Meditations

“Wine Marketing is Bullshit”


Anthony Nicalo of Farmstead Wines tells BCAMA members that wine marketing is bullshit, then takes off all his clothes. Literally.

Anthony Nicalo of Farmstead Wines tells BCAMA members that wine marketing is bullshit, then takes off all his clothes. Literally.

Wow, did Anthony just say that in front of 200 marketing professionals? Yup, seems so.

This is how the BCAMA wine & cheese event began recently—an evening promising lessons about how great wine makes farming sexy; how a game of rolling cheese down a hill led to increased cheese consumption in BC; and an exploration into the psychology of cheese and what the cheese you choose says about you.

The evening speakers included Michael Mayes, a Creative Director from TAXI Vancouver, who told a humourous story of how his advertising agency used an old English tradition of rolling a wheel of cheese down a mountain slope to build awareness of BC cheese, which consumes the 2nd lowest amount of cheese in the country. Their unusual initiative and resulting campaign led to terrific public impressions and led to a significant spike in consumption.

Another presenter was Nick Black from Concerto Marketing, who spoke about his work as a morphological psychologist and how his studies of daily life and the reasons why consumers make the choices they do led to some insights into our relationship with cheese products. His belief that cheese serves as a symbol of culture, one that people secretly take particularily seriously, supports his claim that the cheese we serve to our guests and eat reveal much about our own personality and self-image.

But the evening’s star was Anthony Nicalo from Farmstead Wines. A friend and Foodists colleague, I was chatting with him before the event began and he hinted to me that he was going to do something unexpected during his presentation. I wasn’t expected him to start off by telling the crowd of professional marketers—many of whom work in the wine business itself—that “marketing is bullshit” and exposing the disingenuous use of words like “traditional” and “family-run” used by so many large winemakers. It was awesome, and I couldn’t wait to see what was next and he didn’t disappoint.

Nicalo’s presentation took issue with wine marketers, writers and even critics for not addressing the process in which wine is actually made or the additives so commonly found in many popular brands, arguing that “consistent quality is a characteristic of good wine, but consistent flavour is merely a great beverage.”

Nicalo explained the “vinaroon” movement, an 18th century term inseparably meaning farmer and winemaker, and the driving concept behind Farmstead Wines who sources their wines from small, family-run farms who naturally-produce delicious wines of the highest quality. Nicalo passionately presented an argument that this age-old approach to winemaker was superior and challenged wine marketers to consider where their wines came from and reconsider how truthful their marketing campaigns really were.

But what about Anthony’s hint of hijinx? I don’t think anyone saw it coming. As Nicalo stood before us in a tailored suit and tie, looking all the successful businessman he is, he asked the audience to close their eyes and visualize the person he would describe.

He told a story about an entrepreneur with keen business acumen, an expert in biology and chemistry, an employer of numerous employees who did sales, marketing, accounting, spoke multiple languages, and even repaired his own equipment. He described someone who was passionate about the environment, a great cook, and could seven tell time by the sun. When the audience opened their eyes, the description seemed appropriate for the way he was dressed, but then he began to challenge everyone’s image by literally stripped away his clothes, piece by piece, revealing a ratty t-shirt and grubby jeans beneath—typical attire of a farmer, whom he’d actually been describing all along.

Nicalo’s point was that we have a misconception of who a farmer really is and the skills they need to posses to engage in their craft, arguing that “farming is a profession of the future, not of the past.” He shared his family history of farming and how visits to farms and vineyards in Europe led to an epiphany moment. He gave up his  career as a professional chef and transformed himself into a  wine expert and importer of vinaroon wines.

If you’d like to see Anthony’s presentation yourself, click here to watch Anthony strip during his speech.

As the evening’s speakers wrapped up, wine expert and writer James Nevison moderated an “interactive wine and cheese pairing” with Anthony Nicalo describing the wine selections and Tim Hendrickson of Dairy Farmers of Canada as the cheese expert. The idea was terrific, but frankly the audience was confused by the plates of cheese, many just tucking in not realizing it was for a pairing about to happen, and it was terribly difficult to determine which cheese was which. Some instructions and coloured toothpicks would have made the experience much more organized and enjoyable.

After the presentations there was a social mixer with more wine tastings—provided by Farmstead Wines of course. I left the event with a big smile on my face, not for just having watched my fellow Foodist take on the marketing establishment and shock a room of 200 professionals with a striptease routine, but because I realized I could buy these delicious wines from Farmstead wines, in turn supporting a friend, as well as  vinaroon farmers and winemakers! Cheers!

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