I meet Michael Johnson at 9 a.m. on a Thursday morning, two hours before Dalwhinnie Farms opens to the public. We sit on the couches in the shop and chat easily about the brand, the product and the people that made the 30-something want to take on the CEO role in November. 

Well, all of that and the ranch. But it’s impossible to separate one from the other — the 210-acre working ranch in Ridgway, just outside of Telluride, permeates every factor of the company’s identity. Including the equestrian nods in all of the merchandise, such as a one-of-a-kind crystal saddle that sold in a matter of weeks. 

“Our merchandise moves really well — It’s remarkable. We had a giant crystalline saddle; it’s gone. David just sold a Rolex about three weeks ago,” he says, referencing one of the Aspen boutique’s sales representatives. “The Aspen consumers love this store.”

It’s why Aspen became home to the Dalwhinnie flagship … dispensary? Retail shop? Apothecary? The operation occupying the 108 S. Mill St. address certainly feels like a bit of all three. Well-lit glass cases take center stage here, housing marijuana flower, pre-rolled joints, topical balms and creams and a variety of edibles — boasting both Tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, and cannabidiol, as well as herbs often found in Traditional Chinese Medicine cookbooks. Along the perimeter of the room, decorated in the kind of old-school prep-chic aesthetic that Gen Z is apparently bringing back, wares ranging from Dalwhinnie-branded attire to homegoods and bar accessories to leather luggage bags reign.

Even the candles have proprietary scents. And yes, there’s an Aspen scent. It smells mostly of champagne — very good champagne. 

“My wife loves them,” Johnson laughs. “They’re one of our No. 1 sellers.”

In fact, nearly every Dalwhinnie-branded product, regardless of which department it would have belonged in malls of yesteryear, already had orders in place to restock inventory — even the Dalwhinne-branded dog sweaters. 

When it comes to product, though, nothing lights Johnson up like talking cannabis. He came from Oregon, where recreational marijuana became legal in 2015 — just three years after Colorado, when an entire new industry was born in the West: cannabis tourism. Johnson knows better than to think there are any pioneers left in that market, however. The move, now, is to establish differentiations in the market — and that’s where catering to a luxury, more discerning clientele becomes attractive. Where better to establish your reputation in that regard than Aspen?

“There is a more sophisticated consumer that’s being born right now — not just in Aspen, but globally. And in our impression, there’s not a lot of companies that are catering to that,” he says. “In our opinion, the majority of sophisticated consumers are looking for something to help them feel better in one way or another, but they’re also busy people. It  needs to be very functional, and that kind of goes to the product curation that we’ve selected.” 

I’m not sure if I’m bold enough to call myself a sophisticated consumer, but it didn’t take long for Johnson to profile me accurately. I work a lot, so something to keep me focused — and not too high or dull — may be useful. I smoke, but not very often and not a lot when I do. I’m a little intimidated by edibles and will barely nibble one corner of one gummy when I do partake. I’m also a sucker — I like pretty things and appreciate clever branding or packaging. 

He settles on a seven pack of half-gram, pre-rolled joints, about two thirds the length of most commercial pre-rolled joints I’ve seen. They’re neatly packed in a navy-blue container artfully decorated with an illustration of the actual farm in Ridgway and the gold Dalwhinnie Farms logo. Inside the flap, which holds closed with a magnet, is a card informing me that not only is the marijuana inside these miniature joints of the sativa ilk — the more energizing of the two main types of cannabis — but that the particular strain is called “Chocolate Morgan,” with funky, sweet and pine notes.

“A potent cross of Chocolate Thai and Indigo Diamond, uplifts the senses with its funky pine notes,” the description reads. “A perfect smoke to hit the slopes, providing an invigorating high that lasts.”

Bingo. But before I pull out my credit card to conclude the transaction, I find myself also talking about my troubles sleeping through the night. Not to worry, there are plenty of options to ease that ailment — including other strains packaged neatly in the same half-gram joints. I hear the pros and cons of each, and I settle on “Safety Meeting,” a strain of indica that in all seriousness really does hint of cheese, grapes and hops. “This heavy-hitting indica settles any stress from the day, wrapping you in the smell and taste of grapes and cheese,”

the card promises. The product, I’d learn, delivers.

The descriptions of marijuana strains at Dalwhinnie Farms remind me of the descriptions I find on the sides of olive oil bottles in the specialty shops that so frequently dot the Main Streets of my (other) favorite mountain towns. As Johnson aptly points out, cannabis isn’t dissimilar from wine anymore — the location of the soil, the organic growing methodologies, the philosophies of the growers all have a discernible impact on the final experience. Such is the luxury marijuana market, which is burgeoning in Aspen.