Un Bicchiere di Vino con Il Postino….The Casella Family

This month’s column continues with wine personalities that have spread the appreciation of wine around the world. These are individuals who left Italy for a better life and through hard work, determination and a vision achieved great success.

This month we celebrate the successes of the Casella family. This family is responsible for the greatest success in the branding and marketing of a wine in the last 15 years in my humble opinion. In 2000 they were a small winery in Australia. In 2010, their wine brand, according to Power 100 consultancy out of the UK, was the 5th most powerful. In 2010, 10% of the grapes crushed in Australia was by Casella wines. I won’t just yet give you the name of their hugely popular wine. Let’s just say the wine world was taken by storm when they entered the US market in 2001.

The voyage of the Casella’s from Sicily to Australia is the classic rags to riches stories many immigrants have enjoyed. The story begin in Sicily in 1820 when the Casella’s planted their first vineyards in Sicily on the slopes of Mount Etna. Fast forward to 1951 when Filippo Casella after 6 years as a prisoner of war in India leaves the poverty of post-war Sicily for Australia cutting sugar cane in Northern Australia. In 1954 Filippo returns to Sicily and realizes that with no economic prospects in Sicily, that Australia would be his future. In 1955 he returned to Australia and with his savings, he decides to bring his wife Maria and children Rosa and Joe to Australia (their other 2 children John and Marcello would be born in Australia). After a 4 week journey, the family arrives in Australia in 1957.

At first the family sold their grapes to local wineries in the Yenda Township area in the Riverina Region of New South Wales. He was successful and in 1965 purchased a 40 acre farm in the area growing grapes, peaches and prunes. In 1969 Filippo Casella decided to open up his own winery. That first year he sold 20 barrels of wine. By 1971 over 50 tonnes of grapes were crushed. Success continues and in 1975 a stainless steel tank is acquired. In 1978 the Casella winery released its first commercial wine: Yendalla Spumante Wine. By 1980, technology in the form of refrigeration units are installed at the winery. 1n 1981, the winery continues to grow with production hitting 110 tonnes of grapes. In 1994 with the winery expanding a laboratory is built at the winery. Total crush by now is 2000 tonnes. In 1996, the winery releases in Australia, the Cottler’s Bridge range of Chardonnay and Shiraz wines.

The year 1999 marks a turning point in the history of the winery. Casella Wines enters the US market securing a partnership with American wine distributor William J Deutsch. The wine brand offered in the US would be owned equally by the 2 parties. When this brand hit US shores in 2001, sales hit 60 000 cases. In a short 2 years this brand was the bestselling red wine in the US. By 2008 sales were 8 million cases!!! Today this wine is the bestselling Australian wine in the US, Canada, Italy, Japan and in the world. A quarter of all wines exported from Australia to Germany are due to this brand. In a little over 50 years the Casella family has gone from poverty in Sicily to being Australia’s biggest wine exporter. What is the name of the wine brand that made the Casella family’s winery, Australia’s greatest wine story? Yellow Tail.

What is it about Yellow Tail that makes it so successful? In my opinion, what’s on the bottle is just as important as what is in the bottle. The yellow tail on the label refers to the yellow-tail rock-wallaby, a member of the marsupial family related to the kangaroo. This was the first in what was called “critter” wines. In time the market would see an avalanche of competitors using bottles coloured with different animals.

For Yellow Tail, It was a stroke of marketing genius. It captured the essence of Australia. As well, the label continued with the new world usage of having the grape variety displayed. All labels have a different colour according to grape variety. Today Yellow Tail is produced with the following grape varieties: Moscato, Riesling, Semillon, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot gris, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Merlot, Grenache, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. It also comes in a sparkling wine. (which I will review later) The other side of the equation is the wine inside the bottle. It is very affordable at under $10 and is easy to drink. By that it avoids the harsh tannins and elevated acidity more complex wines tend to have. The emphasis is on the fruit, finish and body. It is a hit especially with new wine drinkers.

What are the realities facing the Casella’s third generation of winemakers? The global recession has cut into all sales of wine globally. Especially concerning in 2013 was the appreciation of the Australian dollar making Australian wines more expensive. As well, Casella Wines is looking to tap into the Asian market where only 8% of their wines are sold. The potential is huge!

I know many of you have tried Yellow Tail Shiraz and Chardonnay. So I won’t review them. One wine that I think will become a big seller for the LCBO is the Yellow Tail Bubbles Sparkling Rosé. At $13.95 a bottle it’s quite affordable and an excellent value. It is a blend of Semillon, Traminer Shiraz and Frontignac grapes. As the title suggests, it has a pinkish hue. The mousse or bubbles didn’t last long and was quick to fizzle. However, on the nose, what jumped out for me were strawberry notes. On the palate, it is medium in sweetness, not as sweet as the Asti Spumante we all are familiar with. The strawberry notes continue on the palate at first followed by lemon notes. It is light in body and very fruity. I was impressed with the long, crisp finish it had, given the price point. Try it as an aperitif during the holidays. Buon Anno!!

Grazie e salute!

If you have any questions or suggestions for future columns, please contact me at vinumbonumest@yahoo.com.

Domenico Cellucci is a wine consultant and educator and is a graduate of Algonquin College’s Sommelier Program. He puts on food and wine matching events in the national capital area. He has visited wineries and vineyards in Italy, France, British Columbia, Ontario and the United States.