Chinese buyers tour Lenoir distillery

Feb. 12, 2014 @ 08:31 AM

It’s a product that’s uniquely Western North Carolinian, conjuring images of backwoods mountain men brewing spirits in copper stills nestled in hollows.

And soon, perhaps, a batch of traditional mountain apple brandy distilled in Lenoir could be bought halfway around the globe in China.

Carolina Distillery owner Keith Nordan, also president of the North Carolina Distillers Association, played hosted Tuesday to a group of Chinese business representatives touring the state and visiting distilleries to find fresh new products for the rapidly-growing Chinese market.

According to Earnest Chin, a representative from Dxcel, a Chinese spirits importing company, said the growing Chinese market is looking for a hand-crafted spirit, and Chin is looking for the next product to take his country by storm.

Nordan said he thinks Carolina Distillery supplies just that product, one made with all-North Carolina ingredients.

The tour was arranged by the N.C. Department of Agriculture because no export sales to China would be likely without a first visit to get introduced and network, Peter Thornton of NCDA said. The department is working to introduce the N.C. Distillers Association to international markets, Thornton said.

Joining Chin at Carolina Distillery were two other representatives from Chinese companies, accompanied by a translator. Nordan explained to them the process from start to finish and offered tastes of the product, including a sip from the first barrel the distillery ever made, dated Nov. 30, 2009.

North Carolina does $1 billion in exports of everything but distilled spirits, Nordan said.

“The Chinese people are curious about products from the U.S.,” he said. “It’s not a question of if it will sell, but how much.”

Chin said he is looking for a niche product. Usually his company targets the overall customer base, but with a product like this, it would choose special groups to target.

A group of city officials and Department of Agriculture representatives accompanied the business people on their tour, including Jeff and Debbie Goulds, owners of Sea Pines Liquor and Market in Hilton Head, S.C., which is an important buyer of Nordan’s liquor. The Gouldses’ store is the national leader in moonshine sales, including that of famed moonshiner Tim Smith, star of the Discovery Channel’s “Moonshiners” show. Carolina Distillery’s apple brandy and apple pie liquor are both sold at Sea Pines, and Jeff Goulds says he’s ready to do a couple more.

The tour will continue to the west, stopping in Asheville before moving back through Charlotte. The visitors are scheduled to head back to China on Saturday, but it doesn’t end there. Trade shows for liquor are frequent in China, and Nordan said he may end up going to China before the year is out, and there’s also a chance that the Chinese visitors will return to Lenoir for a second visit.