Sommeliers: A Closer Look

photo credit to Weedful LLC

I was initially skeptical of what the development of the cannabis sommelier would mean for the average user. The word ‘sommelier’ invokes images of the wine tastings, gently shaking the glasses, sparing sips, elegant hand positions and passionate debates about history and sensory experience.

I imagined Cannabis sommeliers circling around small porcelain bowls of top grade creating their version of that. Maybe having thresholds in minute tasks like how the cannabis is broken up, or having preferred/standardized vape pens and temperatures to denote a “correct” way to experience. I imagined a cultural elite.

I then decided to contact and speak with two premier Sommelier programs: The Trichome Institute and CannaReps. I reached out to both, and I have yet to get in touch with the Trichome institute. I did get in touch with CannaReps, which is a Canadian certification program.

CannaReps CEO, Julie Domingo, describes it more akin to being stewards of knowledge, and training program that provides value to dispensary staff. The team strives to create courses that are scientifically relevant and maintains cultural respect and integrity.

The term “Cannabis Sommelier” seems to betray the full breadth of what is provided. Certainly, it communicates that one who has completed a course with CannaReps can speak about cannabis “confidently, confidently and compliant.” That last one is does means legally compliant. Which is great, because there was a need for that.

Their courses were initially developed for dispensaries. How does an industry create an environment of safe consumption for customers? At the rollout of grey market dispensaries in Vancouver, budtenders described the cannabis effects to potential customers. Of course. But this simple interaction had profound implications for the fledgling industry. How do we do that?

Without a standard language and industry understanding, well-intentioned people were describing cannabis strains through personal experience or anecdotal descriptions that relied on reputation and myths.

What would become the “Cannabis Sommelier” program was born. The CannaReps team formed. Their credentials are impressive. But more importantly, scientific and academic rigor was applied in way that would redefine how companies speak to customers about a cannabis experience.

Course information ballooned further into a cultural and historical analysis of a plant that has been in human society for a few millennia. The information allows someone with little experience to feel an intimate relationship with this plant through an informed sensory experience that captures the whole journey of cannabis.

There is smell identifying that may become the scene I painted earlier. It is also clear that this is the most easily identifiable part of the program. A person who is adept can describe the myriad of smells, and link the bud to a given profile, which then allows the sommelier to identify a likely region, genetic mix and give a narrative that would be educational even if incorrect.

Most interesting, however, is that experienced growers and researchers were taking the course also, and not just for the liability language. If there is a base of sensory experience with Cannabis, some cultivators are able to identify healthy growth through the expression of certain smells. If growers can systemize and identify the smells through the life cycle of growing cannabis, they have another leg up on analysis and can increase their chances of producing high quality product.

At the end of my conversation, it was clear that the Cannabis sommelier is in its infancy as an identity and set of skills. Programs have situated themselves to define how we speak about cannabis to customers, and businesses will appreciate a place that centralizes language to navigate a splintered regulatory environment. It has grown immensely since the epiphany of the function it serves, and quality programs will continue to grow and morph to address needs.

The sommelier skills will be used to change customer experiences with cannabis. Smells, flavors and the descriptions will contribute an elite element to the culture as the art of description becomes more present; but the most important impact will be that an industry now has a hub that maintains scientific and legal relevancy.