Ralph Erenzo – Founder & Managing Member, Tuthilltown Spirits

Prior to starting Tuthilltown Spirits, New York’s first whiskey distillery since prohibition, Ralph’s business Extravertical Inc. provided technical production and event services to corporate and media clients such as ESPN, Ford and Danskin for projects that required technical skills developed over his 25-year rock climbing career. Ralph built and managed New York City’s first public climbing gyms, including The ExtraVertical Climbing Center on Broadway. His dream of a “climber’s ranch” near the largest rock climbing area in the east was set aside in favor of producing high-quality spirits. Ralph’s writing and commentary have been featured in national media including Op-Ed columns for The New York Times. His work at the state level resulted in the passage of the Farm Distillery Act in 2007, which permits New York farms to establish distilleries and sell their agricultural spirits on site. Tuthilltown Spirits is a founding member of the American Craft Spirits Association, for which Ralph sits on the board of directors, and is chairman of the legislative committee, which works at the federal level to support the craft distilling industry nationwide.

1. How do you define success?
A satisfactory outcome in one’s effort at some goal, which is not always the same as the specific goal a person starts with. Happiness with an outcome.

2. What is the key to success?
It’s a key ring: persistence, flexibility, gumption.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I always wanted to achieve success in something, but not always the same or one single thing.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Belief in a concept or goal, and the willingness to get up when knocked down and continue the struggle.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Changing a plan is not the same as giving up. Things change, plans change, but still have forward momentum. Quitting is an end.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spare time? Reading, driving.

7. What makes a great leader?
Again, “gumption” (the ability to see a need and the temerity to believe you can do something about it). Also, the willingness to sublimate personal, specific desires for the benefit of an overall goal of those being led.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Success, most often, takes time. Be alert to opportunity. Your education gave you a valuable framework upon which to build your future, but the world fills out and colors the final result. Expect change, use it, and never give up.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.

This interview was conducted for research purposes by Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.