The wine guy

John-Portrait-WEBNearly 20 years ago, John Casella took over his then 70-year-old father’s vineyard and has since grown it into the largest family winery in Australia. In 2005 Casella Wines was inducted into Australia’s Export Hall of Fame. Having recently exported its one millionth bottle of wine, John tells us how he turned a small family business into an international success story.

TRADE EXPRESS: John, Casella Wines is Australia’s most successful wine exporter, but it began as a family vineyard. Can you tell us about those early days?

The Casella family arrived in Australia from Sicily in 1957, bringing with them not only a passion for wine passed down through generations of family wine-making, but the know-how to produce wines that are more than simply a drink with dinner.

My dad, Filippo, recognised the potential of the Riverina region in New South Wales, so in 1965 he bought land outside of Griffith and grew grapes for local winemakers. Grape growing became wine making and wine making needed a winery, so in 1969, the Casella family winery was born.

TRADE EXPRESS: How did you move into larger scale production?

I joined the family business and managed our first official vintage in 1994 while working as Chief Winemaker at Riverina Estate. In 1998, our first bottling line was in operation and Casella employed 15 people. In 2001, we created [yellow tail] selecting the iconic yellow-footed rock-wallaby for the label. In our first year, our sales forecast was 25,000 cases. Actual sales exceeded one million cases. US consumers fell in love with [yellow tail], which led to a bigger production facility.

TRADE EXPRESS: There must have been risks as well as rewards?

Like any export business, the exchange rate has an impact on us. As a private, family-owned business, we are better placed to ride the storm and look to the long-term growth potential of our brand and markets.

I am very proud that there is such a strong demand for our wine, not only in Australia, but abroad. In the U.S, the largest wine market in the world, [yellow tail] remains the number one imported white wine and red wine.

It has also been rewarding to watch the winery grow around the old family farmhouse where my mother and my father lived.

TRADE EXPRESS: How have you managed to grow the business while keeping it in the family?

Second and third generations are all involved. I work as Managing Director and Winemaker, my two brothers Joe and Marcello serve as Directors and Daniel, Joe’s son, works on a number of special projects. Being a family-owned company we understand that quality of life and work go hand-in-hand. That’s why we support work-life balance and enable flexible working arrangements.

TRADE EXPRESS: How have you grown and connected with your customer base?

We found that many people were intimidated by wine. The key was to demystify it by creating a fun, non-traditional wine that’s easy to drink.

We’ve steered away from traditional advertising and focused on grassroots and experiential marketing. That way the wine speaks for itself. In fact, for the first four years, we didn’t spend any marketing dollars. Today we align ourselves with sponsorships and activities with similar ambitions.

TRADE EXPRESS: What other logistic and regulatory challenges have you faced in growing your business?

Our suppliers have gone to great lengths, even chartering aircrafts to keep manufacturing rolling. The majority of our suppliers have been with us throughout this growth period and have expanded their businesses to meet our needs.

TRADE EXPRESS: What are your plans for the future?

We are driven by what consumers want. We are looking at opportunities in emerging consumer trends, such as sweeter wines in the US market. In 2010 we moved into the beer market, recruiting an experienced team and building a state-of-the-art production facility to produce ARVO, the perfect Australian lager.

TRADE EXPRESS: How has DHL helped in facilitating your success?

With [yellow tail] available in over 50 countries, we need a company who can meet our demand for fast and hassle-free delivery around the world. DHL has proved to be an efficient and reliable partner, ensuring our wine arrives at its destination in top condition. Our customers know they can rely on [yellow tail] to deliver in taste, time after time.

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