No one who knows the chauvinistic French would go to their capital city expecting to find a wide range of California wines for sale. In fact, you might think it as likely to locate great California wines in a Paris shop as you would top bottles from India, Cuba, Japan or England. But since Lavinia opened its doors on the boulevard de la Madeleine about a year and a half ago, you can find all of thesenot to mention some sensational single malt Scotch whiskyin a dramatic modern setting designed by noted Spanish architect Antonio de la Peña. The 16,000-square-foot store offers more than 2,000 different wines from all over the world, not to mention 3,000 different French bottlings and 1,000 different spiritsalong with some 500 wine books and accessories, a wine bar and a restaurant. Welcome to one of the world's greatest wine shops.
The Paris branch is the third of the Lavinia wine empire, owned by partners Thierry Servant and Pascal Chevrot. The first two Lavinia stores are in Spain: The Madrid original opened in 1999, Barcelona's in 2001. A much smaller shop called La Cité des Vins in Geneva was acquired in 2001 and is scheduled to become a fourth Lavinia shop later this year.
Lavinia began in Spain because that's where Servant was based, as manager of L'Oréal's Spanish operations and the owner of a helicopter-leasing business (they're his favorite mode of transportation). Chevrot, who now splits his time between Spain and France, grew up in Reims, the renowned center of Champagne, and was once a consultant for Louis Roederer Champagne. He and Servant are friends of long standing, both interested in wine and often appalled by the wine shops of Spain. Says Servant, "We were used to seeing great wines in shops with high temperatures, near light sources, with no humidity. I was thinking of doing something in retail, and we felt there was something lacking in terms of the way good wines were distributed."