Nick Stellino, host of the Italian cooking show Cucina Amore, is cooking and pairing Columbia, Covey Run, and Paul Thomas wines with his food while taping at KCTS in Seattle with his new sponsor, Associated Vintners.
by Jeff Switzer
Nick Stellino, the very popular Italian chef seen on PBS, has 39 episodes lined up for next year featuring Columbia, Paul Thomas, and Covey Run wines. The new sponsorship by Associated Vintners represents a marketing coup that could launch the Washington-based wines into national and international arenas.
Stellino, the 38-year-old Sicilian host of Cucina Amore, now in its third season, is seen in 94 percent of PBS markets nationwide. He will be using wines from each of the three labels for 13 episodes each beginning in January. The show will air locally Jan. 11 at 3 p.m. on KCTS Channel 9.
"We like the positioning this will give us because we're already in most large national markets," said Ken Grant, director of Communications and Public Relations for Associated Vintners, which maintains creative separation among Columbia Winery, Covey Run, and Paul Thomas.
"He tries to educate people about the necessity of pairing food with wine, either to cook with or to drink," said Grant. "This is the No. 1 Italian cooking show in the country and one of the top 10 shows on PBS."
Drawing on the words of his Uncle Giovanni: "You should never die without following your dreams," Stellino gave up his seven-year career as a stockbroker to chase his lifelong passion: bringing the hospitality and flavors of his family's country kitchen into the lives of others.
"Being a chef is a dream come true for me," Stellino said. "It has enabled me to incorporate all the things that are important to me into my daily life."
Stellino has published three cookbooks: Cucina Amore; Nick Stellino's Glorious Italian Cooking; and his newest, Nick Stellino's Mediterranean Flavors. The show Cucina Amore has also been sold internationally, with 50 shows to Hong Kong and 25 to Japan.
"I could still be back daydreaming about what could be," Stellino said. "Instead, I took a shot at a dream--and it's working."
As for Stellino's interest in Northwest wines, Grant says Stellino "honestly really likes" David Lake's wines.
"For a local company which is growing by leaps and bounds, it seemed an obvious next step to be associated with internationally renowned cooking," Grant added.
The challenge for Stellino and Grant has been PBS's inability to allow endorsements, with a special liaison assigned to make sure the Columbia, Covey Run, and Paul Thomas labels are not easily seen on the show.
"We've been very accommodating to their laws while trying to get as much exposure as possible," said Grant.
While AV has sponsored the show, Stellino's affiliation goes beyond the set, with appearances at cookoffs, PBS pledge drives, and international cooking festivals. According to Grant, Stellino was "very appreciative" and extolled the virtues of AV's wines during a recent appearance on KOMO-AM 1000's Poor Man's Kitchen.
"It's not an overnight response we're looking for," said Grant, who envisions that the show will have a residual effect on sales, citing a similar effect of tripled sales for a company which sponsored 13 shows on PBS, though not foreseeing that large a response. "We're looking forward to strengthening our company's position in the marketplace on a long-term basis."
There have been rumors about two newly-designed Columbia Winery labels in the works, but they are a closely kept secret, with release possibly by mid-1997. The labels have reportedly been used on Cucina Amore.