After an acrimonious breakup with their American partner in Marquis Philips, Sparky and Sarah Marquis have scraped together enough money and called on some of their longstanding contacts in McLaren Vale to start up a new label. They crushed their first grapes in 2005, finished the wines in rented facilities and called their new wines Mollydooker (Australian slang for left-hander, which they both are). They send most of their production to the United States.
The reaction has been so positive that, from being virtually broke only two years ago, the Marquises have earned enough to buy a 116-acre vineyard in McLaren Vale. It comes complete with a winery with a capacity of 100,000 cases, 50 percent more than they need. They closed the deal on Sept. 5.
When I visited them earlier this year, they were working out of the office of their consulting business, GRAPES, in an industrial park on the outskirts of Adelaide. Now they're ready to move into what sounds like a grand estate.
"We have been negotiating since October of last year," Sparky wrote, when he e-mailed with the news that they purchased the Classic McLaren winery and vineyard in the town of McLaren Vale. The purchase price was $11 million for the winery, vineyard and (an important detail in drought-plagued Australia) water rights for 10 years.
The vineyard is close to the home plots for several well known McLaren Shirazes, including D'Arenberg's Dead Arm, Kay's Block Six and Chapel Hill Reserve. Mollydooker's own Carnival of Love and Velvet Glove come from the same area. In recent years, writes Sparky, "The grapes were going to Two Hands, Rosemount, D'Arenberg, Chapel Hill and Casella (for Yellow Tail Reserve), and the rest was being sold as bulk wine. As a result, the overall operation was not making any profit and was going out the back door at a fast rate."
Half the vineyard is currently under Shiraz, with 20 percent Cabernet, 20 percent Merlot and the rest Sémillon and Chardonnay. "The whites will get grafted to Shiraz as soon as we possibly can," Sparky writes, adding that the winery is currently set up to process small individual batches of grapes, and has its own bottling line and massive storage areas for barrels and bottles.
"The overall property has three houses on it," he adds, "which we are planning to convert to guesthouses and offices. We believe this will be the foundation stone to the future of Mollydooker."
In driving to the winery from Adelaide, Sparky notes, all six turns are left turns. That's a good omen for a couple of mollydookers.
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