I usually try to keep this focused on relevant issues I see in the industry that deserve being called out or discussed in some greater detail.  Those of you who have read my posts will know that once in a while I will reflect on something or in this case, someone, who has made a big impact on me.  This was a tough week.  I was at Bar & Nightclub for their annual shindig in Vegas, where I met with business partners, potential customers and spoke on two panels about what brands might be next in the wine, spirits and beer business.  I’ll post later on about this as I think it is a very good topic for discussion and attention.


I found out on Tuesday that Dustin Drapkin, a 23 year old rising star passed away while in Aspen at his family vacation home.  See his obit in the NY Times here.  This was more than shocking to me.  Dustin had graduated undergrad from the U of Penn Wharton school last year.  I met him through his father Donald Drapkin whom I met while raising money for a new liquor brand I was the consulting on and acting as CEO.  Donald is the Vice Chair of Lazard and an incredibly accomplished individual.  We met first at the Four Season’s restaurant in NY for lunch.  During the course of our conversation we discussed our families and he told me about Dustin.  Dustin was described to me as a very smart, free spirited individual who was looking for the right career path out of school, but was an unlikely fit in a standard corporate setting.  I immediately became interested in meeting him as  I was looking to put a small team together to launch the spirits brand.

Dustin and I met at the Cornell Club in NY for lunch.  During the course of our first, 2nd and  3rd subsequent meetings at the Cornell Club, I was struck by Dustin’s raw enthusiasm for life and living.  We hit it off and I gave him a provisional offer (pending funding of the company) prior to his graduation trip abroad over the summer.  I have rarely seen anyone as enthusiastic about any new project as Dustin was to join my team.  His energy was infectious.  When the owners of the new brand abruptly pulled the plug on the project, one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had was to let Dustin know we would not be moving forward last August.    I told him that I could not predict when or exactly what, but down the road there would be opportunities for us to do things together.  We agreed to stay in touch.

By November I was back in NY for Wine 2.0 and reached out to Dustin to see what he was up to.  It turns out, he and some friends were using their music industry background to create the “world DJ league”… he was very excited about it and I told him I’d be happy to help in any way I could.  Dustin and a friend attended Wine 2.0 NY and then the next day, we spent about 5 hours together discussing his new business, listening to my wife sing and another friend play piano and generally enjoying life.

Dustin Drapkin and Smoke Wallin

I agreed to join his board and to help mentor him as they progressed.  Little did I know that was the last I’d see Dustin.

I did receive a call from Dustin in January telling me he had been accepted into the French Culinary Institute and that he was pursuing his dream to be a chef.  I unfortunately, never had the chance to speak to him again.  Dustin died way too young.  His friends put a group together on Facebook “why I’ll always remember Dustin Drakin” which has some nice pictures and memories.  My heart felt condolences go out to Donald and Bearnice and the whole Drapkin family.


On Friday I received word that Ray Tye had passed away at 87.  Ray was an incredible individual and someone whom I admired greatly coming up in the wine and spirits industry.  Ray had almost “Pope-like” qualities and respect from everyone who knew him.  There has been much written about his great philanthropy to needy kids and causes.  His Boston Herald obit is here.  Ray was one of Boston’s and frankly this country’s greatest philanthropists.  I got to know Ray beginning in from afar in the late 1980s and then up close in the mid 1990s through the middle 2000s.  As I was coming up in the leadership at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America WSWA, Ray was always a steady and wise voice in the room who’s counsel I greatly benefited from.  One other great thing about Ray was his son Micheal Tye.  Micheal and I became friends through WSWA and he was a real forward thinking individual.  While I know he and his father had a falling out at one point, they had reconciled and Michal had rejoined the family firm (United Liquors) prior to his untimely death, also from cancer.

WSWA past presidents, including Ray Tye (4th from left) and Smoke Wallin

A couple of shots of Ray from WSWA days…

I’m heading to Boston in the am for Ray’s service.  Although I’m sure Ray and Dustin never met, I believe Ray would have instantly taken a liking to Dustin as I did.  My wish is wherever they are, if it is possible, that they meet. One man who accomplished so much in a long and prosperous life.  Another who in a short short span, showed so much promise. They both had a tremendous effect on those who were blessed to meet them.  Rest in peace gentlemen.

My thoughts are with you both.

Ray and Eileen Tye in St. Lucia at WSWA exec retreat