Chris Baggetta ran the wine program at Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan before moving to San Francisco a year ago, where she serves as wine director for Quince and its sister restaurant Cotogna. Quince’s program offers 800 selections with strengths in Burgundy, Champagne and northern Italy. Cotogna’s small list, on the other hand, is pan-Italian and value-centered: Except for its reserve selections, all the wines are $40 a bottle or $10 a glass.
The lists you manage at Quince and Cotogna are very different. Has it been difficult to get used to simultaneously working with those two very distinct programs?
For me, it is all one wine cellar, and all of it comes from the same place. One thing that’s fun for me is that when I’m on the floor, I can work off of either list. Cotogna is all Italian with a small Cal-Ital list, but all Quince wines are offered there, too. Still, I love the focus of the Cotogna list, and the equalization of pricing makes people more open to try something new.
At the Quince level, we’re always trying to trot the globe to mirror the directions in the kitchen—which draws a lot of inspiration from France, other places in Europe, and artisanal purveyors and local farms. So we have a strong focus on small, artisanal winemakers as well.
What differences have you noticed between the San Francisco and New York wine markets since you moved west?
The culture in San Francisco is earlier to bed, earlier to rise—in New York, people dine later into evening, so that took some getting used to. Also, more in terms of wine: In New York, Europeans were the ones asking for domestic wines, and locals were only interested in European wines. But here, there’s much more hometown pride for local wines—and they want to know exactly where the vineyards and tasting rooms are, and often have more of a direct relationship with these local producers. We’re also uniquely situated between the Financial District, Pacific Heights and North Beach, so we get a lot of support from local businesses during the week, and they tend to gravitate toward [California] wines. So that took some further study on my part, and periodic trips up to Napa and Sonoma. This year we ended up taking a staff field trip to Quintessa, walking the vineyards and visiting with the Huneeuses. Working with a producer like that, where there’s great mutual respect—the staff really latches onto that. The staff really likes that wine.
[On domestic chardonnays…]
There’s definitely a sort of pushback against heavily oaked, high-alcohol styles. You have a certain section of people who are interested in producers like Tyler: clean, little new oak, low alcohol, harvesting earlier. Especially in response to recent press and media about those wines.
And with Hanzell, they have such a long tradition—they were doing temperature-controlled ferments before anyone else was, and have stood by their own style for such a long time. It’s a good way to talk about the history of California wines.
Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.