Seven Power Couples of the Wine World — and How They Make It Work

Celine Bossart Seven Power Couples of the Wine World — and How They Make It Work

9 minute Read

Everybody loves a love story. This February, we’re celebrating some of the beverage industry’s coolest, most inspiring couples in a two-part series.

Here, we toast to the dynamic duos of the wine community. How do they make it work in a competitive field with long hours and late nights? From global tasting trips, to one-night stands that became work-and-life partnerships, these seven wine world power couples have careers that inspired romance — and vice versa.

Swati Bose and Kabir Amir

Co-Owners and Sommeliers, Flight Wine Bar. Washington, D.C.

Credit: Scott Buchmann

How they met:

Swati: “In the summer of 2002, my best friend Susan and I hosted a Fourth of July party in my apartment in Rosslyn in Virginia. We were known for throwing these fun parties. But this turned out to be the lamest party I had ever been to, much less hosted.”

Turns out, Swati’s friend Susan had run into a law school classmate on the train and invited him to attend. He brought three friends — including Kabir, an acquaintance he’d just met in the George Washington University dorms.

Swati: “Kabir showed up with a 6-pack of beer and he had drunk half of it on the way. I thought he had a huge attitude and wanted nothing to do with him. But Susan and Betsy thought he was great and loved him, as did a few of my friends that we saw later that night. And they invited him to hang out with us again the next night.

“That next night was wonderful. We chatted all night, and I had what I thought was a one-night stand with Kabir (I hope my parents aren’t reading this). The next morning, he asked my last name. And then he asked if I was seeing anyone. When I said no, he said, ‘Let’s have brunch.’ And 16 years later, here we are.”

Why it works:

Swati: “For us, it has been wonderful working together. Of course, running a business together and working on daily operations has its struggles. We have certainly had to learn how to do it peacefully, and we are still learning. But our passion for food, wine, and hospitality was a joint one. In creating Flight, we got to make that a reality. Every year, when we revise our wine list, we have an opportunity to work together to put together a list of our favorite winemakers, regions, and talk through what is getting us excited currently. Throughout the year, we also meet a few of these winemakers, and it takes us back to why and how we got here.”

Kabir: “Both of us have learned to get over things very quickly. We might disagree about something one minute but the next minute we can resume working together happily. This took us time to learn and practice. Or we might have a tough day at work but we can return home and snuggle up to watch TV and unwind. And this is crucial, so you don’t spend your days resentful and being mad at each other.

“Treating each day like a brand-new day in this industry is key so that we retain our energy and can feel passionate about our work.”

Victoria James and Lyle Railsback

Partner and Beverage Director at Cote, Sommelier, and Author; National Sales for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant and Illustrator. New York

Credit: Gary He

How they met:

Victoria: “I first met Lyle when I was a sommelier at Marea. He works for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant and was trying to sell us wine! We became acquaintances in the industry but were both dating other people. Later that year he asked me out to which I responded that I was dating someone else. He said, ‘No worries, invite him along!’”

Lyle told Victoria to treat it as a dinner party — she’d bring her date, and he’d invite others to come, too.

Victoria: “Then this happened (taken from Lyle’s wedding vows to me):

‘As luck would have it, you wrote the day before saying that you’d broken up and would be coming solo, which worked out for me as I’d been too busy traveling and hadn’t invited anyone else, so it would just be you and me for dinner…

…This first date was on a full moon, like tonight, but it’s hard to even think of this as a first date because for me the date hasn’t really ended yet, and it never will.’”

Why it works:

Victoria: “The industry is where we met. Had I not been a sommelier and wine buyer, and had he not been a wine salesman, we might not have crossed paths. For this, I will forever be grateful.

“Being able to share an industry with your spouse is really a blessing. We both understand one another’s insane and odd work schedule — I work from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., Monday to Friday, and he travels weekly across the United States and overseas. He also has helped me understand the nuances of his side of the business, something not easily seen or understood by many sommeliers. Thanks to him, I now understand the way wines are imported, priced, taxed, the three-tier system, and how to negotiate the best pricing for our restaurant.

“On the flip side, I keep him abreast of what is trending, what guests are asking for, and what sommeliers are drinking. I help him explore wines from outside just his portfolio and give him a broader picture of the wine world.

“I am so grateful that we are in the same industry but on different sides. This allows us to each see a unique viewpoint and give the other valuable information. We have both built one another into strong, powerful buyers and salespersons in the business.”

Thomas Pastuszak and Jessica Brown

Executive Wine Director at The NoMad Hotel New York; Senior Analyst, Onboard Experience at JetBlue. New York

Credit: Andrew Frasz

How they met:

Thomas: “Jess and I had mutual friends when we were still living in Ithaca, N.Y. I was actually a bartender at the time, still intending on going to med school, and Jess was finishing a degree in fine arts photography (though also working in restaurants part-time), and she was a regular of mine. I thought she was way out of my league, so I sent many delicious cocktails her way to catch her eye, and we ended up hanging out with our larger group of friends before finally going on a date together.

“It was pretty instantaneous, and we both supported each other’s decisions to forgo the fields we were pursuing in order to focus on restaurants and wine. In fact, it was Jess who, while I was studying for my MCATs, said, ‘What if your passionate hobby or part-time job could be your livelihood?’… That really helped push me to go full-on in the world of hospitality.”

Why it works:

Thomas: “Both of us working in wine has been great, because it’s given us similar passions that we can align on and chat endlessly about. We have always tasted wine together (and usually love the same bottles, though not always!), and have traveled to wine regions together. We go out to restaurants as often as possible, and make friends in the restaurant and wine community that have become our family… Our professional relationship and close friendships in the business have melded together in an amazing way.”

Thomas and Jessica now have two small children, and so their lives and careers shifted accordingly.

Thomas: “Jess currently works for JetBlue as a senior analyst for MINT… which keeps her busy throughout the day, but able to be home at night, a big difference from being on the floor all the time. Meanwhile, I’m overseeing all of the NoMad wine programs as executive wine director, which keeps me busy a lot at night still, though I am able to be home in the evenings with family more now than in the past. It’s certainly not a walk in the park, figuring out the balance, but our shared passion for the industry certainly helps to make it possible.”

Juan Muñoz-Oca and Jessica Munnell

Executive Vice President of Winemaking, Vineyards and Operations, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates; Owner and Winemaker, Wautoma Springs. Richland, Wash.

Credit: Richard Duval

How they met:

Jessica: “We met in the Spring of 2001 in Grandview, Wash. I had just finished school and was working as a viticulturist for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (SMWE). Juan had been wanting to travel to the States from his home in Argentina.

“Ironically, it was the chair of my master’s committee that talked him into coming to Washington instead of California. On the advice of Dr. Wample, Juan traveled to Washington State to check out the industry and look into continuing his education through a master’s degree. Juan began working as an intern for SMWE, where we met.”

Why it works:

Jessica: “I think a lot of our successes have been because we work in the same industry. Having a partner that I can talk to about issues with a fermentation, or bottling, or how to be better at sales, is priceless.”

Alan Baker and Serena Lourie

Owner and Winemaker, Cartograph Wines; Owner, Cartograph Wines. Healdsburg, Calif.

Credit: Henry Dombey, Clubsoda Productions

How they met:

Alan: “The five points on our logo came out of our love story. We met at Crushpad, the urban winery in San Francisco. Alan was on staff and Serena came in to attend one of the winemaking classes Crushpad conducted. After that class, Serena signed up to make wine with her friends and Alan coordinated their winemaking that harvest season, 2008.

“The idea of Cartograph was launched late one night in 2009 while sitting on the sidewalk outside Crushpad talking about our dreams and realizing that we were falling in love and had a shared vision of our future.”

Why it works:

Serena: “We came to the wine industry independently but creating Cartograph really fueled our relationship — so the industry helped our love story. The more challenging it got as we grew, the more we had to rely on each other for support, advice, and laughter.

“When we opened the tasting room we were in the midst of doing construction on our home at the same time so everything felt really unsettled. Had we not been working together creating Cartograph, it would have been pretty easy to get frustrated with each other but because we were working on a shared vision, we were able to choose the priorities together and navigate the chaos of construction and building a business.”

Cam Baker and Kate Solari Baker

Proprietors, Larkmead Vineyards. Calistoga, Calif.

Credit: JBH Photography

How they met:

Kate: “Cam and I met in September of 1960. He was in his third year at Boalt Law School at UC Berkeley and I was in my third year of undergraduate there as well. In hindsight, we were both infants. We were double-dating, he was with one person, I with another. But a spark was struck. I was definitely interested…we talked about the possibility of Nixon winning the 1960 presidential election, a highly unusual conversation in those days between college folks (Cam was working for candidate Kennedy at the time). And so our courtship began, with lots of details lost in the mist of time. We have been married 57 years!”

Why it works:

Kate: “Our early years were preoccupied with Cam’s legal career in San Francisco and my life as a mother of three. My parents had owned Larkmead Vineyards since 1948 and the wine business was always the career of my father, B.C. Solari… Cam and I became grape growers and winemakers after my mother’s death in 1992, and we’ve worked together ever since. In the early days we were a three-man band: the two of us and our winemaker, Andy Smith.

“Our relationship has survived because we have a clear division of labor. While Cam brings business acumen to the table, I bring lots of human wisdom and good hospitality knowledge. We always discuss together big changes and big investments, such as the choice to build a winery on our property in 2005. It was a big decision! The whole family discussed it and ultimately followed Cam’s lead. Every business needs a leader. I offer my thoughts and opinions, which are given serious consideration before finalizing movement forward. That works for Cam and me.”

Lauren Wong and Damon Wong

VP Sales and Marketing, Aperture Cellars and Devil Proof Vineyards; Director of Hospitality, Kosta Browne Winery. Santa Rosa, Calif.

Credit: Margaret Austin Photography

How they met:

Lauren: “We both grew up in Sonoma County, went to high school in the same town, but never met each other until years later, when I was in college and Damon was working for a local winery.

“It was at a Mardi Gras house party, everyone was drinking jungle juice out plastic cups, the music was loud, and there were green and purple decorations everywhere. I was standing there alone, getting ready to pull the sticky ladle out of the mysterious ‘juice’ when Damon came up to me, introduced himself, and asked if I might prefer some bubbles instead. Damon was working at Iron Horse Vineyards at the time and had brought a bottle of ice cold blanc de blancs and flutes along with him — just in case of an emergency. It was like he read my mind and the rest was history.

“And some things never change. It is pretty rare that my drink order of choice is not a glass of bright bubbly.”

Why it works:

Damon: “We both love our jobs and are enthusiastic about the future of the industry… Having this passion as a common driver has absolutely brought us closer. We have a huge amount of respect for each other professionally, weighing in on each other’s projects, collaborating on new concepts or bouncing ideas off each other is one of the great things about our relationship.”

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