Casella steps in to save Morris of Rutherglen

Historic Australian fortified wine producer Morris of Rutherglen has been bought by Casella Family Brands, saving the brand from potential obscurity.

John Casella Managing Director Casella Family Brands 1

John Casella, managing director, Casella Family Brands

Pernod Ricard, which bought the winery in 1970, confirmed last month its plan to sell off the brand, effectively ending 157 years of winemaking by the Morris family across five generations.

It intended to sell the winery’s buildings, 80 hectares of vineyards and extensive inventory separately, but retain the rights to the Morris brand – unless someone made them an offer for the entire business.

As Pernod Ricard made clear that, despite its intention to keep the brand name, it did not plan on producing any more wine under its, such an outcome would have forced the Morris name into obscurity.

Fortunately, Casella Family Brands (CFB) has stepped in making an offer for the entire business, including its brand name, that has been accepted by Pernod Ricard with “immediate affect”.

The transaction, which completed today (22 July), includes the winery, cellar door, 80 hectares of vineyards, stock and the Morris of Rutherglen brand. The financial terms of the sale were not disclosed.

“I’m delighted to welcome Morris Wines into the Casella family, particularly due to our longstanding relationship with the Morris family, which goes back 50 years to when my father supplied grapes to their former Griffith winery”, said John Casella, managing director of Casella Family Brands.

“Morris Wines is an iconic Australian winery and one of the greatest fortified wineries in the world, with over 150 years of history and winemaking tradition. I believe we are well placed to build on the strength of the brand and cellar door experience to ensure Morris Wines continues its legacy.”

On its decision to sell the brand, Pernod Ricard said that it had been unable to turn Morris Wines into a sustainable operation “due to the ongoing decline in the consumption of fortified wines”.

Overall, the fortified category has been declining by 5% globally for the last two years, and by 4.2% in Australia for the last two years (2013-15.), said a spokesperson for Pernod Ricard.

Acknowledging the decline of the fortified category John Casella stated his belief that there was an opportunity to grow the Morris of Rutherglen brand in the premium price segment.

“I believe the premium fortified category offers growth potential and Casella Family Brands is well placed to invest in developing the Morris of Rutherglen brand. I also recognise the excellent quality of the other wines Morris Wines produces including Durif, Shiraz and Cabernet.”

David Morris, fifth generation winemaker at the winery, will continue in his role as chief winemaker.

Commenting on the sale he said: “The purchase by Casella Family Brands can only be a positive outcome for the winery, the brand, the region and the industry. We’re looking forward to embarking on the next chapter of our journey under the stewardship of Casella Family Brands.”

Established in 1859, Morris has built a reputation for producing some of Australia’s best fortified wines, from vintage Tawny to Muscat and Topaque liqueurs, to full-bodied reds and sparkling wines. Five generations of the Morris family have since tended its vines, with David Morris becoming its head winemaker in 1993 when his father retired.

Morris Wines join CFB’s portfolio of premium brands including Peter Lehmann Wines, Brand’s Laira and Casella.

Morris Wines

3 Responses to “Casella steps in to save Morris of Rutherglen”

  1. Paul Johnston says:

    Great news. I thought it was corporate vandalism by Pernod Ricard. Good on them for selling to CFB who I hope will maintain the heritage of the brand and place.

  2. Fiona says:

    Hazar, great to hear that John will step in and look after another Australian company almost thrown to the dogs.

  3. Andrew Roper says:

    Brilliant news for keeping such an iconic brand alive! Now it’s up to the new owners and us the consumer to support this brand. Iconic fortifieds are where they strong, and I love ’em for it!!

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