Sommelier and founder of Gonzo Vino, Marcus Radny, is throwing out expectations to create a wine label that is sustainable instead of snobby. Gonzo Vino since its founding in 2019 has earned a reputation for being the irreverent brand single-handedly bringing back cask wine and somehow managing to make the goon-bag aesthetic cool once again. Fine wine in a box is hard to imagine but Gonzo Vino is goon, all grown up. “Having a sharp palette for tasting wine, and broad exposure to di
ure to different styles has allowed me to forgo tradition, and not get caught up with what’s possible or not in the industry,” Radny told Inside Retail. High-end cask wine only sounds like an oxymoron until you understand the production that Gonzo Vino has prioritised. The brand is leading the industry with wine that has a reduced carbon footprint, increased recyclability and sustainable growing practices. Sustainability takes centre stage “The greater market’s knowledge about wine has improved massively over the last decade or so, with easier access to information about wine, and what goes into it,” said Radny. Sustainable Winegrowing Australia released a report earlier this year confirming that 67 per cent of consumers surveyed indicated that they only wanted to drink wine that was sustainably made. “Gonzo was always going to try to be transparent and open about where the wines come from, and how they are made. Being transparent has given us market credibility and access to a customer base that we would normally have had to bypass,” said Radny. “It’s just an added bonus that the wines end up being super delicious.” Gonzo Vino avoids collaborating with vineyards that work on a larger scale and employ industrial farming techniques, instead it opts for smaller vineyards along the Murray River. “The vineyards we work with are small, sustainably farmed, and where possible, handpicked and pruned. This type of farming creates healthy, well-balanced fruit that needs little to no artificial adjustments in the winery,” explained Radny. “This type of farming forces you to be more observant during the growing season, and to think about how to combat issues in ecological ways, rather than chemical,” he added. The Sustainable Wine Australia’s impact report also indicated that 50 per cent of vineyard members have best practice measures in place to ensure robust microbial networks that support grapevine productivity but also store more carbon, an important piece of the climate puzzle. The brand places a great emphasis on ethical, local and sustainable production but it does come at a cost. “No one wants to be first to market with something fairly risky like $70 cask wine. On the side of sustainable grape farming and production, that is now ubiquitous across Australia and the world, so that’s definitely reached its inflection point of acceptability,” Radny disclosed. The more time Radny spent working with cask packaging he realised it was a preferable packaging option over glass bottles in terms of sustainability, marketability and of course, being first to market with a fresh concept in an old industry. Reimagining cask wine It wasn’t until Radny was two vintages in and working full time on Gonzo Vino that he had an epiphone to bring back cask wine in a real way. He understood this would be a bold swing in the wine industry, and to pull it off, he would need bold branding. Gonzo Vino sells three-litre casks of wine with names like, ‘Le Freak’, ‘Get A Grip’, ‘Soul Control’ and ‘Boomer Juice’. Radny attributes a lot of Gonzo Vino’s successful branding to the creative team he collaborates with on packaging and campaign designs. “Our designer Jim Grimwade has a really fun, almost irreverent take on the casks. He gets free reign on the design process, and it’s definitely helped to break down a certain barrier to entry for a lot of our consumers,” detailed Radny. “Many people at trade events or public tastings will comment that the design is what drew them in, even before they knew what the product even was, and that the quality made them purchase,” he added. The branding is attracting people to cask wine that perhaps otherwise would never have given the product a second look. On average, Australia produces 1.5 billion litres of wine each year and of all the wine sold locally, only one-third ends up in casks despite the packaging reducing environmental impacts by 48 per cent. Pioneering a new market “It started as a thought on how to differentiate my brand from the hundreds of others on the market that had all the same specs on paper: sustainable vineyards, wild fermentations, drought-resistant fruit etc,” said Radny. “But no one was doing high end, boutique cask wine, and I couldn’t understand why.” Despite the rising demand from consumers for sustainable alternatives, big alcohol retailers are still yet to hop on the trend. “One example of those who are slow to move, is Dan Murphy’s and the Endeavour Group. I recently reached out to them to see about ranging my wines, and they gave feedback that it’s too early in the market, and that they may think about it in 2025,” Radny told Inside Retail. Bottle shop chains and independent liquor stores seem to be set in their ways, however, the democratisation of wine – whether it be via a box or witty names – is certainly having a moment.