Thatcher Baker Briggs has dealt with more revered wines in his young career than most industry types do in a lifetime. The 29-year-old consultant and sommelier sources some of the most coveted wines in the world for collectors all over.
Based in San Francisco, Briggs got his start in wine through restaurants. He did time at some great ones, like Saison in the Bay Area and Takazawa in Tokyo. Along the way, he sharpened his palate, tried some amazing wines, and developed relationships with lauded producers. It was the makings of his current venture, which involves highly curated wine wisdom and sourcing as well as an online shop of his own rare finds, which he launched over the summer.
His restaurant era set him up for success today. Briggs says it was a combination of exposure to extensive wine lists and learning the human aspect inherent to hospitality. “A lot of what happens in restaurants is also similar to what we do now,” he says. “When you cook, you often learn how to multitask and be quite focused on the things that need to be handled quickly. Working in fine dining and having an understanding of service and hospitality is make or break in this business.”
Selecting wines for somebody is about as subjective as things come and Briggs gets the importance of real connection, something he absorbed on restaurant floors. “We are such a niche service that understanding of what clients want is incredibly important,” he adds.
Like too many other industries, wine has a history of not being the most welcoming and inclusive. It remains mostly run by older white males, although it is evolving. Briggs doesn’t dwell on the subject, noting that somebody has to be the first one through the door. He thinks we should step back and question the entire scenario.
“There has been a lot of press on how the wine world isn’t diverse,” he says. “I think rather than focusing on how there is a lack, perhaps we should be asking ourselves why that is the situation. For me, I have been far too worried about living up to my own standards to worry about if someone feels that when they first look at me, if they feel I am capable of doing my job.”
It’s fair to say Briggs doesn’t carry himself like a lot of twenty-somethings. He displays a maturity earned from an early start in the business. Being the youngest person in the room is often a challenge, “But I started in restaurants at 13 and it’s how I have lived my whole life,” he says. Briggs adds that he was at a dinner recently and somebody at the table tried — and failed — to point out his inabilities on account of his age.
“I laughed after and decided to read even more about the particular subject that was being debated,” Briggs says. “I tend to focus on goals rather than people’s tones.”
Wine is steeped in tradition but it’s not above progress. Younger people are entering the scene as younger consumers are flocking to wine. Briggs thinks the efficiencies of today’s world naturally breed younger, more capable people, no matter the industry. It might be more obvious in wine because the realm has simply been pretty stale for quite a while.
“I think that we are in such a big window of change,” he says. “The world of wine — which has been a rather dull, quiet, and outdated world — is gaining spice! It is not just a group of ten guys in the room talking about how big their … wine collection is. It is a connected community of men and women who are passionate about who is making the wine, and where it is from, and the intricacies of winemaking or the environment.”
Industry types are increasingly asking questions about the structure and nature of the wine world. Briggs sees the same curiosity among collectors, which he finds thrilling. “I am excited for all the young people to take a chance and push the limits,” he says. “If it is building a retail platform that is very niche, or reviewers taking the time to taste with young winemakers and bring them to everyone’s attention, or collectors wanting to not collect just what is known but who are looking for the next big thing. It is an exciting time in wine!”