It’s a product years in the making, but Americans in 37 states can now try hemp-infused wine, the creation of Texas-based TVM Wines.
TVM’s new hemp wines are actually wine cocktails, infused with flavors like “rum and Coke” and “Texas tea,” and graced with playful names like “Forbidden,” “Covert” and “Taboo” that invite drinkers to take part in something secretive and daring. However, for the wine’s creators, the product is about more than just capitalizing on an increasingly “hip” ingredient: they’re believers in the benefits of hemp too.
“We really truly want to help people,” declared Elease Hill, vice president of sales and marketing at TVM Wines.
Each glass of hemp wine contains a full serving of hemp oil, and while Hill stops short of making any health claims about drinking the wine, there’s ample scientific evidence that hemp oil itself can provide real benefits to consumers. If Hill had her way, the wines would also include CBD oil, an extract of hemp that can offer relief to symptoms of numerous conditions from arthritis to chronic pain. However, her efforts to develop CBD-infused wine, which has already become a best-selling product in Europe were thwarted by government regulations and the ongoing war on drugs, and it took months of struggle and negotiation to even bring her hemp wines to market.
“Until the government gets off their high horse and leaves hemp alone we can’t do anything with CBD,” Hill said, with obvious frustration in her voice, when we spoke to her by phone last month.
DEA, TTB, AND THE STRUGGLE TO BRING HEMP WINE TO MARKET
Friends of the family-owned winery first suggested the idea of a hemp wine “about two years ago,” according to Hill, but her father, TVM’s chairman Ron Mittelstedt, was initially resistant due to hemp’s uncertain legal nature and lingering stigma.
The idea lingered, and soon after Hill’s sister Beth began to research hemp’s benefits. Hill herself also discovered that CBD could treat her Attention Deficit Disorder more effectively than pharmaceutical drugs. Armed with both first-hand experience and knowledge of Spain’s “Cannavine,” they were able to change their father’s opinion and began the long process of developing a new product — only to discover that there were seemingly miles of red tape in their way.
Hemp was once a staple American cash crop, and in regular use for its medicinal benefits, until it was made illegal alongside its close cousin, marijuana, in the early 20th-century. The 2014 Farm Bill legalized hemp growing in the U.S. again for “research purposes” (including market research), allowing each state to set rules around the growth of low-THC industrial hemp. Legal experts believe the farm bill, along with other legislation and legal precedents, mean that hemp-based products are fully legal in the United States.
However, the Drug Enforcement Administration continues to insist that CBD is fully illegal, and other government agencies have followed their lead.
“When the DEA came out and said CBD is a Schedule I drug, the TTB, the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Board, they were not going to approve any alcohol products that contain CBD unless it was in trace amounts,” Hill explained.
Without TTB approval, TVM’s products wouldn’t be assigned a “COLA number,” a crucial designation required for national distribution of alcoholic products. She soon discovered that the agency had an absurd definition of what constitutes a trace amount. At one point, the TTB rejected an earlier formula because they claimed it contained 700 parts per million of CBD, a miniscule measurement far below what could cause any effect.
Even after after agreeing to use hemp oil, rather than CBD oil, Hill still had to push for final approval. One additional challenging factor? Hemp-infused products are rare: most similar products are merely flavored with it rather than containing substantial amounts of actual hemp. One exception, which helped Hill make her case to the TTB, is Colorado High Vodka, which is actually distilled from hemp plants.
After almost two years of work, the TTB agreed to grant TVM Hemp Wines a cola number late last year. “We finally got approval actually one day before my birthday on the formulas, which is December 1st.”
The agency approved the labels later that month, and the first hemp wines went on sale in Texas stores in January.
REDUCING THE STIGMA AROUND CANNABIS, ONE GLASS OF HEMP WINE AT A TIME
The names of the hemp wines, from “Forbidden” to “Fantasy,” hint at the way cannabis has faced misunderstandings, mistrust, and persecution under the war on drugs. Hill’s struggle to receive government approval for the products, shows that the stigma around this plant is still alive even as legal barriers theoretically fall away. The early response to her wines, on the other hand, is a sign that everyday people are excited about hemp, rather than afraid of it.
“It wasn’t even on the shelves for 20 minutes and someone bought two bottles,” Hill said.
TVM’s hemp wines are already for sale — and selling fast — in several stores in Texas, with more coming soon. For the rest of us, curious hemp enthusiasts in 37 states can order the products from TVM’s page on Vinoshipper.com.
Hill isn’t done making hemp products, but she’s hoping Congress will clear up the legal confusion around hemp first. Efforts like the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which would have fully legalized hemp and hemp products from coast to coast, have stalled in Congress so far, but advocates are hopeful that support for total legalization is growing rapidly.
“I need these bills to pass through so we can create a traditional, dry red wine with the CBD infused.”
We can’t wait to try it!
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