Growing up on his family’s farm in NSW’s Griffith, John Casella wanted more than just to run the little winery with a hand turned wine press.
Over half a century later, Casella now oversees Casella Family Brands (CFB), a vinous empire that sells hundreds of bottles of wine around the world every minute of the day. In fact in the time it takes you to read this article, wine drinkers around the globe will have consumed several thousand glasses of his family’s [yellow tail] range, heading toward a staggering average of two million glasses of their drops being consumed daily.
And although it’s the likes of Grange, Hill of Grace, Chris Ringland Dry Grown or Torbreck’s The Laird that might get all the press and plaudits, it’s probably CFB’s humble $8 range that should be called Australia’s real success story. If you were to take the top 200 labels of Australian wines sold in the US, the total volume of the 199 other labels wouldn’t hit the volume that is CFB.
The Casella family’s wine story began in 1957 when Filippo and Maria Casella immigrated to Australia from Sicily, purchasing Farm 1471, near the township of Yenda outside Griffith in NSW in 1965. They produced their first bottle of wine in 1969 and their first full vintage was crafted in 1971, making mostly bulk wine. The Casella family recognised a gap in the market in 1998 for easy drinking, bang for buck wines and the [yellow tail] brand was born, starting export in 2001. The group now sells over 12.5 million cases of wine a year in over recognised a gap in the market in 1998 for that market segment that wants a drinkable $8 wine, easy drinking, bang for buck wine and thus [yellow tail] brand was born, starting export in 2001. To cater for the staggering volume the team rely on grapes from the family vineyards in the Riverina district, an area that is well-known for its ability to produce high volumes of fruit.
Over the last decade CFB has set about producing their own, little known, premium and super premium “Casella Family Wines” label, with the [yellow tail] name not in sight on any of the labels.
It’s a clever move from CFB, breaking the link between their entry level sub $10 wines and this plus $40 and sub $100 labels, there is a mindset that links [yellow tail] to cheap, or sub-par wine experiences, in the same way that we link McDonalds to quick, fast-food and not high end restaurant dining food.
In the last few years CFB has expanded their wine holdings, branching into fine wine offerings including Peter Lehmann Wines from the Barossa, Brand’s Laira of Coonawarra, Morris Wines of Rutherglen and Baileys of Glenrowan. In most cases these purchases have been because the range is a well-known label and gives CFB another string to its bow, adding distinct regions, and different price points to their portfolio. However in the case of Peter Lehmann Wines, CFB showed they were willing to part with a lot of cash to ensure that a significant, well-known Australian brand stayed in Australian hands.
A move that we should all applaud.
A few to look for:
Casella Limited Release Shiraz 2012 – a McLaren Vale red that has been released with bottle age for immediate drinking. Blackberry and plum are the driving fruits on the nose, with chocolate, spice and leather notes in there too, some earthiness and savoury tannins join those flavours on the tongue. Corked sealed, available online, independent bottleshops and First Choice about $45.
Casella Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – our pick from the two limited release range, and tastes like it will still hold a few years of bottle age too with careful cellaring. Its full bodied, fleshy and deep and rich, blackcurrant and plum with some brambly notes and subtle mint notes, spice and cedar on the mid palate, fine tannins on a long finish. Corked sealed, available online, independent bottleshops and First Choice about $45.
Casella 1919 Shiraz 2010 – named after the year that vines were first planted on the family farm, it’s a big classic styled Shiraz with fruit sourced from McLaren Vale, fresh blueberries, cedar and cigar box. It’s plush and full in the mouth, with rich dark chocolate, firm drying tannins on a long finish. Cork sealed, about $100 from independent bottleshops and $75 online.
Casella 1919 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – deep dark and red in the glass with toasty oak, vanilla and mocha on the nose, with black olive tapenade and liquorice, bright red berried fruits on the tongue, a touch of fruit cake and toasted spice from the oak. Fine tannins help with the velvety mouthfeel and a long lasting plush finish. Cork sealed, about $100 from independent bottleshops and $75 online.