Gold Seal is one of the most respected and acclaimed cannabis brands in the Bay Area, in no small part because it has maintained a clear focus on small-scale, high-quality cultivation. The brand initially became known for an exclusive strain called Cherry Cheesecake — an indica hybrid of Cherry Pie and Kimbo Kush.
Based primarily at indoor facilities in San Francisco, Gold Seal was founded in 2015, bringing together the talents of three cannabis growers and entrepreneurs: Neil Dellacava, Aaron Flynn, and Tyson Graham.
Dellacava is a San Francisco native who’s passionate about finding new cannabis phenotype, and SPARC sat down with Dellacava recently to talk about how he got into the business, and what he’s most psyched about growing these days.
SPARC: Tell us how Gold Seal got started.
Neil Dellacava: The company is three different partners who are all growers by trade, and we’ve transitioned into a traditional business with aspects of distribution and manufacturing, not just cultivation. Some of us have gone away from cultivation to concentrate on other parts of the business — but we all started growing at different times. One partner started growing in the early 2000s, another started in the mid-2000s, and I started growing in 2009 in a warehouse in San Francisco, where I was growing medical cannabis and selling it to local cannabis clubs.
Had you tried growing on your own before that?
Yeah, starting in 2007 I had a grow in my closet, which was just one light, just experimenting. And when I left Los Angeles and came up to San Francisco to join the cannabis industry what I really wanted to get involved was on the cultivation side. So I graduated from the one-light closet to the 40-light warehouse, just growing cannabis for the cannabis clubs.
When did it become a full-time job for you?
I’ve been growing cannabis professionally since 2009. I’m from San Francisco, I’ve lived here all my life. I went to college down in Los Angeles and lived down there for about three years, and then I moved back here and started growing cannabis and being in the medical cannabis scene. And the Gold Seal partnership happened in 2015.
What has the Gold Seal brand come to specialize in?
Quality. Quality cannabis. I think there are a lot of companies out there that are scaling, and scaling extremely large and worrying more about money than about quality. We take a lot of pride in what we do and with the few other farmers who we work with on our brand to make sure that what goes in the jar is of the utmost quality, from our cultivation practices even down to our packaging. We have our own distribution facility where we package our own flower as well as a bunch of other brands, and we really concentrate on making sure that nug sizes are correct, the right amount of nugs are in there — just making sure that it’s cared for and maintaining quality. It’s super important to the consumer, especially if you’re paying a higher price, that people take more care in what they’re doing all the way throughout the supply chain.
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Is there a particular moment you can remember when you knew this was going to be a truly viable business for you?
Since 2008, when I was 24 years old, coming out of being in the entertainment industry and having the love and passion for cannabis and seeing how much bigger it was getting and how mainstream it was going, I decided while living on my mom’s couch to make the leap. I told my parents that I wanted to get involved in cannabis, and had to educate them, explain that it was legal, and there were ways to be in the industry and be safe, and have all the proper medical paperwork and stuff. So, since a pretty young adult age I’ve known that cannabis was viable.
I also really care about the culture. The culture is super important to me. And I care about the medicine. That gets overlooked with the legalization of recreational. Cannabis is a medicine, and it always has been, and SPARC was one of the early groups that I think really focused on cannabis as a medicine — not just for patients but also to be compassionate for people as well, and focusing on the message that cannabis heals. That’s a super important part of it, and it’s not just about money. Money isn’t everything in the world.
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What is your favorite part of the cultivation process?
Obviously harvest day is always a good day. After that 15- or 17-week journey, you get a chance to see how well you did with a plant, taking it through that life cycle. I also really like it when you’re in that Week Five or Week Six of the flower phase when you really see the cannabis ripening. That is my favorite part, because you can tell how well you’re doing, when you can see the plant forming its trichomes and forming its solid forms.
Is there something that Gold Seal allows your growers to do that other growers aren’t able to do?
The whole staff collaborates together here trying to pick genetics and find new things to grow. I think at some companies you have the owners and the corporations telling the growers ‘This is what we want you to do.’ We all work as a team, and the most important thing to us is genetics, finding what to do, what’s next. I think that’s very important to us, instead of just grabbing things that everybody grabs and everybody grows.
We want to separate ourselves a little and the way we do that is with genetics. All the way from the Red Congolese, the twelve-week strain, all the way down to the Cherry Cheesecake, which is the nine-week indica that we’ve grown and that we cultivated ourselves. And constantly hunting for new things, that’s something we strive for.
What is Gold Seal’s most unique strain?
Our most popular and most unique strain is definitely the Red Congolese, the twelve-week sativa. That’s one of our flagships, and if we’re talking about indica I would say it’s the Cherry Cheesecake. Both of those things represent different ends of the spectrum of what different people like, so I’d have to say those are the two most unique things that we grow.
For those who don’t know, what is a ‘twelve-week strain’ versus a ‘nine-week strain?
Each plant has a flowering cycle, and for most of the production strains that you’re looking at these days, it’s an eight- to nine-week flowering cycle. But with the Red Congolese we go an extra three to four weeks in the growing schedule, which of course affects the number of harvests and your yield in a production year. It’s one of the things that makes us unique, but it’s also just what the plant needs to fully mature. Some straight sativas need fourteen or fifteen weeks, but twelve is pretty much the max — if it went any longer than that I don’t think it’s something we could grow.
Aside from quality, what do you think cannabis connoisseurs are looking for in your products?
It’s a combination of things. Certainly the high, which is super important. A lot of people focus on THC which I personally don’t think they should and it’s something we need to move away from, but it’s definitely something people focus on. What makes a person a connoisseur, they’re obviously looking for quality of the product but also quality of the packaging and branding and I think we achieve all that for the higher end consumer.
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What are you most excited about that’s being grown right now?
That’s a tough question. We have a new collaboration happening with a company called Compound Genetics, and we’ve just received some special breeder’s cuts from them to bring to the market. Sour Gelato, Double Deja Vu, Malibu Mirage, to name a few. We’re excited to get to work with a really good friend of ours and getting to work with some of the most unique genetics that are out there. Compound Genetics has gotten this really amazing reputation for quality genetics, but it is tough to find their flower. We currently produce two Compound strains that we hunted from seed, but we started talking to them and were able to build a relationship and have them share some of the really special stuff that they’ve been working on, and I think that sort of collaboration is going to bring something special to these products. Receiving these special breeder’s cuts from them makes this relationship really unique- these are very hard to source genetics, and we’re very excited to be able to bring the flower to market.