Good golly, Ms Molly
It’s a big week for McLaren Vale-based Mollydooker Wines as Sparky Marquis bows out of the company and Sarah Marquis takes full control.
Sarah and Sparky have parted ways. The personal reasons are theirs and theirs only, but the future of the brand is important.
The Mollydooker style is one of a kind. Putting that aside, the brand is important because of the extremely high regard in which it held in the US market. It fetches good prices, and Australia desperately needs more brands that not only attract higher prices but also show Americans the breadth and depth that Australia has to offer. TKR was fortunate to get an interview with Sarah Marquis.
TKR: Just to be clear, you now hold 100 per cent of Mollydooker (MD) equity, there are no other shareholders?
SM: Yes, sole owner, no shareholders.
TKR: Are the vineyards included in the settlement as well as winery/land and brand?
SM: Yes, the whole lot and all IP rights. I now own the trademarks for the Mollydooker Shake, Marquis Fruit Weight and Marquis Vineyard Watering Programme – our three points of difference.
TKR: You have been winemaker since the beginning. Was that as sole winemaker or did Sparky have an involvement in the hands-on winemaking?
SM: We have always both been the winemakers – Sparky ran the day-to-day production with our team of winemakers, but we always did the blending together to take the wines to bottle. From now on I will be working with our winemaking team to keep our style and quality consistent.
TKR: The Mollydooker style is big, bold, full-on wines, hence the attraction for US consumers, who in the beginning drove the style?
MS: From the very start, Sparky and I always made wine in a style that we like. We have never tailored it for any market. Our fun way of accessing a wine to go to bottle is that we ask ourselves three questions:
• Would I drink a glass of it?
• Would I drink a bottle of it?
• Would I drink a bottle on my own?
If the parcel of wine passes all three questions, it goes to bottle.
Seriously, though, our quality guarantee and grading qualification all has to do with fruit weight (FW), the intensity of fruit when you put it in your mouth. This technique makes it very easy to guarantee consistent quality year after year, and why our customers love our product as they get the same quality for each product, no matter what vintage. If a wine doesn’t reach the desired FW for that particular wine (ie Blue Eyed Boy, which is between 75-85 per cent FW), we don’t bottle it.
TKR: I believe production is around 100,000 cases. Is this a figure you have grown to within the past year or two, or an amount you arrived at some time ago and think it the optimum production size?
SM: We reached this once a few years ago, then hit it for 2016, and will again next year. I intend to keep it at 100,000 cases per year.
TKR: To grow you need to sell. I understand your largest market is the US. What are your plans to maintain, indeed grow, that market?
SM: The US is 50 per cent of our sales. I intend to do quite a few events this year, visiting our main/biggest markets in particular, plus a lot of private events for our loyal and growing customers. My son, Luke (21), will be doing some events across the US and Canada, with me and by himself.
TKR: How good is the domestic market for you and can you grow it?
SM: We are incredibly fortunate that our wines are allocated and we sell through each year. Our domestic market is screaming out for more wine, which we currently don’t have available.
TKR: What other markets are you interested in? What other markets are you actively exploring? Have the Chinese shown interest?
SM: We have around 25 other markets outside of Australia and the US, so are not looking for any more at this point. We would like to increase the volume of wine going to the markets we already deal with, instead of spreading too thin. China has been interested over the years, however we haven’t ventured there yet.
TKR: Can you combine roles – ie winemaker, CEO, public face of Mollydooker – or will you be seeking to bring others on board?
SM: Right now I want to bed down our team, and then I will find out what skill sets are missing once the dust settles. For now, yes, it’s all me.
TKR: Sparky has always been the public face of MD. How well do you think you can take on that role?
SM: Sparky’s personality lends him to be a very talented public speaker; he thrives in that sort of environment. I, however, have a different, genuine style, and have travelled extensively over the last three years, marketing the brand. In 2015 when we won No.2 wine in the world by Wine Spectator I spent three months marketing overseas. In the US I am the face of MD, particularly with our ambassadors/public figures. Distributors will be another story. However, they know the story – it’s in all our marketing that it’s been both of us making the wine. Sparky would always talk about me and my blending skills whenever he talked.
I do, however, appreciate that most people think it’s Sparky making the wine. It’s typical in this world, isn’t it. How I view it now is Mollydooker has now become a brand, and it’s less and less Sarah & Sparky. My aim over the next year is to gradually remove the S&S, and make it Mollydooker. Not dramatically, but at the right time.
Fortunately, over the years, I have had a lot of practice speaking, so can easily do it in my own style.
TKR: How confident are you about the future of MD under your stewardship?
SM: I am very confident and really excited by it. Yes, there will be changes. It’s been my journey from the start and I am really excited about where our team can take it. We remain committed to making great, exciting wines and that won’t change.