Sovereign Vines proudly proclaims itself the creator of “America’s first hemp-infused wine.” But if the federal government’s ruling in a new dispute holds, it may have made America’s last hemp-infused wine, at least for now. Reports Wine Spectator
Here’s their report
The founder and CEO of the Binghamton, N.Y.–area company, Kaelan Castetter, brought us up to speed with a dispatch from the frontlines of the latest in the alcohol-cannabis regulatory skirmishes.
Castetter started the project in 2017 with his father, Jim. Indeed, Jim planted the seed for the idea, having devised a hemp-infused wine way back in 1997, the frontier days of commercial cannabis products. The precursor to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) quashed that project. But with the times and regulations changing, the younger Castetter saw an opportunity. “We had thought that in this regulatory climate around hemp that we would be able to get through it this time.”
No, it’s not weed wine, it doesn’t contain CBD and it’s not going to get anyone high. Castetter said the infusion is meant to enhance flavor and texture. “It creates a much smoother wine, and just another layer to the wine,” he explained. “It’s got a very unique earthy tone to it.” For the new batch of bottlings, the Castetters started local, with a semi-sweet Cayuga white from Finger Lakes leader Glenora Wine Cellars; the red is a California Cabernet blend. They then infused these wines with hemp-flower terpenes, an aromatic compound; Castetter noted there are no cannabinoid chemicals in the hemp used in his wines, which were only intended for an in-state market.
Nonetheless, the TTB made an unwelcome reappearance in the Castetters’ lives with a product audit last year. Under current federal policy, terpenes extracted from hemp flowers cannot legally be added to consumable products. By late 2019, the Food and Drug Administration had given the order to stopper Sovereign Vines. Not that all authorities agreed: “New York State Liquor Authority has always stood behind us,” Castetter told us. “The legislature, the governor’s office, absolutely.” Even the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, which has occasionally been known to dabble in chill vibes, backed the company. But for now, after bottling around 2,000 gallons, Sovereign is shelving its wine business.
Through their sister project, Castetter Sustainability Group, the family will keep exploring hemp potential, working with local farmers and entrepreneurs on research and regulation. After all, it’s still an eco-friendly component that can be used to make clothes, cosmetics and even wineries.