Wine Consulting Turned Retail w/ Thatcher Baker-Briggs, Thatcher’s Wine Consulting
Play • 45 min

Sommelier turned wine consultant turned online wine retailer.  Thatcher Baker-Briggs, Founder of Thatcher’s Wine Consulting, has continued to evolve and expand his presence, helping clients drink better and navigate some of the intricacies of Burgundy and other fine and geeky wines.  He tells us about his journey, how email responsiveness is a competitive advantage, and how he believes some of the distribution allocations of top European wineries need to adapt to where the demand is.  An engaging and insightful episode of XChateau! 

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Detailed Show Notes:

  • Thatcher’s background
    • He started cooking at 10, worked in restaurants, was in the kitchen for ten years
    • Pursued sommelier route, spent time in Japan, came back to SF to work w/ Saison Hospitality
    • Helped collectors to manage the world of Burgundy and expanded from there
    • Launched a small, online boutique website pre-Covid
    • Has both an importer and retailer license (possible in California)
    • Import focus is on 1st and 2nd generation winemakers, often younger (in their 20s and 30s)
  • Wine Consulting
    • It started when a regular guest at the restaurant asked for personal wine consulting
    • He had to rely on other retailers, which was challenging for some short turnaround needs, and built a small inventory of products, which got put online for the retail arm
    • Clients are on an annual retainer basis - annual necessary to set goals for the cellar and wine education
    • Initial clients came from personal relationships
    • New clients are mostly through existing client referral
    • You don’t need a lot of clients to be successful and cap the client base so that each client can get enough attention
    • He doesn’t source exclusively from TWC retail but from a variety of sources
    • Challenges with wine consulting business - dealing with an old school wine world, inventory management, logistics of getting wine, and communicating “no” to collectors can be challenging
  • Wine Retail
    • Differentiation - wines highly curated by the team
    • Ability to source wines due to decades of experience and relationships with importers and retailers from sommelier experiences
    • Sourcing rare wine is complex, as often wines can’t be fully authenticated - TWC usually takes a very conservative approach, e.g., buys DRC only with a Wilson Daniels back label and from an original buyer
  • Essential to work with importers who are investing in building wine brands
    • General importer margin - cost converted to local currency, 1.5x the cost plus a couple dollars/bottle for transportation
    • Some importers take too high margins on hard to find wines, which leads TWC to need to source directly from Europe
    • TWC doesn’t undercut the market not to upset other wine merchants
  • European wine distribution is often flawed and challenging, creating market dislocations
    • E.g., Raveneau - has low ex-domaine pricing, the wine immediately sells out, the family makes a great living, and doesn’t require work, but may have more wine in Switzerland than in the US where it sells for multiples higher
    • Wineries often are small businesses without a lot of people working there
    • Nicolas Faure example - sells so cheaply ex-domaine that people buy everything upon release, primarily other retailers buying to resell for much higher levels
  • Technology
    • Has a team of developers
    • Uses Zoho (CRM) and Shopify (E-commerce)
    • Custom-built integration between Shopify and Zoho
    • The aim is to make the website faster, more efficient, have correct pricing, amongst other space
    • He believes there is a lack of core technology in the wine space, currently dominated by Wine-Searcher and CellarTracker
  • Wine Pricing
    • Believes Burgundy is a bubble, but it can’t burst due to lack of supply (particularly with short 2019, 2020, and 2021 vintages)
    • Prices are so high they are pricing out drinkers
  • Links to Thatcher
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