Casella Family Falls Victim to Extortion

FILED DECEMBER 1, 2009

Dear Client:

In a rather bizarre story, Australian wine giant and maker of Yellow Tail, John Casella of Casella Wines, has allegedly been the victim of extortion for almost two years, reports the Daily Telegraph. During that span of time, he allegedly paid a “substantial” amount of blackmail money but finally went to the cops after receiving the blackmailer’s final demand, about $5 million.

The suspect, strangely enough, is 67 year old Matteo De Dominicis, who allegedly threatened the Casella family with violence and intimidation. Matteo was charged with four counts of demanding money with menace and remains in custody. The police reportedly opposed bail because the defendant said he would continue to threaten and harass his victims if he were released. He does not have any family ties in Australia and is due to appear back at court on February 10.

Beginning in February 2008, Mateo demanded $300,000 from the Casellas “with the intention of obtaining a gain and or causing loss to the Casella family estate," according to the police charge sheet. He then demanded $150,000 between April 1 and May 3, 2008, and another $195,000 on November 1. His final demand was for $5 million, which was to be paid between December 4 and 9. That’s when John decided he’d had enough. So why did he comply with the blackmailer in the first place? It’s not yet clear. Sadly family patriarch Filippo Casella died at the age of 88 just two months ago. He founded Casella Wines in 1969 after moving to Australia from Sicily in 1957.

CERTAIN CASUAL CHAINS MORE LIKELY TO GARNER POSITIVE RECOMMENDATIONS

True, the casual dining sector has been hit particularly hard in the recession, but some chains are still near and dear in the hearts of Americans. A new study called the Recommendation Index, developed by marketing firms Zocalo Group and MARC Research, say the 10 following restaurant chains continue to drive positive buzz among consumers, who then recommend the restaurants to their friends: California Pizza Kitchen, Texas Roadhouse, Outback Steakhouse, Applebee’s, Cheesecake Factory, Red Robin, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Chili’s Grill & Bar and T.G.I. Friday’s. This is all according to an article in National Restaurant News (NRN).

The researchers surveyed over 1,000 casual-dining customers and then analyzed comments made on blogs and message boards to reach their conclusion. They found that consumers were most likely to recommend a restaurant to family and friends if the following descriptive words applied: fast, friendly, variety, reasonable, value and love. Price also goes hand in hand with good service.

MAINSTREAM PRESS COVERS CAFFEINATED ALCOHOL STUDY

News that caffeine doesn’t negate the effects of alcohol is making the headlines this week, with US News and World Report featuring one of the most recent articles. It points to the study that says caffeine may make someone who has been drinking feel less sleepy, but their brain is still impaired. Interestingly, the study has only been performed on mice and would need to be tested on humans to be conclusive.

"One of the cautions [about the new study] is that this is an animal model, so we need to do more research to test this with humans. But I think the take-home message is a rum and coke isn't going to stop you from being intoxicated and potentially making bad decisions," said Jeffrey Parsons, chairman of psychology at Hunter College in New York City.

The study mainly focuses on the “dangers” of mixing alcohol with energy drinks or coffee, with one researcher specifically saying: “alcohol and coffee are not a good mix.” It does not explore the “harmful effects” of caffeinated alcohol. Nonetheless, the article then goes on to discuss how the FDA contacted multiple producers of caffeinated alcohol – and you know the rest of the story.

Also discussed in the article is a separate survey of more than 4,000 college students at 10 universities in North Carolina, which found that it’s a popular practice to mix spirits and energy drinks. The study was led by Emergency physician Mary Claire O'Brien, M.D., of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, who believes all alcoholic drinks containing caffeine should be removed from stores shelves. We’ll know their fate soon enough once results of the FDA initiative are revealed.

BACARDI USA STRIKES DEAL TO DISTRIBUTE TIA MARIA

Bacardi USA has struck a deal with Illva Saronno for exclusive US distribution rights of Tia Maria, a coffee liqueur. "Tia Maria is a natural extension of our cordials and liqueurs portfolio," said John Esposito, president and chief, Bacardi USA. “Our knowledge of the category will enable us to create great value for our distributors, retailers and Illva Saronno." Bacardi already distributes Disaronno in the US, also owned by Illva Saronno.

WSD BRIEFS:

WA SENATOR WANTS TO PRIVATIZE. Washington Senator Tim Sheldon believes the state should privatize liquor stores and save at least $53 million a year. “The taxation would still be collected by the state, the regulation would be made by the state," said Tim Sheldon on a local radio show. Lawmakers will reportedly consider the proposal when they return to the capital in January.

DIAGEO VERSUS BROWN-FORMAN. The Motley Fool did an interesting article comparing Diageo’s and B-F’s stocks against one another. To check it out, click here.

TYPO ALERT. Yesterday we mistakenly wrote that Francis Ford Coppola’s company paid cork and bottle manufacturer Vinocor $685 million for a shipment of enclosures and bottles. Luckily for Coppola that’s not the case – it was only $685,000. You can view the correction here.


Until tomorrow, Megan

“There are more pleasant things to do than beat up people.”
Muhammad Ali

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