Sarah Marquis, Mollydooker
Sometimes, you come across a story that makes you believe good things happen, and a business built on love. That is the magical story of Mollydooker Wines.
When Sarah was 15, her parents, whose hobby was drinking and collecting wine, planted a vineyard. Every summer, she worked there, training up the young vines. Her father said to her one day, “If I had my life over again, I wouldn’t do medicine. I’d become a winemaker.”
Sarah’s father encouraged her to study Oenology (the science and study of wine and winemaking) at Roseworthy Agricultural College, part of the University of Adelaide. Shortly after that, she married Sparky Marquis. They had $1,000 between them and a determination and passion for a business of their own. At the same time, they wanted to have a lot of fun along the way.
They started working as winemakers for Sarah’s parents in South Australia. They soon developed the Marquis Vineyard Watering Program™, which would go on to produce award-winning wines in the future. The family won multiple awards, including Australian White Winemakers of the Year.
In 2000, they started the Marquis Philips brand, a joint venture with American importer, Dan Philips. Marquis was responsible for growing, making, and bottling the wine, Philips was responsible for selling it solely in the US.
A year later, they were Australian Winemakers of the Year once more. They were one of the fastest-growing Australian brands in the US and were fast becoming wine personalities. The Marquis Philips brand grew from 8,000 to 120,000 cases in four years.
Unfortunately, the partners’ visions grew apart, and they decided to go different ways. The separation went sour, culminating in two messy court battles. Sarah and Sparky were left with only $17 in the bank and no way to make ends meet. They couldn’t even afford to label their wine.
Miracles happen – even in Business:
Proving that occasionally miracles do happen, a local businessman walked through their door shortly afterward, saying he had heard of their troubles.
Sarah describes Neil Brine as “a wonderful, loyal businessman, who was our savior appearing out of the blue one day.” He had attended one of their wine events and loved their story. Neil asked to hear more about what had happened and gave them enough money to pay their bills at the end of the month, with no expectation of when they would pay him back. He has never been involved in the business but remains a close friend and someone they will forever be grateful for.
Friends also pitched in, suppliers took late payments, and staff members took a drop in salary, allowing them to come out on the other side and start Mollydooker.
The name Mollydooker is Australian for left-handed, which the couple both are. They wanted to create wines with beautiful packaging and colors and images that tell stories. They were committed to detail, excellence, and never taking shortcuts in quality. In 2006, the Mollydooker brand started to take off.
In June that year, critic Robert Parker rated their first vintage of The Boxer “the best value red wine in the world” with two of their wines also coming in second and fourth. The Violinist was chosen as the best value white wine in the world. The wines sold out, clearing their debts, and a string of awards followed.
In 2007, Sarah and Sparky purchased their own winery on Seaview Ridge, where some of Australians most iconic wineries are based. They spent three years clearing it, and updating it, and putting in the Vineyard Watering ProgramTM. The stunning vineyard stretches over 116 acres of McLaren Vale, around an hour from Adelaide.
They developed a concept called Sip it Forward, where a portion of all sales proceeds goes to their charities. Mollydooker supports several charities. Among them is the Hutt Street Centre for the homeless in Adelaide, Mercy Multiplied, which helps abused women in the US, and Transform Cambodia, where they fund three Mollydooker Houses providing education for children and food for families.
Sarah’s Sole Charge of Mollydooker Wines
In 2017, Sarah and Sparky went separate ways, and Sarah took over the sole ownership of Mollydooker Wines. I asked Sarah about the highs and lows of these years.
She told me it has undoubtedly been hectic. The team dropped from five executives to just two, Sarah and her Financial and Sales Executive. She has spent the last three years working very hard on getting the right culture and best team structure possible.
Sarah says that because she was transparent and openly shared her vision, the people that needed to leave the business went, and she has since made some great additions to the team. She has made a point to reward people within the company who have shown real leadership skills and put them in leadership positions.
This restructuring has made a huge difference. Sarah says her lows have been around having the difficult but necessary conversations with people who are “not the right fit.” She sees getting the right people on her team as crucial.
Sarah’s highs would be a few of the awards they have received. 2018 Australian Women in Wine Awards; Owner-Operator of the Year, Two South Australian Export Awards, and most recently, Mollydooker was named 2019 Telstra South Australian Business of the Year.
Sarah says that the awards were a massive morale boost and gave the whole team recognition for their diligence, passion, and the hard work they put in.
The Uniqueness of the Mollydooker Brand
The Mollydooker mission statement is, ‘We make wines that make people go WOW through attention to detail and commitment to excellence.’ Sarah explains that most people, when they taste their wine, literally say ‘WOW!” because the wines have a very unique style. Every wine exhibits beautiful luscious fruit and an incredibly silky-smooth texture that fills your entire mouth.
There is no doubt that the branding (labels, website, etc.) also sets Mollydooker apart. It is fun, memorable, and each label has a personality. The names are evocative, including The Boxer, Two Left Feet, Carnival of Love, and Velvet Glove.
They also have three points of difference from other wineries (trademarked processes) – The Mollydooker Shake, Fruit Weight, and their Vineyard Watering Program. It is all these things that make them so unique in this vast world of wine.
Sarah says that she brings to the table a vision, an eye for design, and she knows what she wants. She deliberately seeks out creative illustrators and graphic designers for their artwork and remains personally involved in the design process. She is the ‘Creative Director’ when it comes to Mollydooker.
Mollydooker Now and in the Future
They average 75,000 dozen every year, 98% is red, Shiraz making up 80% of this. They export 80% of their production. 50% goes to the USA, 30% to the rest of the world, and only 20% stays in Australia.
Her key winemakers have been with her for ten years. She also has her children involved, which she says are all plusses. She loves having them involved and getting the opportunity to spend time with them. Luke is 24 now and is their Global Sales Manager, “very invested and passionate.” Sarah believes that no one can replace family when it comes to marketing and selling their wine, and says she is very grateful that he wants to be a part of the business.
Holly is 22 and has become more involved since COVID set in. Sarah describes her as “naturally brilliant at whatever she does, so again it’s a blessing that she is part of our team.” She is also independent, and so nothing is set about the future. Sarah is sure Holly will always stay involved as she writes the “Gigglepot News.”
I asked Sarah what her plans for the future are. She says she aims to “continue to build Mollydooker so that it becomes an iconic global wine brand, known for consistently making high-quality outstanding wines.
It’s “why” is making a difference in this world by helping people who are less fortunate than us.”