‘Weed & Wine’ examines cultivation industry, family dynamics in intimate documentary

Photo from the documentary, "Weed & Wine"
Racing Horse Productions/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

When someone first thinks of marijuana and wine, they might remember a familiar, relaxed sensation, or perhaps flashback to a night when one of the two got the best of them. Whatever the case may be, there’s a comfortable feeling in knowing what comes next for connoisseurs of these products. 

A comfortable, complacent sensation, however, has been largely missing for the public since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We live in a time marked by uncertainty, by wavering hope and an overall feeling that there is very little we can do to change the current state of affairs.

This ambiguity is one that has plagued the cultivation processes of both marijuana and wine for years. Initially, Emmy-nominated filmmaker and Harvard Law lecturer Rebecca Richman Cohen sought to examine the differing nature of terroir between marijuana and wine cultivation in her latest documentary “Weed & Wine,” but soon found there was much more than geography at play.

In fact, athough the film was shot in 2017, the profound uncertainty that goes into producing marijuana and wine can only be comparable to the unpredictability of climate change and the pandemic. As Cohen tracks the progress of the Thibons, who own a vineyard in Rhone Valley, France, alongside the marijuana-cultivating Jodreys in Humboldt County, California, audiences are invited to envision a smaller space between these two localities as the families deliver an intimate look into their cultural and environmental adaptation.

Aesthetically, the documentary is an achievement for its ability to deliver panoramic cinematography, which effortlessly blends the topography of French wine country with the dark Northern Californian woods. Furthermore, the transition from original score to original soundtrack, the former composed by Max Avery Lichtenstein and the latter written by French indie pop band Juniore, is seamless, connecting an eclectic mix of pop and a more classic film score.

But, despite their aesthetic connections, the Jodrey’s and Thibon’s two stories are incredibly dissimilar in terms of history. While French wine is revered nationally, weed isn’t allowed that same distinction in the United States. The contrast in effect this has on both families is stark. The French family, who has worked on the same land for 450 years, is free to establish a network of buyers for their 2017 vintage, but the American family has long been afforded an underground network, which they must now translate into the legal market. 

This proves a nearly herculean task in Humboldt, particularly given that insurance isn’t afforded to marijuana farmers because of the risk of fire in California. Thus, they are subject to intense climate conditions. “Less than five percent of all farmers in Humboldt County are going to make it through the process of legalization,” said Nocona Jodrey, who goes by Cona, in the film.

Over in Rhone Valley, on the other hand, the effects of the global crisis are directed upon the grape harvest itself. 

Climate change and the cultural obstacles in adjusting to the legal marijuana marketplace are primary motifs throughout the film, but it is difficult to pinpoint a central message. The cinematography, original score and soundtrack are stunning, but there is still something left unresolved at the end of the film, as audiences do not know the full fates of the families depicted. 

Kev, the Jodrey father, puts his dog — which he got to alleviate the stress of his industry — to sleep, breaking his son’s heart and creating a divide between the two. Yet, without much resolution aside from Kev’s son admitting his father’s unmatched reputation for marijuana cultivation, the two seem to patch up their differences by the end. For such a grabbing, private moment, it felt like there should have been a concrete message.

Nonetheless, the documentary is an intimate achievement, relaying the real experiences of two groups otherwise sheltered from the public eye — especially when paired with one another. After all, marjuana culture is just gaining mainstream attention. Viticulture has been normalized for decades. Regardless, both will remain as such for years to come — so long as climate permits, that is.

Contact Ethan Waters at [email protected]. Tweet him at @ewate1.