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Promising Australian Partnership Ends Bitterly

Although founders are fighting in court, Marquis Philips label will live

Harvey Steiman
Posted: March 23, 2006

The Marquis Philips partnership, which has produced highly regarded mid-priced wines from Australia, is over. The Marquis Philips label will live on, but without Sparky and Sarah Marquis, who are launching a new brand of their own. And now the ex-partners are fighting each other in court.

Last November, U.S. importer Dan Philips fired his Australian partners, whom he had met when the Marquises were winemakers at then-cult-favorite Fox Creek. Philips formed a new company and handed the winemaking responsibilities over to Chris Ringland.

Then in late 2005, Philips sued the Marquises for breach of contract in the Supreme Court of South Australia, asking for $333,930, plus additional unspecified costs. The Marquises responded with a countersuit in February, asking for $1.1 million, plus additional costs.

The lawsuit reveals that the partnership rested on a simple seller-buyer contract in which Philips essentially bought bottled wine that the Marquises produced to his specifications. Philips would then share any profits with them.

Philips is suing to recover what he paid in initial installments for an estimated 38,617 cases of the 2004 vintage made by Grapes Consulting, the Marquises' company. The total price was to be $4.1 million. Most of the production was Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot and a blended wine made to sell in the United States for around $18, but the total also covered 2,067 cases of Cabernet S2 and 3,623 cases of Shiraz 9, which are priced at $35 and $40 a bottle, respectively.

In their counterclaim, Sparky and Sarah Marquis argue that they did not default on any agreements and that Philips had no right to terminate their contract. They are asking for $1.1 million in payments Philips has since withheld, along with their share of the profits. They also accuse Philips of using their names on a wine that they did not make, the Roogle Red 2003, named after the Marquis Philips icon--a kangaroo with the head of an American eagle, dubbed a "roogle".

In the original suit, Philips also accuses the Marquises of removing 952 cases of wine from storage last June in violation of the contract. The Marquises insist that the contract permits them to do so, and in any event the actual amount they removed was only 148 cases.

Now that the partnership has dissolved, the Marquises have a new brand, Mollydooker, which is set for release in the United States later this year.

But Philips' plans are more ambitious. He formed a new company that not only continues the Marquis Philips brand but also adds other wines, the first of which is from the 2005 vintage and should be out in early 2007. Ringland, who also makes Rockford, RBJ and Greenock Creek wines, is the executive winemaker. Lisa Wetherall, a former assistant to the Marquises, handles the day-to-day wine operations. David Hickinbotham, whose $11 Paringa wines are made for Philips, is also a partner in the enterprise.

Hickinbotham's Paringa grapes were used to make the first Marquis Philips wines, from the 2000 vintage, but Hickinbotham says he disapproved of the vineyard practices the Marquises required and they bought no more grapes from him.

Andy Harmon
Pensacola, FL USA —  October 12, 2009 9:27pm ET
This is unfortunate in that the roogle represents the friendship of the USA and Australia which still exists, but obviously not with these former partners

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