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The Art of Edu-tainment
By: Jane Eckert

On our recent agritour to Italy, we spent five days touring the scenic Tuscany region and observing the views of the beautiful countryside filled with vineyards.  We were frankly amazed that agriculture could exist on this steeply sloping and rocky terrain, but it has, of course, persisted here for centuries. We also learned, however, that just like farms in North America, many of these farmers have also had to look for alternative marketing channels to sell their products, and in the early 1980’s, they created their agriturismo industry.

For many of these multi-generation family farms, they have turned to farm-based lodging as a means of primary income, and many also offer cooking classes, wine classes, educational tours, weddings and many of the similar activities we have begun to offer on our farms in the U.S. and Canada.

One stop that was everyone’s favorite was the Torciana Winery, founded in 1720 just outside of San Gimignano. We were met by Pierluigi Giachi, President and 13th generation, who continues the family wine making tradition of passing down the farm to the eldest son. Pierluigi met us as we got off our motorcoach,and talked to us in front of a field that had been devastated by spring flooding and was now being prepared for new plantings. Naturally, farming in Italy is subject to the same types of weather occurrences that we have here in the U.S.   

After a brief discussion of how they would regenerate the flooded grape vines, he began an enthusiastic discussion of his family business and the directions he has chosen for the farm.  Pierluigi decided over 20 years ago that he needed to differentiate his wine and winery from all the other producers who grow the Sangiovese grape in the Chianti region; he wanted that special something that would allow him to sell his wines for a higher price.  His very successful solution came about when he figured out how to eliminate the middle men and to sell directly to the tourists and high end wine consumers in North America. 

Our 2 hour edu-tainment experience with Pierluigi is one worth sharing with you.   Throughout the remainder of the Agritour, we measured all other tour stops against the experience we had at Torciana, and none were comparable, or even close.   We had experienced a master craftsman—a master of fine wine making, and truly a master of superior marketing.

Let me explain why we labeled the stop edu-tainment and how a bit of education and showmanship increased our individual sales by more than 15 times what we spent at any other farm stop.

We started with the educational part of his talk outdoors beside the field, learning about the family history, the other products grown, the types of soil best for grapes, the selection of hand thinning bunches to increase the sugar content on those left on the wine etc.  Pierluigi loved the fact that we were all farmers and could ask the intelligent questions.  We knew right from his introduction that this man loved his family, loved his farm and was quite passionate to continue his legacy, and that he had a great desire to share it all with us.

We then went indoors and were seated in a beautiful and quaint facility that had once been the family wine cellar, and once comfortable, Pierluigi orchestrated a wine tasting experience that none of us will ever forget.  We quickly learned that this wasn’t going to be just two or three sips of different wines.  We sat down for a gourmet tasting (at 10:30 in the morning) which included home cured salami, cheeses, bruschetta, extra virgin olive oil, truffle oil, and aged balsamic vinegar, all accompanied and paired with seven different wines.

The tasting was when the real entertainment part of the experience began. Pierluigi made a show out of helping us to understand why the size and proportion of your wine glass mattered.  He demonstrated with humor and flourish how to have the full experience of actually identifying and tasting the flavors of each new type of wine that he introduced.  He made quite a production out of how to pick up wine glass with your left hand and pass off to the right hand in just the right way to be able to swirl the wine and lower your nose to sniff the blends.  He did this in a fun way that none of us felt stupid or inept in trying to copy his smooth movements.

Most of you have probably seen or experienced a wine tasting yourself, but our group agreed that in our past experiences, truly none of us had ever had so much fun learning.  Pierluigi was a master of entertainment, getting his audience involved in every stop of the process.  His jovial presentation style used his whole body.  His hands were in constant movement, his facial expressions showed his fun loving nature and he was constantly moving amongst the tables making everyone feel special.

After every wine course, a new glass and new wine appeared and more information about pairing this wine with different food courses.  Right at our table, we each had a pen and a page for tasting notes and “for our convenience” on the reverse side was their order form. We went from the lighter wines to the heavier wines, and ended with a dessert wine that included a sweet Tuscan biscuit for dipping.

We all agreed the Torciano experience was special because of Pierluigi.  He was the owner, he has lived the story and was passionate to share his wines and make each of us feel special.  He was part educator, part entertainer, part clown, but always humble, sincere and fun loving to ensure that his guests were having a good time. Afterwards, we all agreed that no one else in the family could have delivered the type of wine tasting experience as well as Pierluigi. 

He was so successful in entertaining us that once we heard his final pitch, a buying frenzy ensued.  An important part of his marketing strategy is that he has established his own warehouse in Chicago, by-passing all wholesalers and retailers, selling direct to his consumers.  We could buy the wines and have them shipped directly to us from his warehouse with only $5 in shipping charges. We didn’t even have to leave the room to willingly hand over our credit cards to make our purchases and to receive his brochure for a future purchase. After we left Torciano we all anonymously wrote down how much we had just spent at the winery and it totally over $7,600, or almost $200 per person for his products. No other farm stop with a gift store came close to the amount of money we spent at Torciano.

We all agreed later that people don’t just want to buy our products (in this case, the wine).  They want to feel good about supporting the farm, they want to have a fun experience, they want to know we are passionate about growing our food and supporting our families. All the agritourism operators on the motorcoach agreed that Pierluigi was a like a miracle drug, and if only we could capture his essence and bottle it for our farms.  For many farms, we are often satisfied with merely the revenue received from the tasting or the educational experience, but Pierluigi has proven to us that education + entertainment creates the greater value.

Italy is truly a wonderful country to visit and I hope to share a few more articles regarding our recent trip.  Our group is beginning to post pictures of our journey on a Facebook page titled Agritourism, if you would like see photographs and comments from this trip.

Jane Eckert, a national speaker, author and agritourism expert, is principal of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a firm that helps farmers sell products directly to consumers and develop their operations into tourist destinations, and Farm Web Design, an Internet marketing firm specializing in agritourism farm websites.  She is also CEO of RuralBounty.com, a consumer based directory of agritourism farms in North America. Jane can be reached by phone 314-862-6288 or at jane@eckertagrimarketing.com