You can’t yet take tours of the cannabis farms of Northern California or sit down in a tasting room to sample products and discuss the complex flavors of different varietals. But those days may be coming, and SPARC has just taken a first step toward eventually making cannabis tourism a reality — in the heart of Sonoma’s wine country where wine tourism has existed for decades.
At their January 26 meeting, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved SPARC’s project use permit for their recently rebuilt cultivation and processing facility in Glen Ellen. SPARC lost not only one of its first big outdoor crops but also a significantly renovated processing facility in an old barn when the Nuns Fire tore through this part of the county in October 2017. And now the company has rebuilt an even larger and more robust facility that will accommodate indoor growing as well as drying, processing, and packaging in accordance with California laws governing cannabis for recreational use.
The facility includes a 20,000-square-foot processing barn outfitted with solar panels, and a 70,000-square-foot greenhouse — which is outfitted with blackout curtains to prevent light pollution at night, and an odor-mitigation system to keep down the volume of cannabis aroma for the surrounding area.
SPARC’s facility sits on a 27-acre site that was formerly the Gordenker turkey farm in Glen Ellen — and the Gordenker family has roots in the town dating back to the late 1800s. Family members still grow wine grapes on a different part of the property, and since 2016, SPARC has been cultivating its outdoor brand, Marigold, here in the heart of Sonoma’s famed Valley of the Moon.
The project to rebuild the processing facility and greenhouse won unanimous approval from the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Council last year, and public comments at the January 26 supervisors’ meeting reflected SPARC’s established reputation for professionalism in the area. Neighbors also noted how SPARC staff helped rescue nearby homes during the Nuns Fire, including the Gordenker Ranch.
“I view our [newly approved] use permit as a first of many steps in Sonoma Valley,” says SPARC founder and CEO Erich Pearson, speaking this month to the local paper the Kenwood Press. “We hope to work with the local government to create public access on the property, in the form of a retail sales store… or maybe a farm stand.”
Pearson adds that the team has created a man-made lake on the property to help with crop irrigation, and parts of the land would be perfect for overnight “glamping” for tourists as well.
“We’re looking forward to making more of a hospitality-centered experience around the farm,” Pearson said.
As we’ve reported before, SPARC’s first-ever customer survey in the summer of 2020 found that many customers are looking forward to being able to visit the farm and have on-site tasting experiences, as soon as this becomes a legal reality.
For now, SPARC’s Glen Ellen farm remains closed to the public. But the days of winery-like tours and tastings may not be far off.