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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
OFFERS WE CAN'T REFUSE: When Cliff Livingston offers you a taste of M. Chapoutier Bila-Haut Côtes Du Roussillon 2008, you don't dither.

Wine Bar by the Sea

Unpretentious atmosphere and a dynamic host make Cava a village destination

By Christina Waters

NOT COUNTING the chance to hang out with owner and raconteur Cliff Livingston, the top reason for a visit to Capitola's cozy wine bar is the long list of tasting flights available every day. After all, sampling a trio of 2-ounce pours of intriguing domestic and global wines can help expand any palate, from beginner to aficionado.

"I really like to let people enjoy the wines without a lot of direction," says Livingston, whose smile is as broad as his shoulders. "Once they start tasting and like a wine, if they want a real discussion," he pauses, "I'll be happy to talk about it as much and in as much depth as they want. But I believe they shouldn't be bombarded with data."

Livingston and business partner Zach Worthington started Cava four years ago in the front slot of the Capitola Mercantile. Born in Panama, Livingston came to the United States to sample college life as well as restaurants and wineries. After a visit to the Bay Area, things fell into place.

"I got serious about wines during a year in Napa," he recalls, "then I went to San Francisco and eventually worked at Zuni Café with Judy Rogers." That's where he and Worthington met and hatched their plan for a wine bar. Capitola supplied the location.

Sipping a flinty Chateau de L'Aulée bubbly and considering the boquerones listed on a handwritten bar menu, I learn that Worthington recently returned to school to finish an MBA. Livingston is now the solo captain of this well-stocked ship, where a devoted clientele enjoy tiny plates of appetizers or full-on Italian pizzas from next-door Caruso's with their glasses of tempranillo. Refusing to concentrate on a single region, Livingston stocks a wall of wines from all over the world.

"There are just so many great wines out there," he insists. "We're living in the Golden Age of wine." And while he avoids picking favorites, Cava's host will admit to a special fondness for crisp pink bubblies. "I have a couple in the shop at all times. Right now the Gruet is my current favorite." He gestures toward the New Mexico wine nestling on the shelves next to Veuve Clicquot.

Boasting one of the finest locations on the coast—Cava is steps away from the Esplanade's many beachfront restaurants—the wine bar brings in winemakers during "Meet Your Maker" Tuesday nights, while Winter Wednesdays feature a live jazz band and a 30 percent discount on bottles. Livingston recalls that many patrons like to take advantage of that hefty discount on pricey bottles they might not usually consider. "It's an opportunity to try something new and more costly," he says.

A glance at the Cava menu makes abundantly clear the owner's philosophy of serious play. Local wines are listed as "Backyard Varietals," and the flights are noted under the menu heading "The First Rule of Flight Club." Italian, French and Spanish varietals are collected under "Hannibal's Route."

It's impossible not to enjoy a visit to Cava and its extensive wine possibilities, not to mention its cozy seating area and inviting fireplace. And, of course, Cliff.


115 San Jose Ave., Capitola


Sun–Mon 3–9pm; Tue–Thu 4–11pm, Fri–Sat noon–midnight

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