Despite some initial ferment, a wine-loving couple builds a business and a family.
I f they were wines, he’d be a bold, earthy Shiraz, she a smooth, lithe-bodied Pinot Noir. But together, Ami and Larissa Nahari have found the right elements to bring out the best in each of their very opposite personalities.
The couple, who co-run The River Fine Kosher Wine importing company, last month hosted their inaugural wine-tasting event — an extravaganza attended by mostly 30- and 40-something singles and couples in Manhattan’s East Village — at which Ami toasted his wife.
“None of this could have happened without my wife Larissa, the mother of our two beautiful children, who is a powerhouse,” he said. “She set it all up this afternoon — while I took a nap.”
But the union of these oenophiles, while loving, strong, and happy, is also, according to both, “not [a] fairy tale.”
While both are Jewish, they are, in a certain sense, intermarried: Ami, 42, is Israeli, born and raised in a small village in the Carmel mountains, and Larissa, 36, hails from Fairfield County, Conn. He grew up Orthodox; she grew up as a Jewish-American suburban girl (with a strong Jewish identity, but not very observant).
While different backgrounds makes their marriage “more interesting,” it requires “lots of compromise,” according to Ami.
Moreover, their personalities, according to Larissa, are opposite.
“I am quiet and non-confrontational, while Ami is loud and not afraid to say what he’s thinking,” she said.
Following the wine event, the Naharis made time to discuss how they found love in the city, how they manage to co-run a business and raise twin babies, and what it’s like to live and work with a spouse.
Throughout the interview, the couple’s 21-month-old twin boys, Eitan and Ivri, literally cooed and hugged one another, playing gleefully on the hardwood floor of the family’s homey downtown Manhattan apartment.
The two met after each had weathered a series of frustrating and disappointing dates with other people.
He contacted her on Match.com and, following a brief phone conversation, they agreed to get together.
On the first date, Ami was trying to impress Larissa with how “manly and confident” he was. In order to seem decisive, when the waitress came he quickly pointed at a drink on the menu.
“Little did I know the waitress would come back with the most pinky girly drink you’ve ever seen,” recalled Ami.
Both he and Larissa burst out laughing.
After the first date, Ami prayed during morning minyan “to Hashem that he would give me the strength to give this relationship a chance.”
Why did he need strength?
Ami had dated many attractive women and enjoyed doing so, but he felt Larissa was the first woman who had all he was seeking in a wife, including beauty but also “kindness and tolerance” — and he wanted to find the strength to commit.
The two had much in common: both were volunteers, Ami teaching Hebrew at Manhattan Jewish Experience, and Larissa with New York Cares. Both disliked conspicuous materialism and favored a down-to-earth lifestyle, but liked their creature comforts: music, wine and good food.
From the start, they recognized that, because they were not the type of couple whose interests and opinions align perfectly, they would both need to be able to compromise.
The closest they came to a breakup, Ami recalled, was over the issue of whether the best way to raise a child in the United States was to send him to yeshiva.
“I talked about how you need to protect children, in America, from bad influences,” Ami said. “Yes, going to a yeshiva is living in a bubble, and you are going to miss out on many other things, but you ensure the continuation of the physical existence of the Jewish people.”
Early in their relationship, the issue of where to live emerged. Although she loves Israel, Larissa knew she didn’t want to live there, mainly because her family is in the U.S.
On their fifth date, Larissa asked Ami if he planned to move back to Israel.
“I was scared she’d break up with me so I said, ‘Absolutely not,’” he said.
In reality, Ami did wish to live both places — a goal he and Larissa are working toward. The business they are building, he said, will hopefully enable them to do so.
A lot was lining up — including their wish for a family.
“We both had nieces and nephews we are passionate about, so it was understood,” that they would have children, Larissa said.
At the time, Ami, who was working as a business consultant for numerous companies including Bank of America, and who had just published a book, “Secrets of Service Level Management,” was looking for a business that could facilitate a bi-continental life.
They considered various types of Israeli import businesses and, with the help of Ami’s father, arranged a trip to the Gush Etzion Winery in the West Bank.
At first they questioned the quality of the wines because Ami’s father introduced the winemaker as “the person who sits next to [me] in shul.”
Their skepticism melted, however, when the couple had their first sips. And a dream took form.
“The winemaker poured us a Cabernet Franc. I looked at him and said, ‘Do you have an importer?’” recalled Ami.
When the man said “No,” Ami said, “I’ll be your importer.”
When they came home, Ami rushed to research whether liquor stores in the U.S. carried Gush Etzion wines.
Managers of the first five stores he visited told him people had come into the store looking for Gush Etzion.
“There was a demand,” Ami recalled.
Within four months, he had convinced the owner to allow him to import the label to the U.S., and had sold 350 cases.
Today, The River, as the company is known for short, is also the U.S. importer for Tishbi Estate Winery, one of Israel’s largest wineries, and sole U.S. distributor of Shirah Wines, a high-end kosher wine company from California.
Early in their marriage, the couple faced a challenge — albeit a happy one — with the twins’ impending arrival. With support from family, they made it work.
Larissa didn’t doubt she and Ami could make a success of their very busy life, in part due to her husband’s strength and savvy.
“I’m more reserved, laid back, I don’t make a fuss,” she said. “But I rely on Ami if need be. He’s not rude, but Israel is surrounded by enemies, and you have to be a little tough to survive.”
Plenty tough herself, in addition to helping Ami with the business and taking care of the twins, Larissa works four days a week as a marketing director for an architectural firm.
In their marriage, they’ve had their conflicts, such as over whether Larissa should cover her hair (Ami would like her to) and explaining to Larissa’s secular family that they can’t always “jump up on a Saturday,” according to Larissa.
But they have found the compromises, at times, to be part of their joy. Some of their favorite time as a family is spent “exploring the ever-changing Lower East Side where we live,” according to Larissa. They also enjoy long cooking sessions in preparation for Shabbat, music in the background and the twins playing on the floor between their legs.
“Now that we have the twins,” Larissa said. “Shabbat is the best day of the week.”
They especially enjoy hosting Shabbat dinners as a family, with friends.
And plenty of wine.
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