Breakthru Beverage Chairman Emeritus Raymond R. Herrmann Dies at 100


The middle tier of the alcohol industry lost a legend this weekend with the passing of Breakthru Beverage Chairman Emeritus Raymond R. Herrmann.

His obituary, provided by Breakthru Beverage, is as follows:

Raymond R. Herrmann died peacefully with his loving wife Marianna at his side at his home in New York City early Saturday morning, August 21, 2021, just weeks before his 101st birthday.

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Ray was born on September 11, 1920, in Louisville, Kentucky. He was a 1942 graduate of Princeton University.

Ray unquestionably enjoyed one of the most respected, distinguished and accomplished careers in the beverage alcohol industry. Ray’s family ties to the industry began with his grandfather, who settled in Louisville, KY in the late 1800s and founded a wine and spirits importing company, later forming Herrmann Brothers Distillery in Bardstown in 1880.

Ray began his own iconic career as a liquor salesman in New York’s distribution tier after honorably serving in the United States Army, 191 Field Artillery Group in the South Pacific Theatre from 1943 to 1946.

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Ray went on to hold various roles with Schieffelin Company and National Distillers Products Company before being recruited in 1973 by McKesson Corp. After becoming Vice Chairman at McKesson in 1984, in 1988 Ray led an acquisition of McKesson’s wine and spirits businesses, forming a four-state distribution company known as Sunbelt Beverage Corporation.

In 1994, Ray formed a formidable partnership with the late industry legend, Herman I. Merinoff, joining forces to form The Charmer Sunbelt Group. In 2016, Charmer Sunbelt merged with Wirtz Beverage to form Breakthru Beverage, today the third-largest spirits and wine wholesaler in the U.S.

Ray continued to proudly serve as Chairman Emeritus of Breakthru Beverage until his death, completing a legendary devotion to the wine and spirits industry that spanned more than five decades.   

Ray’s professional leadership included extensive industry positions. He served as both Director and Chairman of the National Association of Beverage Importers from 1973 to 1985, and as a Director and executive committee member of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) from 1973 to 1986.

Ray proudly served on the Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association’s Board of Directors for more than three decades, receiving the WSWA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

Ray was a brilliant, tenacious and determined businessman. His love for the industry and its participants was perhaps best exemplified by his mentoring of the many wine and spirits industry members who have themselves become icons today.  

Responsible for so many industry milestones, one of Ray’s proudest was the introduction of Robert Mondavi and Baron Phillipe De Rothschild, laying the foundation for the creation of the now infamous Opus One wine brand. Ray continued to demonstrate his fierce passion for the industry and keen intellect well into his tenth decade, attending supplier work withs and continually surprising internal and external colleagues with his assessment of the most detailed financial aspects of their business.

Whether golfing at Shinnecock or hunting pheasant halfway around the world, Ray’s love of the outdoors and the company of his many colleagues and friends was admired by all, and he was widely respected as the consummate gentlemen.   

Ray was known for his unwavering generosity to charitable causes. Among his most proud accomplishments was being named Chevalier de L’ Ordre National du Mérite (Knight of the National Order of Merit) by French President Francois Mitterand. His commitments and service to B’nai B’rith Youth Services earned him recognition as Man of the Year in 1982 and placement on the organization’s Scroll of Honor. He was also named to the Hall of Fame of Sky Ranch and later went on to become Sky Ranch Foundation’s Man of the Year.

Ray also served as a Life Fellow on The Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Fellows, which has responsibility for the general supervision of Weill Cornell Medicine’s programs and operations.

Ray is survived by his loving wife, Mariana Herrmann, his daughter, Laura Nicholson, his grandson, Christian Kai-Nielsen and his dog Pancho II. Ray was predeceased in death by his sons, Mark Herrmann and Michael Herrmann.    

For those who knew Ray, it is only fitting to recite the salutation heard on each of his voice messages throughout the years: “End of Message.”    

Memorial donations in Ray’s honor may be directed to Weill Cornell Medicine at give.weill.cornell.edu/ways-give/make-gift or Princeton University at makeagift.princeton.edu/MainSite/MakeAGift.

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