Friends, today we bring you one of the biggest interviews that we have produced for Washington Wine Blog. It is my great pleasure to share with you my exclusive interview with one of the great faces and talents in wine, Sarah Marquis. Sarah has an inspiring story in wine and was recently named 2018 Owner/Operator of the Year at the Australian Women in Wine Awards. She has helped create one of the most successful wine brands not only in Australia but the world of wine, Mollydooker. I’ve met Sarah on several occasions and have found her to be humble and highly passionate and charismatic. She is simply a delightful person to talk wine with. I have admired these wines since the winery’s inception in 2005 and I think you will very much enjoying hearing more about Sarah’s story. Here is my interview with Sarah Marquis, Mollydooker Wines CEO and winemaker.
WWB: What were some of your initial inspirations in wine? How were you inspired to start Mollydooker in 2005?
SM: My father was my original inspiration in wine. He loved collecting and drinking wine and as a child I spent many hours visiting wineries with my family. His passion for wine led him to planting a vineyard in McLaren Vale when I was 14. During my summer holidays, I would work in the vineyard, and this is when my father noted my interest an encouraged me to go and study winemaking when I left high school.
So then began my Enchanted Path in wine. After graduating I travelled overseas and then married my college sweetheart who was also a winemaker. Together we formed a wine consulting business and built many successful labels such as Fox Creek (my parents winery) Henry’s Drive, Parson’s Flat, Shirvington & Marquis Philips. In 2004 the only label we were making was Marquis Philips, however our partnership ended which led us to the amazing opportunity to start our very own brand Mollydooker in 2005.
What inspires me today however isn’t even associated to the winemaking process! Through Mollydooker I am able to enrich the lives of others. My greatest inspiration comes from those who benefit from the three very worthy charities which Mollydooker Wines supports; the Hutt St Centre in Adelaide, Transform Cambodia, and Mercy Multiplied in the USA. See link from our website for further information… https://www.mollydookerwines.com.au/MollydookerStory/OurCharities/tabid/444/Default.aspx
WWB: Named after your son, Luke, your Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz is consistently one of the best value Shiraz wines year after year as I can recall reviewing these wines back to the stunning 2008 vintage. Can you talk about the winemaking and special attention that you put into that killer wine? How do you produce such an amazing Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz even in challenging vintages like 2011?
SM: I would describe the attention to detail that’s applied in every step of the winemaking process as not just special, but critical! At Mollydooker it really does begin in the vineyard, where our Marquis Vineyard Watering Program® focuses on nurturing strong and healthy vines with balanced canopy growth to achieve the most intense fruit flavours possible, whether the vintages are cold and wet, or hot and dry. 2011 was cold and wet which actually allowed time for great flavours to develop. We ripen the vine so that it can ripen the fruit, and this in turn produces more intense fruit flavour. We ferment on skins for at least six days to extract the colour, tannins and flavours developed in the vineyard and we always finish the primary ferment in barrel because we believe this softens the tannins and adds mouthfeel to the wine. The wine matures in oak for about eight months, and during this time we continually taste the barrels to ensure the oak is supporting the fruit. Another aspect of the special attention applied to the winemaking process is our barrel selection. Barrels are chosen to best accentuate the flavours that the Blue Eyed Boy is well known for; plum, chocolate and blueberry.
WWB: One of the great wines that I tried last year was your 2016 Mollydooker ‘Blue Eyed Boy’ Shiraz (WWB, 94) a wine that showed gobs of blue and dark fruits and excellent tension. Can you talk about this exciting warm vintage wine?
SM: The vineyard ripening period of the 2016 vintage was very even; warm but not extreme. Neither was there a severe cold spell. This resulted in the grapes having an excellent flavour spectrum at the Marquis Fruit Weight® we expected. All the vineyards that were blended into the 2016 Blue Eyed Boy came from our home blocks in McLaren Vale which was exciting. Balance came easily to the wine during oak maturation which gives the tension to the Blue Eyed Boy while the fruit shines. What is unique about every Mollydooker wine is that we us our Fruit Weight grading system to make each wine. Every wine parcel is graded for it’s Fruit Weight (a sensory measure of the intensity of fruit on your palate), and each label we make must achieve a certain fruit weight in order for it to be blended into that label. This technique is what makes Blue Eyed Boy the same consistent quality year after year.
WWB: One of my favorite all time wines from Australia is your scintillating 2012 Mollydooker ‘The Velvet Glove Shiraz (WWB, 99), a wine that flirts with perfection. How do you achieve the level of weight, viscosity and tension in this premier Shiraz?
SM: Once again, using the Marquis Vineyard Watering Program® on all our vineyards help us achieve spectacular fruit. It was an absolute joy to make the wines in 2012, with the Velvet Glove being the pinnacle.
The Velvet Glove comes from a special vineyard that also produces the grapes that become our Carnival of Love (also a highly awarded wine in 2012). In order to produce Velvet Glove each year we divide the vineyard up into 16 different sections so when we pick we can make sure that the parcels that are exceptional are kept separate. Whether it is due to aspect, slope or geology, every parcel tastes a little different from the other. We leave the fruit on the vines much longer than anyone else in the region so that when the fruit comes into the winery the juice is already amazing with incredible depth and viscosity.
For Velvet Glove, we only use new American oak for both barrel fermentation and maturation, resulting in beautifully integrated soft tannins and oak that is fragrant & complementary, rather than drying. The key then for us as winemakers is to make sure that the final blend is not only 95% and above in Fruit Weight (so almost perfect in our view as it coats your entire tongue with a velvet glove of fruit) but it’s structure ( alcohol, acid and tannin) are perfectly balanced. We feel we achieve this with our Velvet Glove each year as the wine is incredibly rich and luscious, it has a complete flavour spectrum in aroma and flavour, with a palate that is long and irresistible and beautifully balanced in structure.
WWB: In April 2017 you took over sole ownership of Mollydooker, having created one of the most successful wine brands in Australia. What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced since making this exciting change? What is it like working with your son on the business side?
SM: When I took over sole ownership of Mollydooker Wines there was certainly some people who didn’t think I would be able to run a successful business, however this only made me more resolved to build a world class winery, and I believe we’re on the way to achieving this vision. Winemaking is one of those industries typically associated with men. More and more women are being celebrated for their contributions to this creative and scientific field of work, and I applaud the associations and media involved in bringing this to light. I was honoured to be voted 2018 Owner/Operator of the Year at the Australian Women in Wine Awards. It’s rewarding to represent females in the wine industry and I embrace the challenge to encourage gender-balance and inspire new generations of women to succeed. As for working with my son Luke, it’s a dream come true to be able to work with Luke, especially as we get on so well. He’s an inspiration to me and I love watching him grow personally. To be able to mentor him and pass on my knowledge about business is one of the best things about my life.