Remember the adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it”?
Cris Steller is a busy guy. Not only is he a founding partner of Dry Diggings Distillery, a growing venture located in California’s El Dorado Hills, he’s also executive director of the California Artisanal Distillers Guild (CADG).
Steller came to the beverage industry nearly a decade ago after a career in association management—basically, helping businesses and nonprofits optimize their strengths via support services including educational programming, government relations, sales, marketing, and more. When asked about the drastic change in professional direction, he says, “I’d been living and working in Mexico for a time, where I started to learn about the tequila industry, and when I returned to California I needed a change.”
Taking a leap of faith, Steller and partner Gordon Helm launched Dry Diggings in 2008, with a focus on using locally grown fruit and grains. Adam Stratton founded Amador Distillery in Jackson, Calif., in 2012; both operations were consolidated under the Aurum Sierra Inc. umbrella in 2015.
As the company grew, Steller recognized a need for small distilleries across the state to align efforts for more effective governmental representation at the state level. In 2012, Dry Diggings became one of five charter members of CADG. “[A grassroots association] had been trying to get it off the ground for about 20 years,” he says of the guild’s formation. Turns out, it needed someone with experience in association management.
“It took about a year to establish the guild,” he says. “That included enlisting its first members, organizing its structure, and writing the bylaws, among other tasks.” CADG now has nearly 50 members and, since its start, has been responsible for three key pieces of legislation benefitting alcohol producers in the state (a fourth is currently making its way through the legislative process).
At the 2018 Spirited International Spirits Trade Show and Tasting, Steller will sit on the panel, License to Sell: Type 74 Licensing, with ABC attorney Matthew Botting and Craig Rashkis, an attorney representing craft beverage businesses. “We’ll try to clarify what’s currently in the law, because it currently contradicts itself a few times,” says Steller. It’s sure to be a popular session.
Asked how an attendee should prepare for the discussion, he advises, “Do a little research. Know current state law so you can see the importance of [the guild’s] new proposals. Be prepared to ask questions.”
Steller is also optimistic about the show because, “[It] will give small distillers a chance to meet buyers directly,” he says. “That’s something you usually can only do through a distributor. Since most craft companies are too small to be represented by ‘the Big Guys’ such as Southern Glazer’s or Young’s, this is a unique opportunity.”
Make the most of it, he continues, by engaging in some self-discovery in advance. “Know what you do and why,” he says. “Be able to tell your story: What’s unique about you? And have a clear vision of your goals and your timeline to achieve them.”
With a little preparation and a lot of networking, any trade show is a chance to benefit your business’ bottom line.