Funny, I remember clearly what literally felt like hitting my first home run in baseball. Part challenge, part rookie hazing, I was being sent to make a sale in what was well known as a tough account … rough around the edges, let me call it. My boss waited outside, probably with a bit of a chuckle under his breath. Literally 15 minutes later I came out with an order for 3 cases of a no-name soda-pop wine. Not only was making that sale a breeze, I enjoyed the challenge, and perhaps more than that, making that personal connection with a guy who was deemed by most, an impossible sale – felt a triumph. Next month, in came an order for 3 cases more, and so on… Hooked.
What is your favorite spirit, if you have to pick just one?
This is both easy and tough to answer. Having spent over 20 years at Sazerac, fine bourbons have been one of my longtime favorites. I have to make mention of a serious appreciation for an exquisite Highland single malt. Favorite…? Anyone who knows me knows that Tequila is my ultimate number one – sipping a neat, fine estate grown, barrel aged blanco, repo, anejo, or extra anejo – love ‘em all. Call it, enjoying a little slice of heaven.
Do you have a favorite classic Cocktail?
I take a Paloma pretty seriously. Ideally, it’s made with fresh ruby-red grapefruit, and Siete Leguas Blanco, (you can leave the grapefruit soda in the fridge).
Tell us about your first (cocktail/mixology) industry gig?
Can’t say it was my first job in the industry, but my first serious, heavy hitting job was as Division Manager for Southern Wines and Spirits – both on- and off-premise, here in Northern California. It was a job, but also became a lifestyle, and pushed me to the limit at times. I learned a ton, and had a serious amount of fun – no question. I also made a lot of friends for life.
Tell us about your most inspirational mentor, and what they passed along that has stayed with you through the years?
Okay, this is a tough question… almost too many to mention. The guys I looked up to the most as I was coming into the industry had a real passion for what they did, and all were incredibly hard workers. But, if I have to pick one, and I am thinking back on the early days at Southern, I’d have to say Vince Martin. He was President at Southern Wines and Spirits, for Northern California. It was Vince who ultimately showed me what it took to be a great “brand-builder.” He always challenged me to take on responsibilities that were outside of my comfort zone. Literally, just when I started to get comfortable, he’d push me into learning a new position, or different territory and portfolio. The guy honestly made me crazy at times. I know however that his push made me a much more creative and successful salesman and brand manager, which eventually translated to my own success as a brand-builder.
Truth – I’ve been ‘living the dream’ for a while now. Really, since I left the structured corporate world behind. My passion is working directly with family owned brands. They are so passionate and uncompromising about their craft. There is a lot to love about the process of helping to support and grow a brand that is owned and operated by a family, where sometimes several generations of heart and soul have been poured into their uniquely crafted spirit. The end product says it all, and all of that pride is pure rocket fuel for success.
Outside of work, how do you most enjoy your time… a favorite activity, sport or hobby?
I make sure I take a long walk daily, sometimes twice … So that I can spend time enjoying cooking and trying new recipes. Did I say, pasta is King?
Baseball and golf, both. Grew up a Yankees fan, and it has stuck, to this day. Though I don’t play as much these days, I do enjoy keeping up with the PGA, and whatever tournament is happening…
Describe your favorite getaway/holiday?
Easy, I love being in Italy – the food, culture, wine and history. I have been to many of the major cities, but learned pretty quickly to avoid the larger tourist areas. I’d say my ideal getaway is setting up shop in a small town – such as Bari or Alberobello, in the province of Puglia along the Adriatic – and simply live like a local. Rent a flat, shop, cook, drink local, and basically just soak in the place.
What is one thing about David Grapshi that would surprise your industry colleagues?
Maybe not a whole lot, I am a bit of an open book, but not everyone knows that I was born in East Harlem, and grew up in the Bronx. Best childhood ever, and of course the only one I know. My parents were Albanian born, who immigrated to find a better life in New York. Connecting the dots between East Harlem and where I am now in Northern California will take way too long – but it’s been a wild and amazing ride. Life is good when you lean in and face it head on…
The owner of Agave Forte, David Grapshi has a true passion for tequila. His dedication to the beverage industry started 25 years ago in positions in both liquor supply and distribution. Since then, David has created a widespread network of contacts both stateside and abroad, especially pushing tequila to new heights. He remains a force in the production, distribution, and importation of Mexico’s oldest and finest labels. Grapshi brought the brands of Siete Leguas, Herradura and El Jimador into the fold of nationally recognized household brand names. He played a crucial role with Gemini Spirits & Wine and The Corazon Barrel Expression Project, which barrel aged exceptional blanco tequila using Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bourbon barrels.
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