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September 17, 2019

Tony’s Nabs Wine Spectator Honors For Fifth Year Running

by Joe Bonadio

While known far and wide for its pizza and other Italian specialties, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana has another strength that many are still unaware of: their wine list. With an emphasis on California and Italian wines, Tony’s wine program goes far beyond what you’d expect from a pizzeria. And the industry has definitely taken note. In July, for the fifth year in a row, Tony’s received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for outstanding wine program.

I recently sat down with Wine Director Jules Gregg to talk about the recent honor, and her years at Tony’s.

Joe Bonadio: How did you first meet Tony?

Jules Gregg: I’ve been in fine dining as a general manager and a wine director for a long time, in San Francisco and in New York. I had decided to take a break from managing, and I was bartending at Scala’s when a friend suggested I come to work with her at Tony’s.

So I came in and met with Tony, and he hired me right away, part-time.

What year was this?

Trophies

The wine program at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana was recently honored by Wine Spectator for the fifth year in a row. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

A little over eight years ago. After a few months of working part-time, they opened Capo’s. The G.M. there had a problem with his back, and had to take a break from the business. So, Tony asked if I would take over the management of Capo’s for a three month consulting job.

He said ‘I’ve heard really good things about you, and I know you can do this. Can you help me out?’ And I was like, three months? No problem. Well, it turned out to be eight months!

Once we found someone else to do that job, I went up to the Rohnert Park restaurant (Tony’s of North Beach) for a while to work on the wine list and help with training staff. After about a month of that Tony asked me to come back and take over the wine program [for Tony’s Pizza Napoletana].

That was over six years ago. And it’s funny, I was really excited to do it. I told Tony ‘It’s going to take me about a year, but I’m going to kill this wine list. Our sales are going to be amazing—and we’re going to get our first Wine Spectator Award.’

And it took me about a year to make the list my own, because of course you’ve got to sell what you have and change things as you go. But I applied for our first Wine Spectator Award—and we got it.

On Year One.

Year One! And we were one of only three pizzerias in the country to get a Wine Spectator Award in 2014. And this year we got our fifth in a row—which is pretty awesome!

JulesGregg

Jules Gregg, Wine Director at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, poses in front of her trophies. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

They get around 30,000 applications from around the world for these awards, and they give out around 4,500 of them. In addition to your wine list, you have to send in an essay about your wine program; you have to tell them what your storage is, and what your education is like. You have to fill out forms for all your inventory, and every bottle you have on your list. And you have to send your menu.*

So it’s a whole, big packet of stuff you have to send in.

And lots of people try for it.

And lots of people try! So I was very excited. First year! And five years later, it’s still super exciting. Every year has been awesome.

That is pretty impressive.

And this year I looked in the magazine, and we are one of only two pizzerias in California to win one this time.

So, it’s pretty cool.

Having found success as a G.M., wine director and wine rep, what’s your advice to people starting out in the industry?

Well, the thing about Italian wines is that often sommeliers aren’t asking the right questions. Like, What are you going to be eating? What do you normally drink?

Because if you are talking to some California Cabernet drinker, and you give him some funky barnyard Sangiovese from Tuscany, they are likely to just discount the entire country: ‘I don’t like Italian wines.’ If you give them something entirely outside of their wheelhouse, what else would you expect?

But there are over 2,000 varietals in Italy—there are 262 clones of Sangiovese alone. Trust me, they have something you like!

 

 

*(Editor’s note: They are even more particular than you might expect. On the Wine Spectator website, they remind competitors that spelling counts.)