By Jim Boyce | When a small wine shop called La Cava de Laoma opened in a remote corner of the massive Sanlitun SOHO complex four years ago, no one realized it was destined to become a Beijing wine scene highlight, and Buddha knows those are few and far between. SOHO chews up most small businesses within a year, the location meant people were more likely to come across the shop by chance than design, and a singular focus on wines from Chile did not bode well—that country does indeed produce excellent stuff but here in China it is associated with inexpensive fare.
Yet owner Mariano Larrain persisted. While he continued to promote his homeland’s wines, he eventually expanded the portfolio with Argentine, Australian, Chinese, French and Spanish labels from quality niche distributors. While his shop was not easy to find, he created a loyal following of customers, many of whom would return with new people. And while the first floor of a mall does not scream “party”, La Cava became home to a flow of wine tastings, of birthday, company and national day gatherings, of food events with ceviche, empanadas and more. As usual, it was too good to last, and some kind of licensing issue meant La Cava closed for good last week.
La Cava will be missed. It’s one thing to rent a space, put up shelves and stock them with wine. It is quite another to create an atmosphere where people enjoy that wine and return for more. La Cava was that kind of place. I not only tried plenty of intriguing wines but also met fellow imbibers from the world over, whether from Australia or Japan or Russia or Uganda or Venezuela or France or some two dozen other nations. I could pop in for a glass and more often than not meet a friend.
La Cava also was more than a shop for me. Larrain was always willing to provide space for tastings and I organized over a dozen of them with Chinese wines. When Kanaan in Ningxia lacked a distributor for its tasty wines, I had 100 bottles delivered and we held a one-day sale. When I got my first bottles of bubbly from Grace Vineyard in Shanxi, we tasted them at La Cava. And when we wanted to do a wine event for the Maovember charity campaign, he was game, hosting the first Mystery Wine Party and a Chile-Argentina-China taste-off. La Cava became a stop whether I was showing visiting trade people the retail scene or needed a place for the media to film a segment on wine. True, things did not always go smoothly, but they were never ever boring.
So, goodbye La Cava. While it is sad you are gone, you beat the odds and endured far longer than anyone expected. You gave us some fine wines, fine events, fine friends and, more importantly, fine memories.