Dirty Money for a Legendary Brand

I’ve been out of the country and away from most sources of news for the past week. For instance I’m just now hearing about some comet or other that we’re busy invading. But now that I’ve crawled out from under my rock, I’m shocked to learn that the Australian mob seems to be buying Peter Lehmann wines.

I returned from my trip to Portugal to find two sets of news stories in my inbox. The first was the shocking news that one of the three Casella brothers running Yellow Tail wines in Australia had been arrested on drug trafficking charges. More specifically, Marcello Casella has been charged with cultivating a massive amount of Cannabis and also being involved in a major drug syndicate. Allegations have also been made (by somewhat dubious sources) that Casella arranged the death of his cousin Nunzio Greco in 1986, a man described as “a money launderer for the mob.”

I’m hardly inclined to hold growing a little weed against anyone, but the more I read about the Casellas, the more they start to sound like the Sopranos. Which made all the more shocking the news yesterday that the Casellas would be purchasing the Peter Lehmann brand from its current majority shareholders, the Hess Family Wine Estates.

I’ve nothing but respect for the Hess Group and their excellent portfolio of wineries around the world, and I think quite highly of Peter Lehmann and his legacy in Australia’s Barossa Valley. The idea of that brand now being associated with the Casella family makes me sad.

Setting aside what are currently still allegations (rather than proven facts) of very shady stuff It would be one thing if Casella had a broad portfolio of premium wine brands that Lehmann was joining. But the Casella family has nothing of the sort. Apart from Yellow Tail the family produces what amounts to a sparking wine cooler, and a few bottles of more serious Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from one of their historical family properties. Oh yes, and a major ammunition factory, but I suppose that’s a different portfolio.

I supposed following the death of Peter Lehmann last year, some sort of transition for the brand could be expected, but this hardly represents the outcome many would have expected. Lehmann was, among many things, a legend in part for his strict ethics of doing right by those he did business with. Watching his legacy get snapped up by what might be dirty money seems an unusually unfitting denouement to his life’s work.

Read more about the alleged Casella crimes, and about the sale of Peter Lehmann.