Australian wine dominated by drug money
Man behind Yellow Tail wines charged over his alleged involvement in a major drug syndicate
From Fairfax, 13th November 2014
One of the three brothers who transformed Yellow Tail wines into one of the great Australian export success stories has been charged over his alleged involvement in a major drug syndicate operating out of Griffith.
Marcello Casella, the youngest brother in Australia’s largest family-owned winery, Casella Wines, is alleged to be part of the criminal syndicate that produced, distributed and sold commercial quantities of cannabis and methylamphetamine throughout southern NSW.
The 54-year-old appeared in Griffith Local Court on Wednesday after he was charged in September with one count of cultivating a large commercial quantity of a prohibited plant and one count of participating in a criminal group.
Police first raided a property linked to Mr Casella just outside Griffith, a town long synonymous with marijuana cultivation, in February. He was charged with offences relating to the improper storage of two pallets filled with shotgun cartridges and 60kg of gunpowder on the Yenda property.
Two weeks later, on February 27, he ceased being a director of Casella Wines, leaving his two older brothers, Joe and John, as the joint directors of the business which exports some 12 million cases of Yellow Tail wine to more than 50 countries annually.
Mr Casella, a state champion clay target shooter who also owns one of only two ammunition factories in Australia, was charged with the more serious offences by the NSW Drug squad on September 22.
Another Griffith local, Pasquale Sergi, 49, was charged on the same date and is alleged to have also been part of the syndicate.
The pair are among 14 arrests by Strike Force Oceanic during its raids on more than a dozen homes and properties including at Sans Souci and Miranda both in Sydney’s south as well as at Batemans Bay and Queanbeyan. During the raids police allege they uncovered close to $15 million worth of drugs.
He and this two brothers transformed Casella Wines, started by their father Filippo Casella in 1969, from a tin shed on a 39 hectare block into one of Australia’s major wine exporters, with Yellow Tail taking the US by storm with an estimated annual turnover of $100 million at its peak.
It has also taken over Griffith, the local show is now known as the Casella Family Brands Griffith Show and they sponsor local sporting teams.
Following their fame, the family were the victims of a widely publicised extortion attempt in 2009.
Matteo de Dominicis has pleaded guilty to demanding $5 million from the family.
The court has been told he claimed he was owed the money for having supplied the late patriarch Filippo Casella with the seeds to establish a multimillion-dollar marijuana crop in the late 1980s. De Dominicis also claims Filippo Casella was involved in the 1986 murder of his brother-in-law Nunzio Greco, who was described as a money launderer for the Mob. The Casella family angrily denied the claims.
Marcello Casella will appear in court again in January, 2015.
Casella puts a cork in profit speculation
From Fairfax, 1st December 2015
Casella Wines has refused to provide profit or revenue forecasts for the merged entity if its $57 million takeover of Peter Lehmann Wines is successful because of extreme volatility in the sector, but says it will strip out some head office jobs from the Barossa Valley group.
Casella, the maker of Australia’s biggest-selling wine, Yellow Tail, has told shareholders in Peter Lehmann Wines in a bidder’s statement for its proposed $1.50-per-share buyout the inclusion of financial forecasts “would be unduly speculative and potentially misleading for shareholders”.
This is because of large variations in the main inputs such as grape harvests, international competition, exchange rates and changing customer preferences, which Casella says make it “extremely difficult to accurately forecast”.
The proposed takeover of Peter Lehmann Wines was announced on November 13, a day after a court appearance in Griffith District Court by Marcello Casella, the youngest of the three brothers who built up YellowTail. Marcello Casella has been charged over his alleged involvement in a drug syndicate operating out of Griffith.
Casella Wines will pay $57 million, just over a third of the $149 million Hess paid in 2003 for Peter Lehmann Wines when wine companies were fetching lofty multiples.