Archived entries for Australian Wines

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been: A Conversation with David Ready Jr.

It’s rare you sit down with an individual that saw 175 Grateful Dead concerts, went on tour with them and lived to tell the tale.  Then you find out he’s an esteemed winemaker for Murphy Goode, a newly converted runner (lost 50 pounds since he started), believes in giving back to the community to bring his dad’s legacy to life and is just an all-around cool person. 

David Ready started his career in winemaking in 1985 when his dad strongly suggested getting a job would be a good idea.  He grew up in Minnesota, played in rock band for a time and is a huge Vikings fan.  He worked harvests in Australia and Sonoma.  David moved back to California approximately 20 years ago and it’s been home since.  He worked his way up from cellar master to assistant winemaker and then served as the winemaker for Zinfandel in 1997.  Today he supervises 18 wines.  

David came through town last month to talk about his Homefront Red release, which raised 300K for Operation Homefront, a 501c (3) organization developed to support the families of deployed service members immediately following 9/11.  The organization provides emergency financial and other assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors.  And the cool thing is that the distributors and sales people for the winery have chipped in to support the effort as well.

Ready wanted to do this to honor his father who passed away during the fall of 2010.  He pondered what it meant to “do good” with the current owners of the winery.  His father served in Vietnam and his family has a long history of military service.  In his words, “Everyone knows someone who has served.  These kids go off in search of a better life, service our country, get hurt and then they and their families suffer.  No family should ever be left behind.”

He makes wines that he wants to drink and wants to match them with different foods and settings.  “I love a big cab, but not every day,” he said.  We tried a few and I want to continue to drink them too.  Clearly he has found his calling and you can tell he’s passionate about food, wine and socializing. We tried the following:

  • Murphy Goode The Fume Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – citrus, tropical fruit and melon.  A really nice $14 poolside or Texas patio wine.
  • Murphy Goode Dealer’s Choice Alexander Valley Cabernet 2010 – blackberry, herbs, bay leaves and thyme.  A very well balanced and drinkable wine that could age well or be opened today. 
  • Murphy Goode All In Claret Alexander Valley 2011 – a blend of Alexander Valley merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot is full of dark cherry, blackberry, herbs and raspberries.  It was a really great blend.
  • Murphy Goode Liar’s Dice Zinfandel 2010 – raspberry, Asian spice, black cherry with balance.  This wine called for BBQ but didn’t need it to be appreciated.

Hardy Wines and Accolade Wine Group: A Match Made in Heaven

Australian wines hit America right around the time I started to drink wine with a cork and figured out that I could afford to buy a case of Lindeman’s.  About 1.6 million cases were imported in 1995.  Today the Australian wine industry is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine with 750 million liters a year.

I credit Australian wine with beginning my long love affair with the grape.  However, along the way what was shipped in by the large wine makers began to lose its luster.  Smaller production companies were acquired and some of the brands languished.  Luckily, that course is starting to correct.

With the acquisition of Hardy Wines by Accolade Wine Group about 15 months ago, there is a renewed focus on bringing the Nottage Hill and William Hill brands back to the US market.   Paul Lapsley, group chief winemaker for the Hardy portfolio wines, came through Dallas to talk and taste about the wines in his portfolio.  Lapsley’s been making wines for more than 30 years and has worked at some of the top wineries in Australia after doing several months in Burgundy.  Hardy Wines have been made since the late 1870s and are one of the long-time family wine making legacies.

We tried the following wines and they were some of the best value wines I’ve tried in a long time:

  • Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2012 – had lots of tropical fruit, peach, nectarine and oak.
  • William Hardy Chardonnay 2012 – loved the minerality and acidity of this wine.  It was made in a very Old World style with tropical fruit, lemon, vanilla and oak.
  • Nottage Hill Pinot Noir 2012 – black cherry, mushroom funkiness, vanilla and herbs.  Quite the bargain at under $10.

  • Nottage Hill Shiraz 2011 – dark berry, spice, chocolate, licorice and herbs.
  • William Hardy Shiraz 2011 – blueberry, plum, blackberry, chocolate and earthiness.

We then moved to the Tintara wines from McLaren Value, which was established in 1861.  These wines were from 2010, what has been referred to by many as a stellar year for Australian wine.  After trying the 2010 Tintara Cabernet Sauvignon and the Shiraz, seductive and lush are the words that came to mind – especially for the $20 price tag.

The grand finale was the Winemakers Rare Release Shiraz 2008, which was made from the best grapes of three wineries.  This was incredible with notes of chocolate, spice, pepper, thin mint Girl Scout cookies (trust me), blackberry, mocha and vanilla.  It had miles of depth, power and complexity.


Angove Family Winemakers: 127 Years of Family, Legacy and Australian Heritage

I heard from my PR contacts at Trinchero Family Estates, who have been working in partnership with Angove Family Winemakers, that Tim Boydell, their senior vice president, was making a visit to Dallas and had a great story to tell me about their history and their wines.

Tim Boydell was brought on several years ago to help the winery manage change.  That’s tough at a winery that has been part of the family business for 127 years and is currently on its fifth generation, but with Australia’s renewed focus on quality wines, biodynamic processes and expanding its reputation for world-class wine, the family knew it needed to invest to grow.  Tim chuckles at the time he provided John Angove, the Chairman, with his strategic plan for the winery which involved writing a check “with many zeros.”

First, a bit of history about the Winery’s Founder William T. Angove, MD, who came from Cornwall, England to Adelaide in 1886.  Like most doctors of his time, wine was used for medicinal purposes and he developed a vineyard.  Like many, his hobby became his passion and he started making wine full time after he closed his practice a year later.

Today Angove is a major player in Australia.  It provides about 1 million cases of wines per year, which includes 14 different labels.  It is the eighth largest Australian winery and exports half of its production to more than 40 countries.  The Angove shield depicts the family interests of mining and winemaking.

 

We tried a number of wines that showcased why Australian wines have been scored so highly over the last year or two.  Here was the line-up:

  • 2010 Angove Warboys Vineyard Range – an elegant mix of licorice, berry and spice with lots of fruit and finesse
  • 2010 The Medhyk – this is the Angove’s approach to a flagship wine.  Lots of chocolate, spice, black fruit and terrior.  I loved this wine.
  • 2008 Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Selection — all fruit up front.  Meat in a glass, screams for food, blackberry, cassis, mocha and oak.
  • 2012 Dr Angove “The Recipe” – red blend that was made specifically for the US market that was based on the wines he used to make in England.  Very juicy with mocha and cedar.
  • 2012 Nine Vines Moscato – oldest grapes in Australia which result in a wonderful dessert wine with hints of orange blossom, honeysuckle and apricot.

Unfortunately because the Four Seasons appeared to have no understanding of Friday Dallas traffic from Las Colinas to the West Village, we had to cut our visit short.  But, based on the Australian hospitality and the quality of the wines that I tried that day, I was glad to find out Texas is the number one US market for Angove Wines.  I look forward to watching what comes from Angove Family Winemakers.

 


Celebrity Wines: The Good, the Bad and the Funny

Christy Lemire at the Oscars

Check out my column today in Culture Map Dallas where I interviewed Associated Press Movie Critic Christy Lemire to find out what she thought the persona of the wines would be based on the celebrity.  Then Jasper Russo, who runs the fine wine program for Sigel’s, and I tried the wines.


Wine Club Reunited: Spanish Heavy Hitters, White Flights, Napa Finds and Cajun Cuisine

Picture a group of very driven, professional folks that have a passion for wine, like to have fun, enjoy off the beaten path wines and make sure to not take ourselves too seriously.  The last part a total 180 from what you would expect a somewhat serious wine club to look like especially from a group representing a snapshot of corporate America.

We tried taking ourselves too seriously in the beginning where we voted members in, selected favorite wines and then tried to store them for the right period of time before opening and officially voting on our favorites. That all changed one fateful night of tasting Turley Zinfandels where we threw all decorum out the window and had an amazing time.  There may or may not be a YouTube video that you will never find capturing our version of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.”  Throughout the years, we changed the goal of the club to enjoying wines we haven’t had before while putting the emphasis on fun.  And, you know, I ended up learning and retaining a lot more knowledge.

As most groups go, life got in the way for awhile and we had not met in a few months.  When Peter and Jen revived the group, I was excited. I walked in with my Spiegelau glasses and no idea of what surprises were in store.

It turns out we were having a Mardi Gras theme with homemade Cajun food.  Our hosts wanted to do a Spanish red theme, but knew that it wouldn’t match the food, so another theme was added to go with the dinner.  We started with wines that would go well with spicy food.  Our first line-up included the following:

 

  • Chateau Bonnet Entre-Deux-Mers Blanc 2011 – a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle with grapefruit, minerality and a little hint of sweetness.  Great wine under $10.
  • Chateau Guibon  2011 – lots of pear and melon with a nice balance from the blend of Semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle.  This wine is led by the Semillon and is more muted than the first.  Another nice white under $10.
  • Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 09 – lots of citrus with lime, grapefruit and green apple.  Great minerality and nice finish. Also in the $10 range and a great bargain.
  • Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 09 – lots of grapefruit, exotic fruit and grassy notes. 
  • Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 07 – I am a big fan of Merry Edwards wines – especially the Sauvignon Blancs and Pinots – this had the same minerality and citrus notes, but unfortunately had lost some its essence with time.

 

Then it was truly showtime – a line-up of highly rated Spanish reds, all from the highly-rated 2004, of which I have not had the opportunity to try.  Our line-up was:

  • Bodegas y Vinedos Alion Ribera del Duero 04 – inky black with blackberry, chocolate, spice and some floral notes.  Incredibly rich and yummy.
  • Baron de Magana 04 – priced under $20, this wine had notes of oak, blackberry, current and graphite. Very earthy.
  • Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio 04 – it took some time in the glass for me to appreciate this big wine.  I tasted mocha, cardamom, cinnamon and something that was almost port-like.
  • Vall Llach Priorat 04 – lots of blackberry, herbal notes, chocolate, coffee, peanut brittle, vanilla, minerality and spice.  I really liked this wine and it changed in the glass through the course of the evening.
  • Numanthia ‘Termanthia’, Toro, Spain 04 – this was an incredible wine by one of the best Spanish wine makers out there.  It was complex with black and red fruits, eucalyptus and as smooth as silk.  My absolute favorite of the evening.
  • Dominio Pingus Ribera del Duero Flor de Pingus 04 – definitely needed more decanting time, but had notes of cherry, chocolate, oak, smoke, sage, licorice and coffee. 

 

And if we hadn’t tasted enough great wines, one of our participants had just returned from a trip to Napa, so out came the Guilliams Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 07 and Seavey Cabernet 09.  And that was a fabulous end to our evening and a foggy start to a Sunday morning.


How Much Wine Is Enough: The Art of Stocking the Bar for a Party

We were co-hosting a party of the first grade parents at my daughter’s school and expected about 70 people.  I was stumped by the age old question — if you are throwing a party, how much wine do you buy?  The general consensus at least on the web is about half a bottle per person.  Experts say to plan for a 3:1 ratio of red to white. If a normal 750 ml bottle of wine contains 25.361 oz. and a normal glass of wine is usually 4-6  oz., I needed to plan about 4 – 6 glasses per bottle.  So 70 wine drinking people would consume about 35 bottles.  Or not.

Also, my husband insisted on having a bourbon, vodka, scotch, beer and other bar selections.  In retrospect, walking in with almost three and a half cases of wine alone, was a big overkill.  So, if you are having a cocktail hour reception that goes for 2-3 hours, unless you expect a group of college kids on a bender, I’d recommend cutting that in half.

It is my mantra to not serve safe wine choices and push people out of their comfort zone.  I did that by purchasing mostly European and Australian wines with the exception of my value Cabernet, 2010 Blackburn Cabernet, which I feel in love with at Russo’s Coal Fired Italian Kitchen during my “can you get a decent glass of wine at a chain” quest. It is priced between $10-$13 a bottle and I believe it rivals $25 cabernets.

Of the 6 wines served, we had one white and one red group favorite:

  • 2010 Vacqueyras Jean-Marie Arnoux, which is 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre, and is a Rhone priced under $16.
  • 2011 Burgans Albarino Rias Baixas, fruity, dry and crisp.  We picked this up for about $11.

The good news is that we had enough leftover wine to have yet another party and I found some more great wines perfect for a Tuesday.


The Label Project: A Gentle Reminder to Look on the Inside

It had a curious beginning.  It came as an anonymous email from the Brand Action asking a select group of global bloggers to participate in The Label Project.  This was shortly followed by the arrival of a lone book, The Catcher in the Rye, with a tongue in cheek note that we were about to embark upon a journey where we needed to focus beyond the label and uncover the true character of what was in the bottle.

Then the wine showed up – three individual boxes in total – a series of region and varietal clues for each wine along with aromatizers of scents that would help us navigate.  I took out The World Atlas of Wine (the wine bible) and went to town.  The wine clues were as follows:

Wine One:

This wine came with the following clues about its origins.

Region clues:

  • It lies between two other major and much older wine regions
  • Its macroclimate is cool but within the region there are many varied topographies, soils and mesoclimates
  • It is famous for its fruit produce including cherries, pears and apples

Varietal Clues:

  • Hints of honeydew melon aromas
  • A palate of lemon pith
  • Underlying creamy texture

This one threw me off a bit.  I got the honeydew and melon and was a little overwhelmed by the lemon scent (it reminded me of lemon pledge on the nose). 

Wine Two:

Regional clues:

  • Altitude of the region ranges from around 250-400 metres (approx 800-1,300 feet) above sea level
  • In general, winters are cool and wet but summer days are warm, dry and sunny here
  • It is very popular with wine tourists

Varietal clues:

  • Spicy aroma of rich fruit cake
  • Rich berry flavours with a hint of dark chocolate
  • Velvety texture

I liked this wine.  It was spicy and I got the rich fruit cake hint.  I was torn on the varietal – I tasted elements of a Shiraz but wondered if it was a blend. 

Wine Three:

Region Clues:

  • The terrain is completely flat
  • Its subsoil is an ancient marine bed
  • It has a maritime influenced climate

Varietal tasting notes:

  • Leafy aromas with a hint of mint
  • Ripe cassis flavours
  • A firm structure with good persistence on the palate

So then the unveiling which proved that my wine bible came in handy for region guessing but my palate was off on the varietals and a gentle reminder to trust my initial judgments.  Again, showing that blind tasting is a humbling experience. 

My guesses were a Verdelho from Hunter Valley OR a Semillon/Chardonnay blend.  Both were totally wrong as it was an Adelaide Hills Chardonnay.

The second wine I guessed correctly – a shiraz from Barossa.

With the final wine I was correct with the region – Coonawarra – but the varietal was wrong.  It was a cabernet sauvignon, which was my first guess, but I talked myself into thinking it was a zinger and guessed shiraz.

And, finally, who hosted this brilliant and well-funded promotion.  The Label Project wines were revealed to come from Jacobs Creek Reserve.  If you want to know more, click here to watch the finale video to find out more about these wine regions.


Moet Hennessy Portfolio: Taking Dallas By Storm

I recently attended a trade event at the Mansion on Turtle Creek hosted by Sigel’s featuring the Moet Hennessy portfolio available in Texas.  When I received the invitation, a few things caught my eye.  First, Manuel Louzado from Numanthia was on the list and I love, love, love his wines.  Second, Cloudy Bay winemaker, Sarah Burton, who recently hosted ##nzwineday, was also in attendance so I wanted to talk to her about that event and her experience.

It was a star-studded winemakers line-up featuring Cape Mentelle, Chateau de Sancerre, Chandon, Numanthia, Lapostolle, Newton, Cheval des Andes, Cloudy Bay and Terrazas de los Andes.  Most of the vineyards had their wine makers in attendance.  I was in heaven.

I tried a number of wines that day, but I thought I’d give you some of the highlights that I really enjoyed.  You can find all of these at Sigel’s if you want to “taste along.”

Moet Hennesey Cloudy Bay Sarah

Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 07 – If you read my recent column about my New Zealand wine experience, you’ll note that I was very impressed with the Pinot Noirs.  This one continued that trend for me.  It was spicy with cherry notes and an earthiness that made me want more. 

Moet Hennesey Cape Mentelle

Cape Mentelle – I really enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend from this Australian winery, but the 04 Cabernet stood out to me.  It showed very well with notes of blackberry, tobacco and a nice balance.

Moet Hennesey Chandon

Chandon – What can I say?  I’m a sparkling girl and the Etoile Brut was elegant with notes of hazelnut, apple and citrus.  I had a great conversation with winemaker, Tom Tiburzi, and he told me about how this blend changes yearly based on what he feels will work the best from the grapes as opposed to his other more value-oriented sparkling that must stay true to what consumers expect.  I also tried the Extra Dry Muscat Cannali, which is definitely the perfect off dry sparkling wine with Asian food.

Moet Hennesey Chat de Sancerre

Chateau de Sancerre had two wonderful whites.  I first became a fan of this after Scott Barber from the Commissary served it at an event.  I tried the Chateau de Sancerre white, which had floral and citrus, but with the minerality that I like in a Sancerre wine.  Then I tried the Chateau de Sancerre Cuvee du Connetable.  Wow – complex, while intense, creamy, almost buttery with mineral notes and vanilla.  Bravo!

Moet Hennesey Lapostelle Line Up

Lapostolle – I have a soft place in my heart for them because they have a very drinkable and affordable Sauvignon Blanc that becomes my wine of choice when we go to Punta Mita.  However, I had never ventured out of their value wine category.  I really enjoyed three of their wines.  The first was the Borobo, a blend of five different French varietals, originally put together due to a bet between two winemakers to see if a blend could be made from two vineyards.  The winemaker upped the ante and blended three.  Trust me – he could and it’s good.  The second one is Canto de Apalta, a fabulous Bordeaux blend that will debut in May and retail for $19.  This has been described as the “baby Apalta,” one of the top cuvees and rated #1 by The Wine Spectator in 2008.  You should discover this when it launches and quickly.  It is a fabulous deal.  The final wine was the los Apalta, the flagship wine I described before.  Lots of blackberry, cherry, spiciness and a velvet finish.    

Moet Hennesey newton

Newton Vineyards – Winemaker Chris Millard was representing this popular Spring Mountain winery.  If you are a chardonnay fan, you should try the 09 unfiltered chardonnay deemed as a “non-Chardonnay drinkers” Chardonnay.  Lots of almond and a very nice wine either with food or without.  Then we jumped to the 08 Puzzle, a red blend that changes yearly-  hence the name.  This was a wine with finesse, elegance, silkiness, cherry, licorice, vanilla, chocolate and mocha. 

Moet Hennesey Terrazas

Terrazas de los Andes – I had the chance during a wine event in 2011 to try the value and mid-range wines, so I immediately asked for the Afincado Malbec.  I tasted vanilla, blackberries, oak and some floral notes.

Cheval des Andes – Would love to have tasted the fruits from the partnership of Terrazas de los Andes and well-known Chateau Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux, but alas, they had no more wine. Next.

Moet Hennesey Numanthia

Finally, Numanthia and Manuel Louzada.  I had the chance to talk to Manuel about a wine group that I belong to and the second and third-growth tastings that we did of iconic wines.  His wines were fabulous in every tier.  I loved his descriptions of the three wines.  He talked about the Numanthia Termes as being geared to capture the vibrancy and the loveliness of the fruit with “newbie” vines between 30-50 years old.  The 08 Numanthia, featuring vines between 60-100 years old, is built to deliver massive power and elegance.  Louzada compared this to the body of an athlete with “beautiful lines outside, massive character inside.”  It’s an elegant wine and wonderful.  But then we moved to the 07 Termanthia.  He described it as one of the few vineyards where “all the stars aligned.” I admit it – I had to stop him to “take a moment” to savor this wine.  It’s velvet, it’s silky, and it is dark.  I smelled truffles, mocha, chocolate, black fruit and this was just of a bottle not decanted for long.  Also, I was fascinated with the story of the vines being compared to the city of Numanthia that survived a 20-year siege only to come under attack again.  The city decided it would not be taken and essentially they burned it with everyone inside.  It’s called the Numanthia resistance.   These vines have survived their own resistance – through pholoxia, through extreme temperatures and through hard growing conditions.  Viva de Numanthia and long live these grapes!


Brown Bagging: A Blind Tasting Experience

 Brown Bag Group

Before the holidays, a group of Dallas-based wine folks gathered together for our first brown bag tasting event.  We tried ten wines in an informal format at Campania Pizza in Uptown, who was generous enough to waive the corkage fee. 

The parameters were wide open – a red wine in the neighborhood of $20-25 a bottle.  I was really intrigued to see what the group would bring as it was a varied group of wine lovers – some formally trained and some self taught – all interested in continuing their journey with wine. 

Brown Bag Shots

Here was the line-up and my reactions:

  • Cooper L’inizio – 2008 (Washington).  After hosting Neal Cooper on his first Dallas visit last year and being impressed with Washington State wine at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2010, I thought I’d bring something that the rest of the tasters couldn’t get in Texas.  Note that I did break the rules a bit and bring a bottle that is now estimated to sell around $40 in very limited quantities.  Definitely in my top three wines.
  • Inwood Estates 2008 Cornelius (Texas) I admit it – I continue to struggle with the price point and payoff of this wine.  @jftxwine brought it as the zinger of the night and I tasted concrete and something sweet that didn’t work for me especially at $40.
  • Petalos Bierzo 09 (Spain).  I tasted blueberry, spice and a hint of floral, which may have been lavender.
  • La Vierge,” Cahors 07 (France), smoky, dark cherry, flinty, meaty and earthy.  This wine is referred to as the “French Malbec”
  • Mollydooker The Boxer (Australia) – After having the ability to spend some time with Sparky and Mum late last year, talking about these guys is like talking about family.  I tasted big berry, licorice, oak and cedar.
  • Bodini Malbec – 2010 (Argentina).  Berry, meaty, licorice abound in this juicy Malbec.
  • Toasted Head Cabernet Sauvignon 09 (California).  Cherry, cassis, coffee and some spice.
  • Haven’s Meritage 09 Rutherford (California).  Blueberries, vanilla, spice and a big juicy red.  Definitely in my top three wines.
  • Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 09 (France).  Raspberry, cardamom, smoky with a little pepper.  On my top three list.
  • Pagos del Moncejo Garnacha 08 (Spain).  Cedar, spice, vanilla and cherry.

Brown Bag Havens

We had a great time, ate some really good pizza and enjoyed diverse wines from around the world.  Our next brown bag tasting is in early February and we’ll taste Pinot Noirs.  I just happen to have another surprise in store.


Mollydooker: The Story Behind the Story

When I received the invitation to attend a Mollydooker tasting, blending and dinner exercise with Sparky Marquis, I was a little star-struck.  As a marketing person by day, I have long admired the winery’s efforts to connect with other “Mollydookers”, or left-handed people, and build a brand that was unique, fun and appealing.  Krissy Miller, marketing guru at Mollydooker, and I have communicated for a long-time on Twitter and I was excited to meet the voice behind the social media effort for the wine label, so I asked her to meet aside from the tasting.  We made a plan for lunch and the request was Mexican food.  I offered to pick her up and she told me there’d be some others folks attending and they’d meet me at Gloria’s.  Naively, I didn’t ask who else would be coming and assumed it would be a larger team of PR and marketing folks from Mollydooker and maybe a few folks from the Texas distributor. 

DSC00097

I was wrong.  When I arrived at the restaurant I noticed a team of three people in branded Mollydooker shirts bearing bottles of their top labels.  As I got closer, I realized that aside from Krissy, none other than Sparky Marquis, co-owner and winemaker (along with his wife Sarah) and his mum, Janet were joining us.   I was immediately greeted with a left-handed shake by the team. 

We began our lunch by tasting the 2010 Enchanted Path, Carnival of Love and the Velvet Glove.  I am a huge fan of the Velvet Glove which is harder to find since a forklift dropped a crate of it containing 462 cases in July of this year.  Mollydooker lost one third of its inventory — almost all of its U.S. allocation — of this almost $200 a bottle wine.  But instead of “crying over spilled wine” and the profits lost, they approached it as an opportunity and five days later called the local TV stations and newspaper to see if anyone had an interest in the $1 million loss of wine.  The story immediately went global.  In a note of irony and a bit of luck, the insurance company had upgraded Mollydooker’s insurance status six days prior to the accident because of the care they took in storing their wine in three separate tracks vs. one.  And judging from the comments Sparky made during the lunch, I think it may become harder to obtain the remaining Velvet Glove inventory as Sparky Marquis himself has expressed a commitment to drink as much of this wine as he can.  

Sparky, who is known for his time at Fox Creek, Henry’s Drive, Parson’s Flat and Marquis Phillips, began to tell me their story with fun interjections from Janet.  I had assumed Mollydooker was backed with big marketing dollars and lots of money however the true story is that Mollydooker was almost a story of failure, but that changed due to the perseverance of just four people and a miracle or three thrown into the mix.

Mollydooker was founded with an investment of $1,000 in 2005.  In March of 2006, Sparky and Sarah realized money was running low and let their grape growers know they could only afford to pay $200 a ton for grapes.  They encouraged their suppliers to sell to someone who could afford to pay but every last grape grower who could afford to stay did.  As Janet put it, “they had more faith in us than we had in ourselves.”

They were nearing the wine blending and bottling stage and received a call from their financial and legal advisors requesting a meeting.  Mollydooker was down to its last $17 and the advisors were worried they would be in default based upon the payments still due.  Because Sparky and Sarah believed in paying their invoices on time they realized they had about two weeks for a miracle.  A couple of days late that miracle arrived.  A gentleman, who  Sparky had impressed at a local networking luncheon a few weeks prior,  came to the winery and asked him if there was anything that he needed.  Sparky proudly said everything was fine.  The businessman asked the question again and said he was leaving for China for a month and wanted to make sure Mollydooker was around when he returned.  At that point, Sparky broke down and told him the truth. Without asking for a business plan, the businessman asked what Mollydooker needed to survive the month.  A check was written on the spot for $300K.  The blending continued during the month and the label was named a few days later after a brainstorm between Sparky, Sarah, mum and his father.   

Sparky and Sarah knew they would run out of money again soon, so they tried to think about the one avenue where they could get out publicity about their wines in the biggest way.  Enter Robert Parker.  Sarah was sure that Robert was also “a Mollydooker” (or left hander) from a prior meeting.  The team analyzed several photos, but couldn’t be sure.   Robert usually doesn’t take random appointments and is booked for months ahead so after much debate they sent him an overnight package of wine on a wing and a prayer.  Surprisingly, Parker bit and Sarah was right about him actually being left-handed.  He gave them two dates in a two month period to come visit him.  They chose the first one on June 10 as they knew they’d run out of cash by the second.  Maxing out their credit cards, they booked two flights to Baltimore.  Upon arriving in the States and knowing this was their last shot, they were disheartened to hear that Parker had suffered an injury, was hospitalized and might not be able to make the tasting.  But miracles happened again and Parker rallied.  He literally hobbled to the Oregon Grill on that date refusing to take his pain medicine, so he could properly taste the wine.

He invited them to stay for lunch after the tasting and suggested that the Mollydooker Violinist would be perfect with soft shell crab.  He ordered some and Sarah immediately ate it like you would eat traditional crab. Parker first stared, asked her what she was doing and then taught her the etiquette of eating soft shell crab.  At the end of the lunch he made an offhand comment that he’d try, but couldn’t guarantee, to fit them in his Best Value Wine Guide as it had been delayed for ten days at the printers.

Sparky and Sarah had no idea had no idea what the Best Value Wine Issue even was or how quickly their lives would change.  On July 1, they received a phone call at 3 a.m.  The Mollydooker Boxer was rated the best value wine in the world under $20.  The Mollydooker Two Left Feet, named in honor of Sparky’s inability to dance, was named second best value.  The Mollydooker Maitre’ D was named fourth best value and the Violinist was named the top white.  The winery sold out of its existing inventory in America in 19 days.  But they still had no money, only purchase orders, and had to convince the bank to lend them the money to get the shipments to their customers.  With this success, they immediately paid back the angel investor, growers, and creditors and gave the staff bonuses and raises.

A little while later, Parker reviewed Mollydooker’s two new wines, The Carnival of Love and Enchanted Path, and gave them 99 and 96 point reviews.  A wine that no one had ever tasted sold out in five days and by September they were cash flow positive.  When a year later a vineyard that met their requirements came up for sale, they jumped at the chance and acquired the label’s first real asset and that became the home of Mollydooker.

Is it a charmed life, miracles or luck?  I’ve heard that you make your own luck and I am a big believer in karma.  When hard working, talented, generous, hospitable, charitable and kind people set out on a path — especially with an infectious enthusiasm — I’d like to think the world wants them to succeed.  When I asked about their success, Sparky answered that he doesn’t think about things that way, the family is just having the time of their lives and doing what they love.  The simple premise behind making Mollydooker wines is to take the time to do things right and the results will follow.  Sparky wants the wines to taste two times more expensive than the list price to give his customers a value and make the wines accessible.  And, the founders believe in miracles and know those miracles became the pathway to their success.

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I learned much about the family during my conversations and thought it would be fun to talk about the top things you don’t know about Sparky, Mum and Mollydooker:

  • Never ever try to pay for lunch for Sparky.  During a vacation in the early years of their marriage, Sarah and Sparky took a vacation they could not afford while they were working in Tasmania.  Staying in the wood cutters bungalow and driving their rusted Ford Falcon, they splurged and went to a nice dinner with no alcohol because it was too expensive.  There, they met two couples that bought them a glass of port.  Serendipitously, they kept running into the same couples who asked them to lunch.  At this point they were staying in a youth hostel with cold showers.  When Sparky finally admitted to one of the couples that they couldn’t afford to join them, the man said, “I built my business so I can take people to lunch and pay for it.”  That lesson rang true and became part of Sparky’s creed.   
  • Go-karting is very important and a family enterprise.  Sparky, his daughter and his son all hold titles for their age groups.  Holly, his daughter, holds the 12-year-old record.  Luke, his son, who is 15, has two state titles, is the Australia junior champion and was recently offered one of four professional go-kart racing positions in the country.  Sparky holds the #2 over 40 position and the #2 20-year-old position in the state (don’t ask).  Another fun fact is that Sparky was en route to the track to race the day the broken container news went global.  What usually is a one-hour drive took four because he kept pulling over to do media interviews.
  • The Velvet Glove was the last wine from Mollydooker to have a cork.  As of 2010, the new releases are all screw tops.
  • Each year mum finds a favorite wine and if you are lucky enough to tour with her, she draws the wine from her jug as a part of your tour.  The Gigglepot Cabernet was last year’s favorite and the inventory of 240 cases was severely depleted as they bottled only 142 cases.  Go mum!
  • There is an open invitation every Monday for wine enthusiasts to have lunch with the family.  Four hours is the minimum that you’ll taste, and some folks have stayed for ten.  Mum suggested the best time to see the harvest and all of the activity is March or April.
  • The Mollydooker shake became a marketing tool after a trip to Hawaii.  The number one wine writer in the state was at the same restaurant and watched Sparky shake the bottles.  Her comment to her dining companion was that man knows nothing about wine.  Later, she was introduced and commented, “I hope you aren’t Sparky Marquis”.  The Mollydooker shake was born on the spot.
  • I never have met anyone that could handle spicy food and fresh jalapenos the way that I can.  I have met my match in Sparky.
  • Ninety percent of the wine that Mollydooker makes comes to America and this is the only country where they hold dinners to show appreciation. 



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