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The tale of Yellow Tail brand

Since its launch in 2001, the Yellow Tail line of wines has hopped smartly to the front of the affordable wine pack. The brand's colorful wallaby-festooned label has spawned so many animal-themed wannabe's that a name for a whole new wine genre was coined: "critter wines."

Almost a decade old, Yellow Tail has become the most powerful Australian wine brand in the world, according to the Power 100 report of Intangible Business, a British consultancy firm. Yellow Tail ranks fourth among wine brands in the report, 34th in an overall ranking of alcoholic drink brands.

Yellow Tail is the No. 1 imported wine in the United States, according to the brand owners, Casella Wines. Thanks to Yellow Tail's success around the world, Casella has morphed from a small family operation into the country's second largest wine operation.

Yet, success doesn't always bring respect. People willing to dismiss Yellow Tail as amiable plonk may not realize that the brand has won numerous awards in wine competitions worldwide and that the Casella family offers various quality tiers for Yellow Tail, of which the reserve line is available in the United States.

John Casella, the winery's managing director since 1994, gets the credit for putting Yellow Tail and its iconic yellow-footed rock wallaby on the wine map in Australia and around the world. Here, in an e-mail exchange, he talks about reasons for the brand's success:

Q Yellow Tail is best known for its inexpensive line of wine in the United States and, I'm assuming, in most of the rest of the world too. While it's been an enormous money-maker, has that line, and the resulting image, hindered growth of your higher-quality lines?

A No, quite the contrary. Many consumers associate Yellow Tail with a sure value, a wine that is consistently very good at an affordable price. And that's true with all Yellow Tail product lines. Consumers also tell us that they are willing to spend more for different occasions, and they are really interested in a premium offering from Yellow Tail. That's where the reserve line comes into play: It gives them a way to access a premium wine offering with a more sophisticated and more complex flavor profile, yet it comes from a brand that they are familiar with, so there's a reassurance factor.

Q What's the biggest misconception about Yellow Tail? How do you address that?

A That Yellow Tail's success and popularity is only due to a cute, eye-catching label and good marketing. We address it by staying true to our core principles, and one of the most fundamental ones is never compromising on quality, and never selling a product that we are not proud of. We go to great length to make sure that Yellow Tail is consistent from year to year and from bottle to bottle, and that it delivers against our consumers' expectations. The label and marketing can help to generate trial, but if the quality of the product does not meet or exceed consumers' expectations, they will not come back, and that's not a long-term winning proposition.

Q Think of American wine drinkers. What should they know before going out shopping for a bottle of Australian wine?

A Price does not necessarily equal quality. Try a number of different varietals and go back to the ones that give you the most satisfaction. Look for wines that source grapes from multiple regions. For example, the Yellow Tail reserve range offers consistency year after year as we source our fruit from multiple wine regions across South Eastern Australia rather than solely from one region that may not have experienced a good vintage. Not all brands are the same and there is a difference inside the bottle, so let your personal experience guide you.

Q There's been a big slump in sales of Australian shiraz. Why has that happened?

A A combination of consumers wanting to branch out and experiment with different wine varieties/styles as well as the rise of popular varietals such as Argentinean malbec — an increasingly popular varietal at an affordable price point.

Q Are there pockets in the syrah/shiraz market that offer cause for optimism?

A Most definitely, particularly those from the cooler climate regions such as the Grampians, Eden Valley, Orange and Heathcote. The shiraz coming out of these regions is more aromatic and delicate — a finer style than those found in other regions.

wdaley@tribune.com

Yellow Tail linesAvailable lines in the U.S. (prices are approximate):

Yellow Tail: Cabernet sauvignon; chardonnay, available either oaked or unoaked; merlot; pinot grigio; pinot noir; riesling; rose; sauvignon blanc; shiraz; cabernet-merlot; shiraz-cabernet; shiraz-grenache. (The moniker, "Tree-Free" on the unoaked chard was coined by Jared Kendall of Baton Rouge, La., winner of a Facebook naming contest.) Price: $8

Sparkling: Sparkling rose; sparkling white. Price: $10

Reserve: Cabernet sauvignon; chardonnay; merlot; pinot grigio; shiraz. Price: $12

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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