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Exclusive: Sarah Marquis Acquires Sole Ownership of Australian Wine Darling Mollydooker

Sparky and Sarah Marquis part ways, and she continues their brand while he contemplates solo projects
Photo by: Liam West/Lightly Salted
Sarah and Sparky Marquis built Mollydooker into a blockbuster brand; she doesn't plan major changes.

Harvey Steiman
Posted: May 1, 2017

Sarah Marquis, half of one of Australia's best-known wine partnerships, has acquired a controlling share of the prominent Australian winery Mollydooker from her ex-husband, Sparky Marquis. The transfer was finalized April 28.

After their separation in December 2015, Sparky, 51, managed the company through 2016. When he offered to buy out Sarah’s share of the company, he gave her the choice to buy him out under the same terms.

At first Sarah, 46, wanted to continue the business partnership, but by February 2017 she decided that she wanted management control of the winery and agreed to purchase control, as part of court proceedings related to their divorce. The couple's divorce became final April 4.

Although Sparky was the highly visible voice of Mollydooker, Sarah was involved in all aspects of the business. She was responsible for the whimsical labels and wine names, such as the tête-de-cuvée Shiraz Velvet Glove, the entry-level Shiraz The Boxer and the Cabernet-Merlot blend Two Left Feet.

These wines, first produced in the 2005 vintage, have landed on the Wine Spectator Top 100 eight times. Its Shiraz called Carnival of Love has reached the Top 10 three times. The company bottled 82,000 cases of wine from 1,200 tons of grapes in 2016. It sells more than half its production in the U.S., where it operates its own import company, Mollydooker International.

Total sales, including Australia and exports, totaled $10.5 million in 2016. Mollydooker owns 116 acres of vineyards in McLaren Vale and manages viticulture on another 150 acres in the region, an hour’s drive south of Adelaide.

Sarah does not intend to take on any financial partners, she told Wine Spectator. She would not disclose the purchase price, but said she put it together with personal equity and her own line of credit.

The winery’s key employees remain, Sarah says, among them vineyard manager Peter Constantine and chief winemaker Peter Tavella. They have both been with Mollydooker for 10 years. "The team seems happy," said Sarah. "They were worried we would both want to sell the winery. They’re relieved."

"The mirror offer was what God had me do," said Sparky, a devout Christian. "Ever since I did that, I have been at peace.

"It wasn’t a fight for me. I knew that Mollydooker could run with Sarah, or with me, but not if we tried to run it together. I wanted to move forward for generations to come, for the kids." Their children, Luke and Holly, are pictured on two of their labels. Luke is already involved in the viticulture end of the business.

Married in 1991, Sparky and Sarah had worked together at every stage of their wine careers. They started as winemakers at Fox Creek (in which her parents were partners) in 1991, then later as partners in Marquis Philips, before launching Mollydooker in 2005.

She has no plans to change the winery’s direction or the wine styles—rich and ripe for reds, fresh and sleek for whites and sparkling wines. "For me the most important thing is to keep consistent quality," she said.

Sarah was the partner responsible for the winery’s image in the marketplace and on the website. "I want to keep the art unique," she said, "not too polished, but maybe find ways to make it more exciting." She also wants to get more involved in the McLaren Vale community. "We were kind of in a bubble of our own," she said.

On March 7, Sparky resigned from operational responsibilities at the winery, and Sarah became the managing partner for the 2017 vintage, expected to wrap up in mid-May. Janet Gawith, Sparky’s mother, who had been the winery’s general manager, has also left. Leigh Gawith, Sparky’s stepfather, who had been involved in managing the vineyards, is staying, at least for now.

Sparky’s next career act is unclear. The agreement gives him the right to promote the water-intensive vineyard management program that Mollydooker relied upon, without branding it as Mollydooker’s. Under the agreement he can make his own wine as early as 2018.

"I’m going to think about it for a while," he said. "Mum was ready to go, though. She had lined up 500 tons of grapes for me to make some wine this vintage. I told her to calm down. She’s just starting to relax."

Michael Twelftree
Malvern, South Australia —  May 8, 2017 1:34am ET
I have known both Sarah and Sparky for a long time and have admired their mutual hard work.

With Mollydooker, they made something out of nothing and had a tireless work ethic at every point of the chain. They built and maintained a strong market presence in the USA, which is much easier said then done.

They worked as a great team, Sparky's attention to detail in the vineyards and Sarah's brilliant ability to taste and blend. I was blown away when I went to visit them a few years back, their attention to process was great to see in the usual laissez–faire Australian winery landscape.

Many people are perplexed by their trade mark wine style, my answer to that is that as winemakers, we all look at the same subject but through a different lenses and if anything we should be pushing for more styles then ever before, especially with in Australia.

I sincerely wish both Sarah and Sparky the best for the future and they are both welcome to share a glass or two with me when ever possible

Onwards and Upward

Michael Twelftree
Two Hands Wines

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