The industry is mourning the loss of John Halewood, chairman, CEO and co-founder of wine and spirits supplier Halewood International, who passed away last weekend.

Halewood, 64, was a popular industry figure and tributes describing him as "first class", "truly inspirational and charismatic" and "very much a people's person" have flooded in to a memorial website set up by Halewood International.

Halewood and his mother Eileen founded Halewood International in 1978. Much of the company's growth has been organic, although it purchased businesses including Hall & Bramley of Aintree where John began his working life and wine merchants Chalié Richards & Company. In 1993 the business moved to its present site in Liverpool, where it developed brands including Lambrini, Red Square Vodka and Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer.

Outside work, Halewood's passion was horse racing, which culminated in his horse Amberleigh House winning the 2004 Grand National.

Charles Wilson, CEO of Booker, was one of many to pay tribute to Halewood. "John was a larger-than-life, inspiring innovator," he said. "He called himself a tiger and the trade will be less colourful now this ­tiger is not in town."

A private family funeral will be held on Wednesday 26 October and plans for a public memorial service will be announced at a later date.