Life is Not Grape is a small-batch local brand in LA that specializes in top shelf weed with a unique approach to marketing. The man behind Life is Not Grape, who goes by Mr. Grape to protect his identity, has a hand in every aspect of the product he puts out, from growing it using his own novel techniques to creating artwork for the packaging. The brand has earned praise in the industry for the quality of its weed.
The brand continues to expand, reaching new shops, bringing out about a dozen new strains in the coming months, with a new custom merch line dropping, and a new delivery service called Vineyard that will soon be up and running.
The origin of Life is Not Grape helps to explain the odd naming of the brand. In 2019 Mr. Grape had developed a thriving brand called Candy Paint Flowers, which used the icon of grapes as its logo, and which was distributed in over 30 stores after only a year and half. But, he says, a “hostile corporate takeover” led to him suddenly losing control of Candy Paint Flowers and, along with everyone he worked with, he got cut out of the brand.
“I essentially had my brand stolen from me. So, after all the nonsense and all that shit, I put myself back together super fast and bought another facility with my now partner, Steve. And I created a whole new brainchild called Life is Not Grape, really based on how I was feeling at the time,” Mr. Grape said.
He went all in on forming his own brand, which he said was the first time that he was the owner, grower, and operator of a brand and its facilities. Around 2021 Mr. Grape got his first facility in Van Nuys, and then in just a few months he grew to a second facility in Downtown LA. That was the start of Life is Not Grape.
Although life was not, at that moment, “grape,” the rapid growth of his new brand was born out of the support he’d gained in the business to that point.
“I still had a lot of the following from Candy Paint Flowers, fans and, you know, supporters. And when this corporate hostile takeover happened, I was very vocal about it on my Instagram letting the people know.”
He went straight to the audience and was transparent about this situation.
“After all, the people are the ones who have made me successful, not myself. It’s all these people around the world who believe in and support me and purchase my product. That is the only reason why I’m here,” Mr. Grape said.
Through the drama and his own triumph, his online following has supported him.
“They believe in me. So, I’ve just been believing them and back and it’s been a reciprocation” Mr. Grape said.
Make no mistake, Mr. Grape is a young guy in the relatively new legal weed industry. He only started growing around the age of 21, and by his mid twenties he was working professionally in the industry. He started Candy Paint Flowers when he was only 24. During much of that time and since, he’s studied Plant Science and Physical Chemistry at Cal Poly Pomona, where he says he’s been able to work with some of the best minds in the field. He’ll soon graduate with his Bachelor’s of Science.
He says that with all that many growers know about growing weed, they often aren’t informed on the latest science and technology of growing.
“A lot of this stuff is organic chemistry, biological science, physical chemistry. These are very in-depth fields that people spend their whole life studying. My brand implements all that education into its product,” Mr. Grape said.
He doesn’t keep his techniques to himself. He uses his Instagram to broadcast himself teaching and sharing information with his followers. When he finds something that works, no matter how unlikely, he shares it.
His core point is that there’s no one right way to grow weed.
“Watch me do the complete opposite of what everybody is doing, and still achieve immaculate results if not better, just because there’s no right way to grow a plant,” Mr. Grape said. “That’s what my brand has on the educational side. And then there’s a whole humanistic, emotional aspect about it as well.”
He experiments with growing variables like a scientist, but thinks outside of the box like a creative.
“I’m taking this scientific educational aspect and adding a personal artistic mind to it, seeing how I can approach it in an artistic manner instead of so direct and mathematical,” Mr. Grape says.
Life is Not Grape tends to nail it when it comes to genetics. Though he’s not yet breeding in-house, Mr. Grape is very selective about the strains he grows.
“My approach to genetics is to put out what I believe in, what I personally think is good. And then from there, I adapt and improvise to the environment and the consumer,” Mr. Grape said.
Using his own experience as a smoker and grower, he’s developed a sensibility for choosing weed.
“I follow my senses and my gut. I’m the main QC holder still till this day, because I still consumed the most cannabis in my whole company from bottom to top, and all my friends. I’m just that guy,” Mr. Grape said.
As for his branding, the emotional, humanistic side he calls it, has to do with the difficult feelings that are often part of life.
Online and in packaging, Life is Not Grape is often framed by negative emotions: sadness, depression, isolation, alienation, irony. But the irony is also a humorous self-awareness of branding with depression. Humor is at the heart of the brand, as is apparent in the elementary-school grape pun.
His goal is to present a more realistic persona rather than a shiny happy facade.
“I like to show what life truly is. Comparable to, let’s say, a very big famous Instagram that posts fancy steak dinners and diamond chains and all these pounds of weed. After my long day of showing all my dank weed and my grows, I’ll just show my very small house with my dog having our little home cooked meal. I’m showing that, hey guys, this is sometimes what it’s about, too,” Mr. Grape said.
“I’m not rich, I’m not fancy. I’m not well known. I’m just some guy who likes to paint under bridges and grow weed,” he said.
He often posts online or names strains using the idiom of social media and texting culture. He writes with lots of emojis and acronyms. Frequently, he posts crying or sad emojis. His brand is about the negative emotions that are a part of life.
“It is the ones everyone is afraid to talk about. It’s the ones people act like they don’t exist when they do. These are things that should be talked about and made well known in our industry. This is a tough industry, we work hard for the people. And I think it has been forgotten,” Mr. Grape said.
Mr. Grape puts as much creativity into his packaging designs and strains names as he does in growing weed. In fact, his art preceded his growing. He doesn’t call himself a graffiti artist, but he paints with spray paint on walls and under bridges, creating what he calls “public displays of affection.”
The name of his brand is written in a unique style reminiscent of street tagging.
“I would say my style comes more from my emotion because even my lettering is very different, where there’s a lot of flares and hard scripts that 99% of people can’t even read. It’s emotion based, all of the things I do are from emotion,” Mr. Grape said.
His brand logo, a disgruntled cartoon character, was designed after Mr. Grape himself.
“My logo was made by a tattoo artist named Motive. But I was heavily involved in the designing of it, because it’s actually me. A lot of people don’t know how I look, but that’s actually me.”
He admits that there is a confusing effect of his branding and marketing approach that he hopes is the hook.
“What pulls the consumer in first is the confusion and the sparks of thought as what is this? Why am I feeling this way when I look at this? Why am I so confused when I look at this brand? And then they go try the product,” Mr. Grape said.
The grape itself became the foundation of his idea of weed from the first time he tried it. His first introduction to weed in high school happened to be from close friends who were the children of Ken Estus, and so introduced him to Grandaddy Purple.
“They brought just purple weed to me for the first time, as well as a strain called Granddaddy Purp, and then another strain called Phantom Cookies, and another strain called Bay Area Grapes. And from that I just got this obsession with this deep purple, Concord grape smell and purple ugly-ass look of weed that was just fascinating to me,” Mr. Grape said.
He’s drawn to the color purple, he says, because it can be both stimulating and relaxing.
“And then grapes are just a very promiscuous and fancy fruit. The Greek gods were fed grapes. People feed grapes to each other as aphrodisiac. I just liked the idea of a grape and it just vibes well with who I am. So, I like grapes in every aspect,” he said.
He describes his preferred terp profiles just as sensuously.
“I’m really into complex sharp or deep fruit smelling flavors with gas undertones. So, I would describe it like a plum, drizzled in petroleum, or like a peach that was heated up for a pie to really release the aromas and just dunk it in some motor oil. That complex smell and those complex tastes,” Mr. Grape said.
He tends to go for strong strains that really get you high, that have a heavy sedative effect.
His BOLO Runtz was one of the first of his strains to pop off and get wide acclaim. Two other popular strains were from seed hunts he conducted himself: Teflon Tape (Marsha x Zhits) and IDK IDC (Gushers x Runtz).
Teflon Tape in particular was, he said, “just really weird. And that’s my favorite word, weird. If it’s weird, there’s potential in there. Because people’s interpretations of weird are all different,” Mr. Grape said.
With five strains currently on the rec market, Life is Not Grape is looking to expand with another 12 new strains that all came from Mr. Grape’s own pheno hunt.
He’s also starting a breeding project, “all grape-themed stuff” he said.
They’ve got a whole new line of custom made merch. And Mr. Grape is set to open a distribution company this year called the Vineyard, which he imagines will connect other grape lovers. He also sees himself doing more events this year, to get out in front of his fans and customers.
It continues to be a time of growth for Mr. Grape.
“I’m just really excited to expand with my team and my family and to give opportunities to my employees. Because when that happens, everything else comes naturally. So, that’s what I’m most excited about, putting everybody on.”