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February 11, 2014updated 02 Nov 2022 12:02pm

Bill Baker Remembered

By Thierry Dessauve

by Jasper Morris MW

I was at boarding school with Bill Baker, Charterhouse, and we pretended that I had been his “fag”-the youngster who ran around doing his master’s bidding, rather than anything more sinister. I did not know him well then, he being three years older, but I do have clear memories of an ebullient character, larger and rounder than life, but not of the volume that he became. It was a few years before I became aware of him again. He had started Reid Wines with “the sniveler,” assisted by “the mincer.” This version did not work out, though the company developed on a surer footing as Reid Wines (1992) Ltd, with the able supporting cast of David Boobbyer and Clare Thomas.

It is easy to talk of the glorious excesses of which Bill was part and often proud. Everybody who knew him will have their story. For me, two come to mind. Classical Bill was the last dinner I enjoyed at Hallatrow, when he and a generous mutual client had put together an incredible tasting of Romanée-Conti and La Tâche (preceded by a shrewd magnum of Hugel’s 1953 Riesling Réserve Personelle and completed by Yquem 1896). The 1978 La Tâche was below par, so Bill promptly poured it over the joint to liven up the gravy.

Almost more poignant, however, was a three-day tasting event hosted by Bill, when he fell asleep in the act of tasting a wine, causing the contents of his mouth to geyser out on to his ample shirt front. Immediate return to consciousness and a bellow of mirth. But Bill’s exhaustion was due not to poor condition or overindulgence but to the extraordinary workload he always happily took on. He had handled all the organization of an event that needed an eye for detail as well as time and energy, was last to bed and first to rise, take the dog for a walk, and get the new day set up for the rest of us.

There was an element of Nancy Mitford’s Uncle Matthew about Bill- publicly purporting to hate all those who were not of his ilk. But I never knew a man more generous in spirit nor more able to see when another needed support or a word of friendship. He pretended not to suffer fools gladly, though he probably did-but he certainly missed no opportunity to expose knaves through some gloriously pithy note in the Reid Wines catalog.

His intelligence radiated from all he said or wrote, and he was a natural taster-quick sniff, into the mouth and out again, and the wine was fully registered on his palate and in his brain. He should have lived longer, and none will feel his absence more than his family of Kate, Polly, and George, of whom he was so proud and through whom he enjoyed such happiness. For the rest of us there will remain a huge Bill-shaped hole, but we know that however long we may live, we shall never drink as many great bottles nor consume them with as much gusto as Bill achieved in his 53 years.

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