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The making of France's first cannabis wine

The buzz in Bordeaux is a CBD-laced tipple. But, in a country of classic wine devotees, who is drinking it?

A touch of blackcurrant balances the strong CBD taste. (Tobias Rademacher, Unsplash)
A touch of blackcurrant balances the strong CBD taste. (Tobias Rademacher, Unsplash)

A young entrepreneur has launched France's first wine infused with a cannabis extract in the heart of the Bordeaux wine-growing region, hoping to shake up traditions and score with millennials.

Raphael De Pablo, the 28-year-old creator of the Burdi W brand, infuses a locally sourced "petit verdot" varietal, usually reserved for high-quality wines, with cannabidiol (CBD), one of the key substances found in cannabis.

While the intoxicating THC cannabis component remains strictly banned in France, the use of CBD is not only legal but has been credited with some medicinal properties, including for alleviating epilepsy or anxiety.

"It adds a relaxing effect to the classic effect of alcohol," says De Pablo, and added he came up with the idea for his brand in 2018.

While his product is legal and certified "from the seed to the finished product" it cannot claim to be wine, and has to be marketed as a "flavoured wine-based drink."

A "little touch of blackcurrant" balances out the strong CBD taste, De Pablo said, adding that hitting the right mix is "one of the more complex parts of making this drink".

Burdi W has attracted more than 1,000 backers in a crowdfunding campaign, and De Pablo said he has sold already 8,000 bottles at 34 euros ($41) each.

Most of the buyers are in France but orders are arriving from other European countries as well as the United States, where CBD-infused wine is already popular, but also very expensive, he said.

'Vegetable notes'

France may be among the world's greatest wine-loving countries, but there is evidence that young adults feel less drawn to regular wine-drinking than their parents or grandparents.

A survey last year by the Credoc research body said that only a quarter of people aged 18 to 24 drink wine once a week on average, compared to 50 percent of people in their 40s, and 60 percent of 75-year-olds and over.

"Our aim is to reconcile young people with wine", said De Pablo, with the design of the bottles -- featuring engraved corks and a marijuana leaf on glow-in-the-dark labels -- targeted at a young, sophisticated audience.

"I never drink wine but knowing that there is CBD in it makes me want to try it," says Zoe Habar Treves, a 21-year-old recent university graduate in Paris.

But Jean-Michel Delile, who runs the CEID addiction information centre, said targeting younger people with the new drink was problematic.

"CBD is without risk, but alcohol is not," says Delile.

French legislation complicates the making of the drink because while growing hemp is legal, extracting any substance from the plant is not, and CBD production is therefore handled in neighbouring Germany, with details of the process a trade secret, De Pablo said.

Reactions in the wine community meanwhile range from bafflement to rejection.

"Wine is wine. I don't understand why you would add mood-enhancing substances to wine, there is already alcohol in it," says Diane Cauvin, a wine maker.

Jacques Broustet, the owner of the Chateau Lamery domain, quipped: "I am a wine maker, not a chemist".

The influential Terre de Vins wine website, however, deemed the drink promising after their taste test revealed "vegetable notes that recall the aromatics of a craft beer".

"It's a fun beverage, in a different category from wine, that we can easily imagine as an aperitif," it said.

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