How 2 scientists turned vintners are setting their sights on cultivating cannabis.
When Paul and Margaret Caracciolo founded Mill Station Vineyards in Sonoma in 2008, they imagined a modest semi-retired life parlaying their careers in the biotechnology industry to perfect their winemaking craft.
As scientists, they immediately started experimenting and optimizing their growing operations on 8 1⁄2 acres of ultra-premium grapes. Neighboring vineyards took notice of their expertise and started buying their grapes in volume to make some of the most coveted Pinot Noirs available from the Russian River Valley.
“My wife and I both work in the biotech industry,” Caracciolo said. “As scientists, we look at Sonoma as a laboratory. We develop standard protocols for the way that we approach cultivation — everything from the soil, the water and fertilizers are precisely calibrated to create high-quality grapes.”
When California approved the 2016 voter initiative to legalize cannabis, the two entrepreneurs realized that they were well-positioned to leverage their biotech background and operational prowess to jumpstart their entry into one of the fastest-growing industries in the region. They made the pivotal decision to diversify by growing cannabis on their property.
“We took our quality approach to wine and ported it over to cannabis cultivation,” Caracciolo said. “There are a lot of analogies when it comes to irrigating and scaling these two farming products.”
Caracciolo had completed his Master’s in Biochemistry at the University of Colorado when he developed human biopharmaceuticals for a company that was acquired by Amgen. He spent much of his life in healthcare – holding the position of Chief Technology Officer for Dignity Health and running 42 hospitals across the United States for Duke University Health System as well as Stanford’s hospitals, and over 200 clinics.
Caracciolo's immediate goal is to capitalize on the things that they currently do well – like recently adding a cannabis nursery business, which is booming. They are crafting clones for other farms and extending their reach as a trusted partner in the supply chain.
“We are expanding our footprint to become a much larger cultivation presence in Northern California,” Caracciolo said.
Caracciolo's customers know that they can depend on the quality of the cannabis they receive and not worry about variations from one shipment to the next. It is this ability to control the variables and deliver a very precise and consistent product that is much sought after in the biotechnology industry.
Sonoma Biologics focuses on the extraction of over 100 cannabinoids that can be applied for different therapeutics. New processes have been developed to deliver high-quality compounds that meet the rigors of FDA-approved products.
“Growing grapes on this scale really gave us a head start in the cannabis business,” said Caracciolo. “All other factors being equal, it can't be overstated that being enthusiastic and passionate about your products isn't enough. You need the science to take your products to the next level.”
In fact, many of Sonoma Biologics' seed investors are executives from the traditional pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Some have even taken on advisory roles on the board.
It also helps that two of the top schools for agricultural sciences in the nation are just a few hours’ drive away. Sonoma Biologics’ proximity to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and the University of California in Davis has made it easier to tap into the latest research and develop a pipeline of product licenses.
Finally, Sonoma Valley is right next door to Silicon Valley, home to many of the world’s top venture funds.
“We're fortunate in that we have good cash flow from our core business,” said Caracciolo. “With that said, we are still looking for strategic investors and partners to help accelerate our ability to develop the compounds needed for new therapeutics.”
Recreational marijuana is available under California law; however, it is illegal under Federal law. Must be age 21 or older.
CCL19-0001519 Cannabis Cultivation License
Sonoma CHO, LLC dba Flora Terra
Originally published on September 1, 2020 at https://www.usatoday.com/story/sponsor-story/sonoma-biologics/2020/09/01/how-these-2-winemakers-moving-into-cannabis-cultivation/3446043001/