reached into his pocket and brought out a lighter and a glass tube about the size of a cigarette.

“Take the edge off?” he said, offering me the pipe.

I shook my head and he shrugged, brought the tube to his mouth and lit the other end.

“Dude, why don’t you smoke this stuff?” he asked, his voice high and strained as he kept the smoke in his lungs.

“Just not my thing,” I said.

“It’s no worse than all that wine you drink,” he said in a rush as he released the smoke.

“That’s your rationale—not worse than something I’m doing that you consider harmful?” I asked.

“No, man, this stuff is medicine,” Bob said. “Medicine of the gods.”

“I’ll stick to one vice for now,” I said.

“Suit yourself, dude,” he said, and took another hit from the pipe.

A scrub jay screeched in a nearby tree. Beyond the devastated plot the scene opened up to the Napa Valley below, its rugged mountains cradling the patchwork of vineyards until being lost in the haze of Carneros.

“So will you replant?” I asked.

“Hell yes. These guys can’t intimidate me. And besides, if I give in, then what?” he asked. “Do we just let criminals run the show?”

“But aren’t you nervous about your family’s safety?” I said.

“Dude, my kids don’t come up her anymore anyway—it’s too boring, they say.” Bob said. “Besides, I’ll be making a few modifications.”

Bob swung his body around 180 degrees and pointed upward to a rocky hillside covered in manzanita and oak.

“Next time I plant I’ll be doing it underground,” he said.

I shrugged. “How are you going to do that?”

“I’m just going to dig a wine cave. Instead of storing barrels, I’ll just be growing pot in there,” he said.

“You can grow marijuana underground?” I asked.

“Totally,” he said. His expression was slack and distant, but his hands moved and pointed animatedly.

 “Dude, it’s totally the way to go. I should have thought of it before,” he said, making a wide arc with his arms. “Weed grows perfectly well in closets where you can control the light and water, but a cave will have the extra benefit that I can secure it like Fort Knox.”

“Seems like a lot of trouble,” I said. “Why not grow a few plants in your garden for your own personal use?”

“Are you nuts, man? ” he said, rubbing his fingers together.

I shook my head and smiled. Making money was his game, a game he’d won at many times in the past and would probably win again in the future—it was almost his hobby.

“So tell me,” I asked, “how’s it going to work?”

Bob grinned widely, and for the next hour he explained his plan in detail, already moving on from the trodden and dusty remnants of what had recently been his prized garden.


Originally published in the Northbay Biz, September 2017