Va. distilleries working to expand reach to international markets

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. — State officials sealed the deal on getting two Virginia distilleries connections in Europe this week, with the hope of expanding the reach of craft alcohol industries to international markets. 

Ten people went from multiple state agencies, including the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services [VDACS], went on an international trade mission to Paris and Germany, a spokesperson for the Governor’s office said. The group participated in more than 60 meetings with companies and trade representatives “to build relationships and encourage economic development in the Commonwealth.” 

State officials were able to connect Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, in Loudoun County, and Reservoir Distillery, in Richmond, with German distributors during the trip. 

Dave Cuttino, the co-founder of Reservoir Distillery, has been working with the Commonwealth since 2016 to try to build relationships in other countries. It can take months to finally sign a deal, he says. 

“[VDACS]  supports you throughout the entire process because it takes a lot of time to actually get there, meet these people and then develop a relationship,” Cuttino explained. ” [They] identify different distributors retailers that would fit our brand, and have a consultant with boots on the ground in that market that would work with us and set up meetings.”

These relationships take time to build, but Cuttino hopes they’re sustainable and last for years to come. 

Reservoir Distillery visited Germany last October, along with state officials and other Virginia spirits companies, to network. 

“Opportunities like that are ones you can’t pass up,” Cuttino added.

Steam and heat were coming out of massive vats at the distillery Thursday morning. Nick Vaughan, the “barrelman,” was testing the heat and flavor of hundreds of pounds of corn slowly fermenting into bourbon. 

The kernels were brought from Charles City County. With the pride of being raised here, all of the products, from the grains to the wood for the barrels, is from the Commonwealth. Cuttino left his job in New York in 2008 to come home to Richmond to open up the place. 

Reservoir has three flagship whiskeys, a bourbon, wheat whiskey and rye. Those three kinds are then aged in different woods and barrels, some from other local companies that produce other craft alcohols. That’s what makes Cuttino says makes their distillery unique. 

“We work really, really hard to make everything Virginia and homegrown and made here,” Cuttino explained.

Each year, Reservoir Distillery on average sells between 50,000 to 60,000 bottles. Of those, 2,000 bottles are international sales. According to the Governor’s office, Virginia exported $1.5 million worth of spirits to other countries last year, which is more than a 13 percent increase from 2017. 

Cuttino has noticed some troubles in the market that he’s spoken to elected officials about. He had hoped to expand their international sales to be about a quarter of their profits. 

“The demand for it is growing exponentially but with the current political environment and some of the tariffs, it’s actually trunk down our sales to about 2 percent,” Cuttino said.

The spirits are still pouring, as the small distillery looks to show more people what Virginia whiskey has to offer. We reached out to the Governor’s office to find out how much taxpayer money was spent on this trip. The office has yet to provide this information. 

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