Keith Saviano has two decades of growing experience, but the quality of cannabis being produced right now at family-owned Nimbus Cannabis Company is better than he’s ever seen.
“Everyone always comments ‘Wow, this stuff is fresh,’” says Saviano, the company’s head of cultivation. “And it’s like, ‘Well, we dried it with science.’”
He credits the change to the Cannatrol drying room he had retrofitted into his facility 18 months ago, which uses a patented technology to perfectly dry, cure and store the flower that Nimbus grows in its 2,400-square-foot canopy in Hudson, Massachusetts. Now, the area’s dry, cold winters and hot, humid summers no longer affect his product.
“The quality of the flower has definitely gone up,” he says, noting that consumer reviews are better than ever and sales are way up.
Originally designed for the aging of gourmet foods, Cannatrol’s Vaportrol technology was developed by David Sandelman, co-founder and chief technology officer of VT Dry & Cure Technologies. The company currently holds two patents with two more on the way.
“The drying, curing and storage process has always been a bit of a guessing game,” says Jane Sandelman, co-founder and CEO. “Now you’ve got a precision tool to control the final outcome. You’ve got consistency, you’ve got repeatability, you’ve got reliability — all of those things that you’ve never had in post-harvest before.”
Even in the modern cannabis industry, post-harvest processing and preparation involves a lot of guesswork. Plants are harvested and then hung to dry, removing what’s known as the “free available water” in order to create shelf stability. But to prevent the flower from turning to dust, at some point the drying process has to be halted and the buds are usually moved to a sealed container, in an attempt to lock in the remaining moisture.
But because it’s difficult to know how much free available water remains in a flower sample, those containers have to be “burped” on a regular basis to prevent mold.
“The problem with burping it there’s no science to that either,” says David Sandelman, noting that if opened in a Vermont winter, it will introduce bone dry air to the jar while a burp in Florida might add additional moisture. “This is all a lot of guesswork that’s been going on in the industry.”
Cannatrol’s patented Vaportrol technology eliminates the guesswork. The technology, whether fitted into a small, personal-sized unit or custom-built into a warehouse drying room, brings the free available water within the flower into equilibrium with the space, meaning it is now dry and has begun curing.
“It will not over dry,” he says. “We have had flower in our conditions with Vaportrol for two years and the flower is still sticky, supple and smokes amazingly smooth.”
Because of the technology, flower left in a Cannatrol unit remains in perfect equilibrium with the unit with no burping required or mold concerns.
“We are giving people the tools to bring precision to post-harvest,” Jane Sandelman says. “It takes the variability out.”
For an operator, that precision can mean more consistent, better quality buds with a longer shelf life that can fetch a premium price, not to mention a potential labor savings by not having employees move drying buds at all hours to begin the curing process or needing to burp jars.
“I have a customer in Massachusetts that called me and said, ‘I saved a man-year and I’m able to redeploy that person into the grow room,’” Jane Sandelman says.
Though relatively new to the cannabis industry, Cannatrol’s Vaportrol technology has been used for more than a decade in the gourmet food industry to dry and age fine meats and cheeses. Manufacturers in the industry were struggling to create the right environment to dry, cure and age cheese, which led David Sandelman, whose varied background includes experience in control systems like heating, air conditioning, plumbing and others and holds 17 other patents, to develop the Vaportrol technology that utilizes the power of vapor pressure to achieve perfect, uniform conditions, no matter the outside environment.
Today, the technology is used by hundreds of cheesemakers around the world, including the top four Best in Show winners at the 2022 American Cheese Society competition.
David Sandelman, a longtime cannabis consumer, realized the same technology would work for cannabis flowers and adapted his tech for the burgeoning industry.
“It is all about removing the water from a wet product at a controlled rate and getting the product to shelf stability while maintaining the maximum weight,” he says. “All of these products are sold by weight, whether it’s cheese, meat or cannabis flower.”
Cannatrol offers its technology through three different products, depending on the size and need of the grower and judged by wet weight of product to be dried. For home-growers and small cultivators, there’s the Cool Cure Box that holds up to 2.25 pounds of wet flower per cycle and can store up to 4 pounds of finished flower.
The DC Quick Start System comes in three stock sizes and is a turnkey commercial system capable of handling from 100 to 750 pounds of wet flower. Designed for businesses without a lot of infrastructure, the plug-and-play system arrives on two pallets and can be set up within a day.
Finally, for large operations, Cannatrol offers custom solutions that can be installed during a build-out or retrofitted into existing rooms.
“It’s really changing the way cultivators manage their process,” Jane Sandelman says. “Post-harvest was always a little bit of a crapshoot. Now you’ve got the tools to really dial it in.”
Testing has also shown that flower dried in Cannatrol products not only retain terpenes at a higher rate and have increased cannabinoids, but lose less mass overall to drying, resulting in a larger final yield. Cannatrol’s customers are seeing as much as 5-7% increases in final yield. On top of that, Sandelman says taste tests from dispensary panels have shown that consumers prefer flower dried in a Cannatrol product by a rate of 2-to-1 over traditionally dried flower.
The tech also allows cultivators to dial in different curing times for different flowers to bring out different attributes, like fine wines and cheeses.
“We’re starting to see when different cultivars are cured for longer periods of time, it changes the outcome,” David Sandelman says. “Now that people have the technology to hold flower at precise conditions, they can now cure longer, and see the difference.”
At Nimbus, Saviano uses his Cannatrol room in multiple different ways, depending on where the flower he is drying is intended to go. After selecting the finest buds for flower packaging, Saviano says he “cranks down the dewpoint” to remove additional water from flower intended for pre-rolls.
A lower dewpoint allows for better grinding, and then the grind is loaded back into the Cannatrol room to remove a little more water to get to the perfect level for rolling without the ground buds becoming like “kinetic sand.”
“When it runs through the pre-roll machine, it’s not gunking up the machine. I have it perfect for my pre-rolls every time,” Saviano says, noting that the company’s manufacturing division has smaller Cannatrol units to repeat the process on flower received for pre-roll white-labeling. “It’s become a tool for me that I use in multiple different ways.”
The technology’s ability to provide consistent flower for multiple uses is one of the reasons the Sandelmans call Cannatrol a “paradigm-shift.”
“We’ve totally changed the way cannabis flower is dried, cured and stored,” says David Sandelman.
For his part, Saviano agrees.
“I wouldn’t be involved in a facility that doesn’t have one,” he says.