La Terre's Daisuke Kawai is a Serious Man


The world-class sommelier, through a looking glass


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La Terre's Daisuke Kawai is a Serious Man
Wine July 10th, 2018

Sommeliers sell more than just wine. They sell stories, service and hospitality. Allow yourself to trust them and they can be your best friend, a smiling ambassador who can shepherd guests along a rewarding path. You may find yourself swiping your credit card more than usual, but if the night goes well, you know who to thank.  

Among some of the most sophisticated noses and palates in the country is Daisuke Kawai, chief sommelier and co-founder of La Terre, a bar piled with Old World wines and Karuizawa whiskies. Usually wearing a suit jacket, tie and blanket of seriousness, you’ll find him there every day, working hard to establish rapport and provide each guest with a memorable night.

The 41-year-old Niigata native shot to prominence after winning a slew of awards — including 2017’s Asia’s Best Sommelier in French Wines — but at the end of the day, he says being a sommelier is all about service, not stardom.  

Daisuke Kawai, co-founder and chief sommelier at La Terre. Photo by Vernon Wong

As Told To Keyyes By Daisuke Kawai

I hate to lose. I never did, even as a kid. Then again, that’s just life. You can’t always have it all. 

I was broke. Before I started the business at La Terre, I didn’t have a job or income for six months. All I had was a tourist visa and I was forced to leave Singapore a few times. My savings was also closing in on zero and that was tough, especially when there’s family to support.

“I was broke. Before I started the business at La Terre, I didn’t have a job or income for six months.”

Daisuke Kawai, chief sommelier and co-founder of La Terre

Anyone who has no spiritual aspirations is an idiot. That’s what my favourite novelist, Natsume Soseki, once wrote. You got to constantly tell yourself to step up, if not your career might someday come to a standstill.

I used to be a perfectionist, but I can’t be the perfectionist that I was before. I need to know where to draw the line, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to achieve anything. 

My greatest guilty pleasure? Hmm, I drink too much. A lot of embarrassing moments have followed but I don’t mind the embarrassment at all. Okay fine, this isn’t exactly my guiltiest. I can tell you what it is, but I won’t let you write about it.

Photo by Vernon Wong

One of my favourite Champagnes is the Billecart-Salmon, Extra Brut. It is fresh, full of peach and brioche aromas, dry and ever so rich.

People like to assume that sommeliers are simply wine professionals and nothing more. But that makes up only 10 per cent of the job. We are not here just to describe your wines, but to provide you with the best service that we possibly can. It’s a delicate balance of gauging the guest’s level of comfort or distress, and the end of the day, our success is measured by a guest’s happiness.

“We are not here just to describe your wines, but to provide you with the best service that we possibly can.”

Daisuke Kawai, chief sommelier and co-founder of La Terre

It is so hard to find good staff here in Singapore. People come to me asking for job specifics, only wanting to do one thing or another. But once you enter my door, you do everything, be it cleaning the floors or serving at the bar. It’s the whole package. At least, that’s how we operate in Japan. When people look for a job, they expect to do everything.

What was I expecting? Sorry to say this, but especially in the food and beverage industry here, I don’t see the people with enough drive and passion. They don’t go all out. I know it takes a lot of money to invest in a restaurant or bar, but it really says a lot when you’re working only for the money.

Where do I eat? I’ve got a few favourite places here, and that includes Ushidoki, Jimoto-ya and Sabu-Roku.

It’ll be cool to have a drink with Emperor Akihito himself. It wouldn’t matter where. All I look forward to is good company and conversation, and I’ll die a happy man.  

Get your fill at La Terre here at 11 Upper Circular Road, 01-01. Book via the Keyyes Membership App

Opening image by Vernon Wong. Special thanks to venue partner Tippling Club

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