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Colorado Distiller Feeling The Pain Of Trade War

By Alan Gionet

GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4) - Tucked away in a small corner of a Golden business park, Gold Moon Distillery has been quietly gaining in the premium spirits market - until now.

"We have been the greatest nation on earth," said Steven Gould, the owner of the distillery. "We have been the leader of the free world. And that's not how we're acting today."

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Golden Moon Distillery is caught in the trade war. Europe and Canada are hitting back at tariffs imposed by the United States with tariffs of their own.

They've gone after whiskey distillers particularly hard. Many feel their target is the whiskey distillers of Kentucky, the home district of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"How have things changed?" CBS4's Alan Gionet asked Gould.

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CBS4's Alan Gionet interviews Steven Gould. (credit: CBS)

"Fifteen percent of my revenue last year was in Europe, so I don't know, $150,000 worth of business. I expected to do over a quarter million dollars this year…  This year I greatly doubt I'll break $25,000."

Gould says developing business in several places has been set back by the trade war.

"I've had orders cancelled. I've had contracts cancelled. We're selling a little bit, but we're not selling a lot and what we're selling are low margin products."

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It means customers are turning away.

"They're going to buy Irish whiskey. They're going to buy Scottish whiskey. They're going to buy French whiskey."

His efforts to sell in Mexico turned south last year.

"A year plus negotiations with a Mexican importer fell through... We were expecting a really large initial purchase order and instead what we got is a 'Thanks, but we've decided to source gin and other premium spirits from Europe. We're no longer interested in doing business with American companies.'"

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Importers he says are worried about having goods on the water and having to pay higher tariffs when they arrive.

There are about 90 distilleries now in Colorado. It's been a growing business in the state in recent years. Gould serves as a legislative liaison for distillers in Colorado.

"Every person in the state exporting has told me that they're losing business, and it's hurting their bottom line."

That makes it tough on small companies.

Among his biggest concerns are his plans for expansion. As the company grew, he plotted more production. He hopes to double his employees to about two dozen.

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"I already signed the note. I've already taken on the debt. The project's already underway. It's not like I can give the money back to the bank and tell the equipment folks to keep their equipment."

The President has pushed the tariffs to attempt to re-negotiate trade deals with Canada, Mexico and Europe.

"They say 'Trump is starting a trade war,'" the president said recently. "I say, 'No, the trade war ended a long time ago and the United States lost because our leaders didn't take care of our people and our companies.'"

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But the brewing war is putting Gould in a bind.

"It's easy for him to say as a billionaire," said Gould. "His bottom line isn't affected. But when you're a small business person and you're having to cut costs, cut salaries lay people off. Change pricing which drives customers away, it's pretty hard to swallow."

Gould worries not only about his own business, but believes the American brand itself is suffering.

"The reality is that American products are becoming less and less desirable."

Golden Moon Distillery will still move forward, Gould says. But he'll have to sell far more spirits in the United States. Even with that, he's worried that big exporters will have excess stock, which they'll push to stores in the U.S., lowering prices and he'll have to cut his.

He's not giving up, but he's worried about losing effectively a quarter of his business.

"We'll re-prioritize and we'll bust our butts. And we'll hope for the best."

Alan Gionet is anchor of CBS4 This Morning and reports on a wide variety of issues and "Good Question" stories. He started at CBS4 in 1994. Follow Alan on Twitter @AlanGTV or on Facebook.

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