When a winery called Mollydooker made a Shiraz wine called “Carnival of Love” that landed the No. 2 position on Wine Spectator magazine’s “Top 100” list for 2014, it was impossible to ignore.
So, we decided to track down the story of Mollydooker, and learned that Sparky Marquis was a successful photographer when his father one day lined up the five kids in the family, and told them that if any of them were prepared to learn winemaking or viticulture, they would inherit his award-winning vineyard and winery.
Sparky‟s sister jumped at the opportunity, but the boys scattered. Then Sparky remembered how much he liked drinking wine, and came rushing back.
But during Sparky’s second year in college, Sarah Watts walked onto the campus. She was beautiful, fun loving, artistic and clever. The next day, Sparky was on the phone to his dad to say that he had just seen the girl that he was going to marry, and he would never be coming home.
It took Sparky four years to persuade Sarah that marrying him was a good idea. While waiting, he researched his thesis on canopy management, won awards for his classwork and won an overseas scholarship.
When they married in 1991, they had $1,000 between them, and big dreams of developing their own business, succeeding in a career they were both passionate about, helping other people, and having fun.
They started as winemakers with Sarah’s parents at Fox Creek Wines. They built a winery, introduced their vineyard watering program in the vineyards so that they got exceptional fruit, and devoted long hours to perfecting their cellar skills.
The day after receiving the winery license, they won the McLaren Vale Bushing King and Queen Trophy for Best Wine in Show. (Since then, they have won the Bushing two more times, and have been Australian Boutique Winemakers of the Year, as well as Australian White Winemakers of the Year.)
They were successful and super busy, and happy working together. When their son Luke was born, they would do their winemaking with him sleeping in a bassinet close by. Then one day, they rejected a parcel of wine and gave it to an agent to sell. The agent made a small fortune in half an hour, and Sarah and Sparky decided that they would become bulk wine producers, giving them more time for family.
After two years, they asked Sparky’s parents to join them. Sparky told them, “Our aim will be to make the best bulk wine in Australia, so we can sell it easily. We’ll start in the vineyards in January, harvest in March, make the wine, sell it in June, and then go skiing for six months.” His parents decided to jump on board.
Unfortunately, the next vintage was the year of Australia’s huge grape surplus. Sarah and Sparky had red wines to sell, but the market wanted Chardonnay. Wine that had sold the previous year for $7 per liter fetched just 25 cents per liter. They promptly lost all the money they had made in the previous two years.
So they went back to making bottled wine for their friends — Henry’s Drive, Parson’s Flat and Shirvington — and to their joint venture, Marquis Philips.
Once again, they were enormously successful. In 1999, they were named Australian Winemakers of the Year. In 2002, they won the Bushing Award for a record-breaking third time, and critic Robert Parker gave their Integrity wine a 99-point rating.
The Marquis Philips brand was a runaway success, growing from 8,000 to 120,000 cases in four years. There was talk of growing bigger still. Then one day, Sarah and Sparky took stock and decided that it was not the life they wanted to lead. They love the vineyards, love making wine, and love sharing wine with friends. They didn’t want to become corporate, so they decided to go it alone and stay small and hands-on.
They reasoned that they had started with $1,000 once before, so they could do it again if they had to. Everyone rallied around to help, staff offered to take a salary cut, growers offered to take late payments, and suppliers offered extended terms. Both families mortgaged everything and chipped in.
In March 2006, they named their new brand Mollydooker — Aussie-speak for lefthander because Sparky and Sarah are both left-handed. Two weeks later, they were down to $17 in the bank. It was scary. They had always been a cash company. Their motto had been, “If you can’t pay on time, pay early.” Now that was impossible. They couldn’t even afford to label the wine.
And then a miracle happened. A local businessman walked in the door, said he had heard that they might be in trouble, and asked to hear their story. Half an hour later, he walked out the door to begin a month-long vacation. Sparky stood, tears pouring down his cheeks, holding a check for enough money to enable them to survive.
Three months later, The Wine Advocate chose “The Boxer” as the best value red wine in the world, the “Two Left Feet” as the second, and the “Maitre D’” as the fourth. “The Violinist” was chosen the best value white wine in the world. The wines sold out in 19 days, and all the debts were paid off.
Since then, it has been a story of phenomenal success. Sarah and Sparky now have more wines of 94 Parker points and higher than any other winemakers in the world, and the “Carnival of Love” Shiraz has twice been on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list, both tomes in the top 10.
During the last three years they have modernized and upgraded the winery, pulled out unwanted grape varieties and replanted with Shiraz, and implemented their vineyard watering program.
Their success has been built on following their passions, and by working from the heart.