For someone who provides strategic advice on wine for anyone and everyone from NBA players to titans of industry, Thatcher Baker-Briggs speaks with clarity and sensibility in a way that would suggest he’s no more than the guy in the know down the street at the neighborhood wine bar.
Before he began consulting and opened his own importing business, he was almost that — except instead of neighborhood bars, he was building wine lists at influential Michelin-starred restaurants, including the now-closed Takazawa, in Tokyo, and Saison, in San Francisco.
But Baker-Briggs is quick not to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of old-school names and vintages. He does still seek out five-figure bottles for clients (and travels wherever he needs to go to find them), but he’s also ushering in the next generation of collector-worthy bottles via small producers making exceptional juice.
“Not only are we working with some of the most established collectors, but we also have our retail platform, and people are really interested in $20-40 bottles,” he says. “We have the ability to have this conversation with young producers.”
Whether due to his age (31) or a keen sense of who the next big names will be, Baker-Briggs puts a majority of his focus on producers under 30. These are not up-and-comers working at a major wine house, but niche producers doing things their way selling small quantities in the most prized wine-growing regions such as Burgundy or Champagne.
Opening his clients’ horizons
“The more you know, the more you don’t know,” says one of Baker Briggs’ clients, Alex, who lives in Miami, FL, and asked not to use his last name.
Alex describes himself as relatively new in wine, “exploring” it, rather than collecting and eager to learn all he can. He initially found Baker-Briggs through a website search as he was looking for a specific bottle. Alex then became a consulting client.
“Thatcher is really focused on things that have a theme, especially with a lot of smaller producers,” Alex says. “It’s cool that there’s a source like Thatcher and his team where I can piggyback off of their experience and understand that it’s not all big and marquee bottles. The smaller producers end up being the most interesting.”
The Giants Just Got Their First SommelierWhat pairs best with all your ballpark favorites?
Alex also notes that, unlike other importers and wine consultants, Baker-Briggs puts strict limits on how many bottles any one person can buy from a certain producer. This allows more people to enjoy at least one bottle of something really great as opposed to the entire allotment being bought up by one collector.
“They create an environment where it’s not purely profit-driven. That makes it more interesting, and if they didn’t put those caps in, I wouldn’t be a customer,” Alex says.
The link for small producers
Baker-Briggs opened Thatcher’s Wine last year, and it’s certainly a new approach to the very, very traditional, buttoned-up wine-importing model.
When he was introducing a new Champagne house (Domaine La Rogerie) to the California market, he didn’t take the producers to any two- or three-starred Michelin restaurants, but rather “the places we think do a great job representing wine” as he puts it. This means places like industry mainstay Zuni in San Francisco and The Charter Oak in St. Helena, the less formal, “sibling” outpost of three Michelin-starred Meadowood.
This is a big part of how Baker-Briggs is literally changing the thinking around wine. The next generation of drinkers – and ultimately, collectors – is more interested in the story or what’s on the list at a more sensible neighborhood spot compared to a white linen experience.
“I don’t think wine is getting less serious, but the perspective of it is changing,” he notes. “For most of its history, wine was viewed as a royal beverage, but people are now saying, ‘I know more about wine than anyone in this room and I’m wearing Air Jordans and I can be myself’.”
Chasing down those one-offs and what’s to come
Although the import side is arguably the straightforward side of his oenophilic business, Thatcher’s Consulting, which he opened in 2019, remains the more captivating (and profitable) half for the average wine fan.
This is where he chases after one-off bottles for a client that needs to impress at a dinner party or finds a very choice allotment of one specific vintage. With a reputation in tow, he now relies on a team as much as he does his own network to make some ridiculous requests come to fruition.
“Clients love to ask for crazy things at the very last minute,” he says. “Those are some of the biggest challenges – ‘I need a bottle of 1970 whatever Rousseau’ (a very specific domaine with labels routinely in the mid-to-high four figures). To be honest, we get those asks on a weekly basis, and over the years, we’ve gotten pretty good at being able to execute that stuff.”
The one ask he still can’t complete? A request he’s been “working on for a year” for a younger client who tasted Domaine Georges Roumier (a house, according to Baker-Briggs that makes “the greatest red Burgundies that exist”) from a specific vineyard and wanted 600 bottles for his private collection. The problem was the producer may have made 600 bottles total of that specific wine, and it’s likely near impossible to amass that quantity for just one person.
Like many others, the wine business is heavily reliant upon who you know, and Baker-Briggs’ extensive network (most of which he keeps private for obvious reasons) means he has unrivaled access to fulfill those requests, whether buying from another client’s private collection or straight from the depths of a cellar in the Champagne region.
In fact, that’s one of the areas where he sees the most excitement. “There’s a ton of interesting stuff happening in Champagne,” he says. He notes one producer in particular, Amaury Beaufort, as a “really soft-spoken, talented guy” in the southern part of Champagne, who “treats the wine as his garden” and makes about 6,000 bottles a year at around $100 a bottle.
“His wine should probably be worth more than it is,” Baker-Briggs adds.
He’s also drinking a lot of Burlotto, a producer in Italy’s Barolo region, “making some of the most emotional wines anywhere.”
“It’s a $25-30 bottle that we drink at home every night. Barolo is having a renaissance, making wines in a way that you can drink them in their youth, (whereas) before you needed to age them,” he adds.
Baker-Briggs’ success is as much due to his ease in offering recommendations to a high-profile collector while being able to democratically talk shop about a great glass pour at the spot down the street. It’s a balancing act contributing to his reputation as an important driver of what’s next in wine.
“I’ve been so lucky and fortunate to drink great, ‘once in a lifetime’ bottles more than once in a lifetime,” he says. “If anything, it makes me more excited, while making it easier to taste a cheaper bottle and compare it to the $40,000 bottle that I had yesterday. It’s a similar feeling to how exciting it is to discover these great producers.”
Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.