Shifting Gears

Gramercy Tavern Veteran Juliette Pope on Becoming a Portfolio Manager

After 25 years on the floor, she’s perfecting the pitch for a professional audience at David Bowler Wine

Juliette Pope
Photo by Doug Young.

Throughout her 25-year career in the food and beverage industry, Juliette Pope has been content with being fast on her feet—as a culinary school student in 1994 at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (now the Institute of Culinary Education), through numerous stints as a line cook and pastry chef before transitioning out of the kitchen to become a cellar rat, waiter, and finally, in 2004, the manager and beverage director at New York City’s celebrated Gramercy Tavern.

“She dominated every position she held,” says Kevin Mahan, the former managing partner at Gramercy. “A lot of people don’t put in the backbreaking work when they’ve earned their stripes. She not only set the expectation but was living it by example every day, whether that was staying until 3 am to write wine notes for the next day’s class or putting on her jeans and T-shirt to work in the cellar.”

Karen King, the director of on-premise development at The Winebow Group in New York City, worked alongside Pope at both Union Square Cafe and Gramercy. She describes her as “smart, mannerly, a bit of a perfectionist, and essentially a workaholic….

“You could count on getting long emails from her in the middle of the night,” says King. “She had one of the best wine programs in the country, and in a time when people were branding themselves right and left, she wasn’t into that. She hid her light under a bushel.”

Time for a Change

But after nearly 20 years at Gramercy, a dozen of which were devoted to the beverage program, Pope wanted to shine her light elsewhere. “I was hooked on the whole restaurant thing,” she says. “That is a real addiction—living that life with fire and knives, and getting down and dirty.… It was hard for me to turn anything off.” Her job felt like a 24/7 responsibility. “It was worth it for a long time,” she says, “and then suddenly it wasn’t.” She left Gramercy Tavern in 2016 with no plans in place, no Oprah-inspired vision board. She just Wanted. To. Rest.

Shortly after her farewell party—a veritable Who’s Who of the wine industry, hosted at Terroir by Pope’s former boss and mentor Paul Grieco—she got a call from David Gordon, a vice president at David Bowler Wine, from whom she had purchased wine for Gramercy. He asked her to meet with David Bowler for lunch. No big deal; just a check-in. And he was curious—might she be interested in a job at the company?

“I thought I would never go over to the other side,” says Pope. But she recalled having said over the years that if she ever did, it would be for Bowler’s company, which represents Louis/Dressner Selections,  a portfolio of family producers for which Pope has a particular affinity, having visited the estates on a buyer’s trip early in her career. “That trip had a profound impact and [was] a big part of what I did at Gramercy,” she says. “To work [at Bowler] with the wines that I originally cared about the most—the whole arc and serendipity—it really was kind of a miracle.”

Juliette Pope
Photo by Lana Bortolot.

Adjusting to a New Position

Pope started her desk job at Bowler in October 2016 and credits her buying experience at Gramercy for helping her get there, saying it was a “complete game changer in how I ended up here right now.” As in her previous position, she is purchasing wines with smaller allocations to serve a large audience. “There are myriad challenges in having a list packed with small producers and limited quantities in a busy place where things are sold quickly,” she says. “I had to learn to balance having things that didn’t have to turn over quickly with the many, many things that were in limited supply.”

It turned out to be a highly transferable skill. As a portfolio manager, Pope is the in-house liaison between the Louis/Dressner book and the Bowler team, making selections and pricing them for the market. She describes the job as “not selling the wines, but making sure they get sold.” She is also responsible for disseminating information and support materials to team members, which can include talking points, key takeaways, and PowerPoint decks, or presentations on producers that are new to the portfolio.

And while she doesn’t manage staff, she does manage expectations, vetting and distributing limited inventory among the sales team, who in turn must manage their accounts’ allocations. “I’m dealing with a book of small producers that there won’t be large supplies of, so there’s a lot of [saying] no,” she says, noting that years of handling a number of disappointed guests, whether over cold food or the occasional corked wine, prepped her for having to assuage similarly disappointed clients when orders can’t be filled. “Everything from my restaurant career—diplomacy, problem solving, poise under pressure, and relationship building—all ties in directly to what I’m doing now,” she says. “Now it’s more behind the scenes and not front line, and I’m enjoying a break from that.”

Taking Charge

Pope says that the portfolio, like wine itself, is a living, breathing thing, undergoing changes as products and producers are swapped in and out. “I was nervous bringing on two new producers,” she says. ”I felt like this was the most awesome responsibility. I’ve met both of these growers: They’re tiny, and this is their first time in the U.S., so what we do really matters … it’s people’s livings. That kind of keeps me awake at night.”

Pope is also responsible for keeping the information and story fresh for longtime mainstays in the book. In this respect, she says she’s still on a learning curve, as she’s working to familiarize herself with the market and the nuances of pitching and selling. “It’s really dynamic, and I don’t do everything as well as I would like to, but I’m constantly absorbing,” she says, adding that a lifetime of multidisciplinary “digging in” is helping her navigate the unfamiliar territory.

Another thing she’s still working on is calling it quits for the day at 5 pm. But she keeps her past experience close as an object lesson. “I had to just jump off the merry-go-round because I was never going to find balance in my old and wonderful job,” she says. “And it was miraculous for me to know that I could do it and save myself.”

Pope’s advice for anyone who wants to follow a similar path is simple: Be a problem solver and the person that other people want to help. Rub shoulders with as many people as possible. Be versatile—possibly indispensable—and have a good work ethic. She laughs and adds, “Just do the right thing and don’t be a jerk.”

These days she might also add, “Know when to go home at night.”

Lana Bortolot has written on food and wine for Dow Jones, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, and other magazines of the wine and spirits trade. She reported on community development and arts and culture for the Wall Street Journal and New York Post and on design for Entrepreneur magazine. She holds the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Level 3 Advanced Certification and is working on the Level 4 Diploma. Having covered most European wine regions and a few in South America, she is always looking to add a new wine-stained stamp to her passport.

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