Casella Family Wines has revealed how innovation is driving growth for the company, after posting the biggest turnover and volumes in its 60-year history.
Casella’s revenue for the 2020 financial year was $518.38million, up from $491.035million in 2019. Profit rose 44.5% to $48.75million, up from $33.73million in 2019.
Unlike many winemakers, the company was relatively untouched by the introduction of prohibitive Chinese tariffs on Australian wine, as exports to China only represented about 3% of Casella’s turnover.
Managing director John Casella (above) told The Australian: “It has been our biggest year ever in terms of volumes and turnover, we have had fairly strong growth in the UK as well as a fairly big uptick in sales in the US with the COVID-19 epidemic people were drinking at home rather than out at bars and restaurants.
“So the on-premise brands collapsed but the safe bet of off-premise brands made fairly big gains, Yellow Tail included.”
Yellow Tail sales started spiking in March last year, as a result of the ‘pantry loading’ mentality.
“Following the stockpiling that took place, Yellow Tail continues to experience strong global sales due to a significant increase in at-home wine consumption and occasions,” Casella noted to Drinks Guide. “Furthermore, under challenging economic circumstances, consumers tend to choose brands that they trust and offer excellent value for money, which is the strong appeal of [yellow tail].”
However, Casella is looking to the future as the world emerges from COVID restrictions. An expansion into whisky and a new alcohol-free version of Yellow Tail are among the new directions being explored by the winemaker.
The Casella-owned Morris winery announced in June that it was launching two premium whiskies: Morris Australian Single Malt Signature Whisky and Australian Single Malt Muscat Barrel Whisky.
It’s a canny move – in Australia, sales of local whisky more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, growing at 150% according to the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis (May 2021). It’s a considerably higher growth rate than seen by Scotch whisky at 13.9% and US whiskey, also at 13.9%.
The growth of Australian whisky consumption is expected to continue with the IWSR predicting a 14.5% growth rate from 2020 – 2025 for Australian produced whisky in the $80 – $149.99 price range, well above the 8.4% growth rate predicted for Scotch whisky.
The initial focus is to establish Morris in the Australian whisky market before exploring opportunities in international markets such the US and the UK, with the aim of raising the profile of premium Australian spirits, in particular Australian whisky. Morris is making a long-term play to develop the Australian single malt whisky category with further innovation in the pipeline leveraging access to an unrivalled collection of fortified wine barrels, some of which are more than 100 years old.
“Totally new to us but not totally foreign, we are finishing the whiskey in Morris oak fortified vats, we are producing the wash (a whiskey production process) in our joint facility with Coca-Cola and using the same still that the Morris family has had since the 1940s,” Casella told The Australian.
Tapping into the low-alcohol wine trend
The company joined with Buffy The Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar earlier this month to launch a new low-alcohol wine range in the US, called Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT.
Pure Bright wines contain 85 calories or less, and are the first lower calorie, lower alcohol wine from a major wine brand to weigh in at less than US$7 a bottle. The range is vegan, gluten free, and available in Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.
The new range follows Nielsen reporting the “Better For You” wine category increased almost 100% in 2020 versus the previous year.
According to Forbes, the increase in drinking at home over the last year due to COVID-19 has fuelled the trend, alongside a shift towards moderation.
Senior Winemaker David Joeky told Forbes that Yellow Tail put several years into research and trial and error winemaking to create a process that would accentuate flavour in the wine range, while reducing calories and alcohol.
“Wine drinkers often have the perception that wines which are lower in alcohol and calories are watery, sweet, or lack in flavour,” he said. “At Yellow Tail our goal was to create a range of lighter wines which did not compromise on taste or quality and stayed true to the flavor of the variety. We are extremely proud of the range we have released to the market and are confident that our consumers will not be disappointed.
“Everything begins with the grapes, which we specially cultivate and pick at exactly the right time to maximize brightness and acidity. Australia’s warm climate is perfect for Yellow Tail Pure Bright grapes. We then carefully prune the vines to maximize leaf protection from the hot summer sun. This protects the grapes and slows development, while promoting fruit flavor and intensity. We harvest early, while grapes have a lower natural sugar content which naturally lowers the amount of alcohol in the finished wine. We do it at night, helping keep grapes cool and crisp, which maximizes aroma and flavour.
“We run the grapes through a cooler fermentation process using special yeast to maximize flavour at lower alcohol levels. Our expert wine making team blends the wines to deliver overall balance and great taste. A key aspect of this is gentle reverse osmosis, which is a specific type of filtration. It is a way to protect and concentrate all the flavours and aromas in the wine. While I can’t get into how exactly we do it, we do utilize specific filtration and other similar techniques incorporated with blending to deliver a wine that we believe that has no compromise on quality or flavour, and the added benefit of reduced calories.”
“Until now, lower calorie wines have been seen as light on flavour,” Casella concluded. “That was a trade-off we weren’t willing to make. We took the opposite approach, ensuring great taste and then working our way backward to deliver on making it lighter.”