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Taste Bvds – Pheno Hunting at Altvm

Taste discriminates. What catches your eye on a menu says a lot about who you are as a person...
By Sensi Contributor
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Taste discriminates. What catches your eye on a menu says a lot about who you are as a person. Rich and savory, light and fruity, warm and sweet—the flavor profiles we prefer become defining parts of our personalities. For example, I quickly became known for my peanut butter penchant once my friends found out I stash a spare jar in my back seat for emergencies. I know that there are few problems a spoonful or two can’t help me solve, so I keep the option close at hand. Offer the same to my partner, on the other hand, and he’ll scoff so hard you’d think it was an insult and go off in search of yet another bag of BBQ Lay’s. Different people naturally appreciate different culinary experiences and forcing someone to eat in a way that doesn’t match their tastes or needs will do a number on their soul before long.

But those preferences apply to more than just food. There’s no one-taste-fits-all formula when it comes to cannabis either. The same strain that helps one person wind down from a stressful day might make another too anxious to even catch a breath. The aroma that energizes me might put you straight to sleep.

That’s why it matters to have options in this industry. Cannabis has the power to impact an incredibly wide range of people for a list of reasons that’s only growing in number day by day. It’s not just 20-something stoner bros lighting up on the couch when the beer runs out anymore. It’s also menopausal women, anxiety-ridden workaholics, hardworking athletes, sleepless over-thinkers, and anyone at the mercy of a chronic condition. So many members of that potential audience, though, will never know the benefits if they can’t access the strains that speak to them—or if those versions don’t even exist yet.

The Next Blue-Ribbon Recipe

Enter Altvm: the team of cannabis cultivators on a mission to expand the scope of cannabis culture. As the market spikes and legalization spreads, there’s no shortage of producers. It’s just that no one does high-quality quite like Altvm yet.

Maybe that’s for good reason. The brand’s take on the cultivation process isn’t exactly for the faint of heart. Altvm doesn’t just grow its own product from established strains—the brand leaves a mark on the entire industry by breeding its own creations.

“We start by planting seeds… a lot of seeds,” explains David Dodson, Altvm’s chief cultivation officer. But Dodson sees those seeds as more than just merchandise in the making. “Each seed is an opportunity to discover new genetics that can help produce a new cultivar.”

Over the course of a year, Altvm performs three breeding projects and produces 40 crosses each time for a total of 120 new unique strains. They’ll then sift through the results and select the cream of the crop to feed into the next round. The winner’s circle is a pretty exclusive club. It takes more than an interesting terpene profile for a certain cultivar to qualify. Altvm prioritizes taste, but taste alone won’t cut it.

“The seeds that we pick have to check all the boxes,” says Altvm cofounder Ricki Rebeiro. “The right one has to have a good terpene profile, great nose, bag appeal, and a quick turnaround time.”

Plus, as we’ve already covered, taste is different from person to person. “It’s about more than just growing what we like,” says Ronan Gorman, Altvm’s COO. If Altvm’s employees were just growing for themselves, it would be easy.

Well, easier, at least—the whole team still enjoys the thrill of the chase for its own sake. “Some people are foodies,” says Pedro Sotomayor. “We’re foodies too. We like to hunt down the next flavor and unique set of characteristics of each plant. It’s like finding the next blue-ribbon recipe.” He and Rebeiro partnered with Dodson after opening Electraleaf, one of the first dispensaries in Oklahoma City.

But there’s a big difference between satisfying just a handful of cannabis connoisseurs versus a wide-ranging and ever-growing consumer base.

“It’s important that we touch everyone’s palate,” says Rebeiro. “Some people want the fruit, some want the gas. We want to find the things that touch different people’s wants and needs more vibrantly.”

The more options available, the more consumers have to choose from—and the more likely their chances of finding the perfect match to suit their taste buds. Sotomayor sees the potential in each new cross for that very reason: “Every plant is unique like every human being has its own unique traits. We’re looking for the ones that connect well with different people.”

Taking It Public

Quality and variety aren’t the only factors under consideration when it comes to craft cannabis, though. There also has to be enough of the good stuff to go around. “Focusing on strains that finish faster allows us to get more crops each year,” Dodson says. “That allows those strains to be more competitive.”

Competitive strains benefit both producer and consumer. Care for their community comes first at Altvm—that’s obvious from the sheer amount of effort that goes into selecting and producing each new batch. There’s just no way to spread the love without cultivars that can hold their own in the current market.
Dodson doesn’t beat around the bush. “Growing cannabis is an art and a craft, but it’s also a business. Those two things have to coincide to succeed,” he says.

The long process results in cannabis that stands at the crossroads of exceptional and commercial. Altvm simply doesn’t believe in either/or, which certainly ensures that the team has its work cut out for it—but that ethos also fills Atlvm with unparalleled pride in its work. “We produce the Olympic athlete child that can outrun the rest in all categories,” says Sotomayor.

But you don’t have to just take his word for it. Once the team settles on its own top choices, it puts the finalists through one last filter. “We set up a tasting session where we invite connoisseurs to come out, consume, taste, and experience the cannabis and give us feedback,” Dodson says. “We use their feedback to guide us forward.”

The History of the Pheno Hunt

About six months ago, Altvm planted 850 new seeds from 48 crosses. The brand used the first initial hunt to separate the males from the females, and to weed out any cultivars that didn’t show vigor right off the bat. This allowed Altvm to whittle down to 157 cultivars out of the original 850 seeds planted. From there, it hand-selected the best 10 cultivars to present to the community for the Pheno Hunt Tasting event. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of this great R&D selection process.

Only after receiving a thumbs up from an outside source does the Altvm team finally release its creations to the public. By then, you can be sure that you’re walking away with a product that meets standards higher than you ever even knew existed.
Altvm’s people-first approach means that they want the consumer to be intimately involved with the process. On top of open tastings, they pull back the curtains on the whole process at Altvm’s home dispensary, opening on July 9. “We provide a farm to table experience here,” illustrates Rebeiro. “People can come in, see the plants at all stages, then purchase the finished product right there.”

If you want to play your own role in the genetic advancement of cannabis cultivation, you can join Altvm and Sensi on June 30 for the chance to share your take on their latest batch of phenohunt discoveries. Ten different strains will be on hand, ready to run the gauntlet of popular opinion. And if you’re a grower yourself, you just might be able to get your hands on some of the winning seeds to bring into your own practices.

That’s where Altvm sees another avenue for its future: helping growers, within both personal and commercial spheres, take their crops to the next level. Beyond seeds, Altvm can provide unreleased genetics in clone form to other cultivation companies looking to add something unique to their menus—something no one else has that yields, finishes fast, and excels in hash making for a competitive edge in the market.

“As the market matures, there’s a huge influx of growers coming in,” Dodson says. “Sometimes they focus all their energy into building out the rooms, developing the systems, and dialing in the marketing that they overlook the quality of what they’re actually growing.” Putting the genetic blueprints out there alongside the final products helps fill the gap to the advantage of everyone involved.

The breadth and depth of success that Altvm has in mind doesn’t come easy. No one goes from the bottom of the standings to the World Series overnight and without hitting countless roadblocks along the way. But hard work doesn’t feel quite so hard when passion’s in the driver’s seat, and that’s what keeps this ambitious team powering ahead.

“I can see the passion in David’s eyes when he finds something that does check all the boxes,” Rebeiro says. “It’s hard to find something that brings out everything we’re looking for. When we find one of those winners, that means a lot to us.”