Bill Baker, one of the most renowned and respected figures in the UK wine trade, has died.
A spokesman for Reid Wines, the West Country wine merchant that he owned, simply said that Baker died in his sleep last night (Sunday). He was 53.
‘It was completely unexpected,’ he said. ‘We don’t know when the funeral will be as there has to be a post mortem. We are all very shocked.’
On her website, Jancis Robinson paid fond tribute to the ‘Pickwickian’ Baker.
‘Increasingly generous of girth, he had quite unrivalled knowledge of fine and rare vintages, and had an encyclopedic, greed-inspired grasp of exactly where and what in the world was best to eat. (He would frequently stop off in six Michelin-starred Bray to have lunch en route back home from London. By himself.)’
She told decanter.com, ‘Wine tasting will not be the same without Bill – when he walked into a room it lit up. And, frankly, I don’t know how we’ll replace that wine knowledge.’
He was ‘a big man in every sense of the word,’ food writer Matthew Fort once said in an interview. ‘There is something of the yacht about Bill, moving with majestic purpose through the water, with lesser craft bobbing in his wake.’
After Charterhouse School and Peterhouse, Cambridge, Baker joined Averys of Bristol and then went on to set up Reid Wines with Charles Reid, who is no longer a part of the business.
He was also a consultant, advising restaurants around the country on their wine lists. As Fort said, ‘There are few restaurants of any consequence to which he doesn’t sell or advise. He has wider experience of contemporary eating than any critic.’
A renowned taster, he was a stalwart of the Decanter World Wine Awards judging team, sitting on the Australia panel along with such veterans as John Avery, David Gleave, Matt Skinner and Michael Hill-Smith.
Decanter publishing director Sarah Kemp, calling from China, said, ‘Bill was one of the great characters of the UK wine trade. His immense knowledge about and passion for wine were infectious and inspiring. He was a highly valued judge at any tasting because he always spoke his mind.
‘I always looked forward to seeing him – our lives will be much poorer without him.’
Baker was married to Katie Gaunt, whom he met while she was working at Gidleigh Park in Devon, in 1991. They had two children, Polly and George.