There are more than 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes, but coming to Skaneateles Lake is a whole new strain.
Sovereign Vines, of Johnson City, told The Citizen Friday that it plans to open a tasting room this summer on the east side of the lake. CEO Kaelan Castetter said the business is not ready to reveal the tasting room's exact location, as it's still subject to approval by the town board. But it's a "beautiful old barn" with a view of the lake, he said.
What makes Sovereign more than another winery is the type of wine it produces: hemp-infused. Using a proprietary process created by Kaelan's father, President Jim Castetter, Sovereign blends flavorful extracts from hemp called turpenes into wine. The hemp mostly comes from several state farms, which Sovereign works with through sister company CSG Hemp, Kaelan said. And the wine comes from other wineries, including Glenora Wine Cellars in Dundee. For that reason, Sovereign is not a winery in the technical sense of the word, but a blendery.
Regardless, Sovereign's wines are unlike any produced in the Finger Lakes — or anywhere else in the country, Kaelan said. The company touts itself as the producer of "America's only hemp-infused wine." Jim's infusion process dates back to 1997, when he established Hemp Wine America. Kaelan came aboard in 2015, launching Sovereign and bringing it to market two years later.
"Hemp has such a rich history in the U.S.," Kaelan said. "I thought, what better way to put out such a bold and unique wine than to pay homage to that."
When infused with wine, hemp gives it new layers of flavor and aroma, Kaelan said. Some strains can give white wines citrusy profiles, while others can deliver dark, earthy tones to reds. Sovereign currently has four wines it wholesales: Cayuga White, Harvest Red Blend, Sweet Rosé and Oasis Dry Rosé. Two more, Sweet Cayuga Reserve and Cab Franc en Hemp, are limited edition.
At its new location on Skaneateles Lake, though, Sovereign plans to serve up to 12 of its own wines, Kaelan said. And as the company's first retail space, the tasting room will make customers' first glasses of hemp-infused wines into an experience. There will be space for events, and Sovereign will have its own growing operation there that visitors can see up-close.
"You'll really be able to touch and smell the plants," Kaelan said. "It'll be as much of an educational experience as it is a great weekend or evening out on the lake."