Yesterday I met Sparky Marquis. For those still wondering whom I am talking about, he is the owner of Molly Dooker wines. And what a character he is! I was excited to be a part of a sit down tasting where he took us through 8 of the 10 wines that the iconic McLaren Vale winery produces. Sparky’s true Aussie flair came out almost immediately when hetold us he wasn’t going to talk us through the wines since we probably knew more than he did about wine anyways. He said there are only 2 drops that he drinks; Molly Dooker wines and Jack Daniels and since they don’t serve Molly Dooker wines on the Air New Zealand flight back to Australia he was on in a couple of hours, he wanted to enjoy the wines with us!
Turns out that Molly Dooker is an Australian term for left-handers. Sparky and his wife, Sarah, and coincidentally, over 50% of the staff at his winery are left-handed; he claims it is not a questions on the interview sheets! Started in 1995, his wines have been featured in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 list twice, have received more 94 points and above from Robert Parker than any other producer, and Sparky and Sarah were voted Australian winemaker of the year in 1999. Of the 8 wines we tried today the lowest rating was an 88 and the highest a modest 97+.
Other than the obvious high quality of his wines, two things struck me after listening toSparky Marquis talk for an hour. One is that he is true pioneer that is not afraid to
push the barriers to keep creating a better quality product. After he was repeatedly told that the most concentrated grapes could only come from dry grown, low yielding, old vine vineyards, he turned it into a personal mission to discover what it is that gives a concentrated taste and how to emulate that in new vines. This led to a creation of the (now trademarked) Marquis Vineyard Watering Program that allows the vines to get the intensity and sugars they need to create these big, bold wines that he loves. It also led to a term he calls fruit weight which he explains as how far back on the tongue the velvet glove of flavor reaches before the tingling structure sets in. Sounds complex but when you taste his wines you understand exactly what he is talking about and how it gives that WOW factor he is after.
The other point that struck me is how ingenious their marketing is. After his wife shut down the original commissioned label design, Sarah took the task to herself to create the labels now on the bottles. From caricatures of Sparky and Sarah dancing to a boxer with two left hands, the labels are fun, creative, and tell a story of their life and wine-growing career. The attention to detail even goes as far as forcing a consumer to pick up the bottle to read the sideways wine details since it was shown in studies that a consumer is more likely to buy a bottle if they have 2 hands on it. And then what better marketing than to send the fast-talking, excitable Sparky Marquis on the road to pour their wines!
Now to the wines themselves. Sparky doesn’t waste time with small wines. All of the wines had at least 15% alcohol, but unlike most high alcohol producers, Molly Dooker wines have the concentrated fruit and healthy acidity to back it up. The line
up was: The Maitre D’, Two Left Feet, The Boxer, Blue Eyed Boy, Gigglepot, Enchanted Path, Carnival of Love, and the Velvet Glove (all 2009 except the 2010 Boxer). The Velvet Glove has the ominous distinction of being “the wine” that was crushed by a forklift accident last year on an Australian dock. With one quick mechanical failure, 1/3 of the production of the best wine that Molly Dooker offers, a $250 wine, was destroyed instantly. In true Aussie fashion, Sparky rolled with the punches and said that the worst part about the incident is that his personal allocation of those wines dropped right off! This wine is beautiful, a perfect balance between a delicate palate and strong flavours.
As we our red stained lips had taken our last sips, Sparky was asked how long his wines age. He replied by saying “As long as it takes me to find a corkscrew!” I like a winemaker that truly believes in the quality of his wines, as long as he leaves some for us to be able to enjoy!