For three inspired weeks, judges at the 7th annual Emerald Cup in Mendocino sampled the finest marijuana cultivars, examining the textures of the buds, discerning the tastes, the aromas and - perhaps most of all - the medicinal effects.
And finally last weekend, in a crowning event of a two-day only-in-Mendo cultural festival, they announced the winners of the 2010 Emerald Cup for the best outdoor grown marijuana.
In California weed country, the winners' awards - trophies and signature-edition bongs - amounted to pot growers' equivalent of coveted California State Fair blue ribbons for wine-making.
The difference was that many Emerald Cup winners were just a big shy when it came to publicity.
"Call me T. Beezle," said the winner of the prize for the Best Hash of 2010. The 25-year-old grower from Mendocino County, who didn't want his real name publicized, said the moniker would at least let the pot-growing locals know of his triumph.
The Emerald Cup, a festival featuring 22 bands and judging of 140 marijuana samples, awarded its first-place prize for the best marijuana strain to a Mendo-grown weed called - in the edited version - "Sour Best...Ever." For pot aficionados, it was a marijuana strain bred from "Old School Laotian" and "Sage."
While some of the contestants may have shied from attention, the event drew more than 1,000 people to the Area 101 retreat in Laytonville. It was an overt celebration of Mendocino County's marijuana culture. There were joint rolling contests, a quiz game, "Guess the Roaches in the Jar," and a medicinal version of trivial pursuit called "Guess the Old-School Strains."
"We grow the world's best medicine and we're very proud of what we do," said Laura Hamburg, a Ukiah writer and a publicist for the event. "When we have a big party to celebrate marijuana, we're looking at each other and saying we're proud. And we're saying to the community, 'Let's empower this economic engine.'"
One winner who didn't mind some public attention was Chad Rea, 50, a seasoned pot-grower and medical marijuana patient who has found relief in pot since suffering burns from a car engine fire. He won a second place award for the best marijuana pot strain. Rea bred his special "Cheese" strain in memory - and from the plants - of a pot-growing neighbor who died earlier this year.
"I put his mother plant outside and took clones and started a new mother," he said.
Rea, who provides medical marijuana to a San Francisco dispensary, said his Emerald Cup prize will surely move his product to the top shelf of featured dispensary brands.
And "T. Bezzle," whose "Pure Blueberry Hash" wowed the judges, celebrated his prize - "a museum quality bong" - and his place as the year's best producer of a "cannabis concentrate."
"I was very euphoric to hear I've reached this level," he said. "Most of the judges were enthralled with what I could do."