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Our Founder & CEO, Mark Steven Pope
ark Steven Pope, Founder and CEO of Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Provisions Co., an international wine business based in Napa, California, has redefined the meaning of 'wine merchant.' 'We sell a luxury product,' he says, 'but luxury doesn’t mean snobbish, or even necessarily expensive: luxury products need to stand for time-honored tradition, and they offer good value for the money, no matter how high the price.
That tradition is expressed in the way Bounty Hunter does business. 'I like things that are real,' says Pope, 'and I believe in old-school ethics. On that basis, we want to build genuine relationships with our customers. What we do is about the relationship, never just the sale. We hire people who really know their wines, and we ask them to get to know the people who buy from us. This is not a faceless business. We want to know where you are on the wine continuum, what’s in your cellar, what you cook, what’s on your table now. We want to become your guide to the world of wine, and you can’t do that with one or two dances around the floor.
Styling himself the 'Bounty Hunter' because he tracks down the great wines of the world, known and unknown, tasting as many as 5,000 a year ('and rejecting 95 percent of them,' he adds), Pope prides himself in his ability to gain access to 'great stuff' before many other wine merchants even know it exists. The handsomely produced twice-yearly Bounty Hunter catalog—which started with a circulation of 40,000, but is now eagerly anticipated by about 2.5 million recipients in every corner of the country—lists hundreds of great wines, including legendary California names like Opus One, Insignia, and Diamond Creek, as well as rising stars like Alpha Omega, Meteor, and Coup de Foudre, and imported treasures ranging from the world-famous Gaja in Italy to the cultish Mitolo from Australia.
Working with winemaker Timothy Milos, Pope also offers top-quality wines under his own brands: Broken Spur, Gus Rivers, Justice, Pursuit, Road Agent, Ridge Runner, Streamside, Tin Star, Waypoint, Weatherby and Vigilante. In addition, Bounty Hunter’s unique wine clubs offer personally selected premium bottlings from California and the rest of the wine world on a regular basis—and the Bounty Hunter 'Wine Bar, Wine Shop, and Smokin’ BBQ' in downtown Napa is one of the Napa Valley’s hotspots. (It has also been voted 'Best Wine Bar in the Bay Area' for five straight years, and is regularly named as the Valley’s best wine shop.)
Pope was born in Detroit and brought up there and in Atlanta. After graduating from high school, he went to work as a shipping clerk for a small Michigan pharmaceutical company. By the time he was 23, he’d become sales manager, and, as he puts it, "was making so much money, I couldn't afford to go to college." Pope went on to found his own company, representing generic pharmaceutical manufacturers, before becoming vice president of sales and marketing for a family-owned pharmaceutical firm based north of Detroit. Pope had always liked the outdoor life - he was a hunter and a fisherman and knew his way around horses - and traveling the country for his employer, he fell in love with Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico. In 1979, he left the pharmaceutical world to open Dark Horse Dude Ranch in the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the following winter, he says, he took a look at his feed bill and his lack of guests and realized how much he missed his old line of work.
For the next six years, Pope held management positions at Ascot Pharmaceuticals - a start-up in which he also owned an interest. Then, after a two-year hiatus to spend time with his family, Pope got the job that changed his life: a post as director of corporate accounts and business development for Dey Laboratories in Napa,California. He took one look around the Napa Valley and fell for it hard. "I love to eat and drink," he says, "and I love nature, and the Valley has it all. This is such a beautiful place. Who wouldn't want to be here?" He also liked the fact that the area was full of entrepreneurs, talented dreamers from a variety of backgrounds who had embraced the wine business and helped give this corner of California international renown.
Drawing on his extensive sales and marketing experience, but also on his love for old-fashioned American values and the can-do spirit of the West, he came up with a plan for a unique kind of wine-selling enterprise. "I started on a shoestring in 1994, with a legal pad, a pencil, and a fax machine," Pope recalls. "I began developing relationships with local wineries. I thought that I could create a valuable marketing tool for them, and at the same time serve an audience of luxury-minded people who might welcome the chance to make real discoveries. I'd learned that a lot of high-end executives were somewhat sheepish about their wine knowledge, which I thought was just silly, and I thought I could help them enjoy wine and celebrate it in a way that a lot of wine merchants don't." Today he is doing just that. "The satisfaction level among our customers is high," says Pope. "And that's because we become relevant to them. We give a damn about what they like."
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