Spirited Trade Tasting & Show a First-Year Success

Santa Rosa, Calif. (March 1, 2018).  Spirited magazine, a subsidiary of Sonoma Media Investments, LLC, in partnership with Wine Competitions Management and Productions, welcomed close to 800 attendees to its first-ever Spirited International Spirits Trade Tasting & Show in Santa Rosa, Calif. Its goal was to introduce the concept that Northern California has evolved past merely “Wine Country” into an inclusive enclave for premium craft alcohol beverages.

Active and potential members of the spirits trade gathered from the across the nation to taste a variety of products, visit an array of spirits supplier stations and attend educational seminars at this inaugural event.  Event manager Debra Del Fiorentino remarked, “I couldn’t be happier with the turnout for a first-time event.  The feedback was very positive and I was pleased to see people coming from beyond California from states like Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan, Colorado, and Oregon.  It took our event from local to national.  It’s a great indicator as we plan for 2019.”

Led by moderator and sommelier, Christopher Sawyer, the day opened with a Keynote Address from legendary winemaker Jean-Charles Boisset, whose empire recently expanded into a line of premium spirits. He entertained the crowd with unbridled enthusiasm and memorable one-liners, including “The more you drink, the more ideas you’ll have.”  Later in the day, Boisset and Sawyer led a large group through a tasting of the new JCB Collection spirits offerings of a truffle vodka, caviar vodka, pure vodka and a gin, all distilled from wine. “It’s time to treat spirits the same way we’ve [treated] wine for so many years,” Boisset proclaimed, urging makers to pursue premiumization and not be shy about pricing products accordingly.

Sawyer also led a day of lively discussions on topics ranging from the basics of distillation and building a brand to the nuts-and-bolts of California licensing for craft distillers. “Making Spirits Right” focused on microdistillation, with panelists Michael Jones (Scott Laboratories), Abe Stevens (Humboldt Distillery), Lauren Patz (Spirit Works Distillery), and Crispin Cain (Greenway Distillers and others), each emphasizing a different element of the process.

“License to Sell” brought experts together to discuss California’s Type 74 licensing, which has been a source of confusion for many craft distillers. Panelists included Matthew Botting (California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, or ABC), alcohol beverage attorney Craig Rashkis (Farwell Rashkis LLP), and Chris Steller (Dry Diggings Distillery and California Artisanal Distillers Guild, or CADG). Calling beverage alcohol “the most highly regulated consumer product in the United States,” Botting offered an overview of Type 74 as it stands now, debunking many misconceptions about what the law does and doesn’t allow.  Emphasizing that, “ABC is not the enemy; well-defined regulations actually make things easier,” Steller encouraged CADG membership: “We are your voice in Sacramento. We lobby for this industry, and it’s a game of numbers. The more members we have, the more weight our negotiations carry.”

In “Start Me Up!” panelists outlined some of the basic decisions to be made when beginning a distilling venture. Attorney Bahaneh Hobel (Dickinson, Peatman & Fogarty) moved beyond licensing questions to talk about sole proprietorship versus business entities (LLPs and LLCs) and the legal ins-and-outs of facility zoning and permitting, shipping and sales restrictions, and brand protection (including trademarks and proprietary information). Building on her information, David Schueman (CF Napa Brand Design) presented a series of actions to establish your brand in the marketplace, including honing your brand message, creating a standout package, and establishing a unique selling position. John Beaudette of alcohol import, distribution, and service company MHW shared results of a company survey that identifies several indicators of likely success in the industry. These included having a strong support team both inside and beyond your company (individuals who share your enthusiasm), creating realistic timelines for progress, and developing strong public relations contacts (including but not limited to social media). According to Beaudette, one driver that’s become increasingly challenging in recent years is identifying a consistent route to market. He pointed to ongoing consolidation among distributors as the prime roadblock and encouraged smaller-scale distillers to reach out to mid-tier companies or newcomers like LibDib, which can offer smaller producers access to tight retail markets.

The day’s discussions concluded with Scott Moore (Dalkita Architecture/Construction) and Scott Schiller (Thoroughbred Spirits Group), who teamed up for a presentation that tackled branding from two disparate avenues, combining both the business side and the building side. Touching on everything from defining your brand and developing your business model to locating and building your ideal production space, the two tag-teamed a detailed overview of all it takes to get up and running in the distilled spirits industry.

The trade tasting hosted more than 70 booths.  Tasting selections included flagship offerings (Pasote tequila from 3 Badge Beverage and The Botanist gin from Remi Cointreau, for example), 2017 Craft Distillers Spirits Competition award winners (Moylan’s single malt whiskey, Ada Lovelace gin from Great Women Spirits by Francis Ford Coppola), and new takes on standards (among them Glass Vodka’s infusions, El Rey’s tequilias, Hanson’s organic vodkas, and Treecraft Distillery gins), plus a few mixed cocktails (from Hangar 1, introducing its new Rosé Vodka) and even peach bellini popsicles (Charbay Distillery in conjunction with The Perfect Puree of Napa Valley).

Industry suppliers included production, branding, packaging, storage, distribution, education, financial, and legal services—all making valuable and necessary connections with distillers new and established.

Event producers wish to thank the following official sponsors: ATL Events, California Artisanal Distillers Guild, Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty, Glopak, Glass Vodka, Hangar 1, LibDib, Talis by Cork Supply, LifeWtr, TricorBraun Winepak, Craft Distillers Spirits Competition, Press Democrat, and North Bay Business Journal.

Please the website at as details develop for next year’s event.

About Sonoma Media Investments, LLC

Sonoma Media Investments owns the Sonoma Index-Tribune, the Press Democrat Media Group, which includes The Press Democrat, the Petaluma Argus-Courier, the North Bay Business Journal, Sonoma magazine, Spirited magazine, and all affiliated websites and businesses.


Debra Del Fiorentino, Event Director



Press releases are generated outside of Spirited magazine and the information contained does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Spirited or its parent company, Sonoma Media Investments.