Anthony Nicalo of Farmstead Wines

Photo by Tracey Kusiewicz

In 1988, I and other newly minted BCLDB wine consultants knocked back the unique Adventures on the Wine Route with gusto. Penned by California wine merchant Kermit Lynch, this opinionated, witty travelogue heralded (mainly) French vignerons whose unfiltered, unfined wines were lip-smacking samples of regional terroir. Lynch’s book steered me (and my colleagues) away from waxing on about only famous producers and prestige labels.

Some months later, three of us on a trip to San Francisco sought out the tiny Berkeley café upstairs from the Hobbit-house-sized restaurant called Chez Panisse whose owner, Alice Waters, also championed the small farmer. We gave big thumbs up to a Lynch import, Domaine Tempier Bandol, made from the then-unfashionable Mourvèdre grape. Its untamed, gutsy style, teamed up with wild mushroom strudel, proved a food/wine revelation.

Fast-forward 20 years. I am sitting at a picnic-style table, sipping a few wines in Anthony Nicalo’s renoed older home in East Vancouver. Clean-shaven pate to chin, smart-casual in white Oxford-cloth shirt and pressed jeans, Nicalo is the owner of Farmstead Wines and the most wedded-to-the land wine distributor I’ve ever met. The ex-chef, born and raised in Pennsylvania, gardened with his grandfather, “Papa Bill,” when he “could reliably walk about” and grew up cooking with his grandmother. Training at the hands of some mighty fine chefs, Nicalo’s own stints include Ristorante Banfi in Montalcino and Chicago’s Tru.

Two years ago, Nicalo decided to turn in his toque for wine importing. “Chef Sam Kass [of Inevitable Table, a private chef service in Chicago] and I went to Piemonte to butcher a pig named Chico from farmer/wine grower Renato Fenocchio.” It was on that trip, Nicalo says, while quaffing Fenocchio’s Dolcetto, that “I knew I wanted to import his (and other) small farm wines.”  In 2006, Nicalo moved to Vancouver and set up Farmstead Wines.

Just as Kermit Lynch had done 20 years before, 32-year-old Nicalo follows his own off-the-beaten track to source and purchase wines only from growers he knows. He’s coined them “vinaroons,” an old English term meaning farmer/winemaker. Nicalo’s philosophy is, above all, “reconnecting wine to agriculture.” All Farmstead wines are farmed sustainably.

And like Alice Waters, Nicalo only sources the best ingredients for his stove and pantry. On the hot August day I visited, we noshed on tiny purple, white and pink breakfast radishes as well as micro greens from his neatly cropped back garden followed by wild mushroom (from Trout Lake market) pasta (homemade pappardelle made from  Anita’s Organic Grain Mill flour). From Cioffi’s there was ricotta salata and, again from the garden, wild strawberries. The earth noodles washed down with a ripe, rustic 2004 Domaine de Courbissac Minervois, took me right back to the now legendary Berkeley café.

Nicalo and his rep Jeff Bashford steer clear of major wine shows, preferring to showcase Farmstead wines at small-scale wine dinners with like-minded chefs, through select restaurants and private wine shops.

I try to remain faithful to pairing small production wines with simple fine food. I confess, though, to frequent forays into infidelity. But with more distributors like Anthony Nicalo, there will be less temptation to stray.


Check out Nicalo’s excellent website, Frequently updated, it gives the complete Farmstead wine portfolio and vinaroon profiles, links to useful blogs, including his own, and offers recipes, videos, etc.

Nicalo has also found time to launch FarmFed, a non-profit organization that connects people to food. For now, FarmFed encourages folks to consider where and how their food is farmed. Long-term it hopes to purchase arable land and potential urban garden sites and lease them to sustainable farmers.

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