Why you should care
Because California’s famed wine country has more delights than you’ve dreamed of. Smoky, saucy delights.
At the Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ restaurant, it’s all about two things: wine and swine. It’s an unexpected twist in a place as lavish as California’s Napa Valley. Diners can chow down on piled-high platters of pulled pork, smoked brisket and ribs, while sipping from a $4,000 bottle of vintage French wine.
Owner Mark Pope is something of a bounty hunter of wine, tasting 6,000 different wines each year and rejecting nearly 95 percent of them in search of what he calls the “holy grail” of Italian, French and Californian wines. Ranging from $15 to $5,000 a bottle, his hand-picked wines are paired with pulled pork sandwiches, smoked St. Louis cut ribs and sourdough bread pudding — or their beer-can chicken, which arrives whole at your table, standing upright, skewered by a Tecate beer can and smelling divine. The restaurant has a “blue jeans style” that aims to help customers find their perfect spot on the “continuum of wine enjoyment” without being too snobby, he says.
The restaurant was awash with whiskey, wine, spirits and shards of glass.
While Pope is intent on appealing to everyone, it’s difficult to find high-quality wines at lower price points, says Peter Langenstein, the founder of Brix26, an online company that sells limited-edition California wines. “It’s hard to even find something that really stands out in the $20 range,” says Langenstein. Unless a customer is willing to spend $60 or more, he adds, the chances of finding a full-bodied pinot or sparkling sauvignon blanc are slim to none.
Still, the restaurant was getting a lot of foot traffic — about 2,000 visitors every week — until California’s worst earthquake in 25 years devastated the famed wine region and caused $1 billion in damages last August. The magnitude 6.0 earthquake’s epicenter was just a few miles from the Bounty Hunter, and the restaurant was awash with whiskey, wine, spirits and shards of glass, with total damages amounting to more than $100,000, according to Pope. Nonetheless, he and his team rallied to clean up the mess and reconstruct the bits of the building that had collapsed.
One week later, they cleared the safety inspection and were back in business. “The integrity of the building was still in good condition,” says Pope, who considers the long-standing 1888 building that houses the restaurant a structural feat. Slowly, the slew of tourists who come to Napa to taste some of the world’s finest luxury wines are also making their way back to the town’s bruised businesses. And when they come, the Bounty Hunter is ready to help them navigate the best bottles and maybe send them off with a few delicious grease stains to remember them by.