I felt like I was headed to a circus, or a baseball game - Spike Maynard was hosting Sparky Marquis. On Wednesday, March 14th, the owner and genius behind Mollydooker Wines of McLaren Vale, Australia, was in Calgary. Sparky and his wife Sarah have an illustrious and decorated history, taking them from Fox Creek through Henry's Drive, Parson's Flat, Shirvington and Marquis Philips before establishing Mollydooker. The growing list of accolades is longer than some restaurant wine lists. The wines are big, the packaging whimsical, the story enchanting, the man entirely entertaining and clearly brilliant.

Mollydooker is Australian slang for left-hander, or southpaw in our vernacular. Sparky sprinkled left-handed statistics, offered humourous advice on left-handed etiquette, even told us how to spot one at a party. He was proud of the fact that he, his wife Sarah, and 50% of the Mollydooker team were mollydookers. He shared parts of his journey from childhood through other career paths to wine making school, and from there through his somewhat backward yet apparently effective vineyard management philosophy and seemingly effortless string of successes.

The first line of the two-tiered series celebrates the mollydooker with cartoon labels that illustrate lefties in various careers and pastimes: violinists, boxers, dancers, waiters. The second tier, or the Love series, celebrates the Marquis family and its history, with names like The Blue Eyed Boy (son), the Gigglepot (daughter), the Enchanted Path (success), and the Carnival of Love (your imagination). The label orientation speaks to Sarah's aesthetic acuity and Sparky's extensive research. Learning that 25% of people will purchase a wine they have picked up, and 75% will purchase a wine they hold in two hands, he designed labels that require a consumer to rotate the bottle on both the horizontal and vertical access to read.
He ended with the Velvet Glove, their top wine, at a regular retail of $240.00, and that typically earns 97-99 Points from Robert Parker. Here is where things get interesting.

Common wisdom holds that the best wines come from old, dry-grown, low-yielding vineyards. Sparky's thesis explored the why's of this belief, which had to do with the timing of water supply. He theorized that one could recreate the effects of an
old, dry-grown, low-yielding vineyard by irrigating younger vineyards and producing moderate yields. I will admit that his theory as put into practice is remarkable as the concentration of his wines speaks to his success.

Sparky's theory of wine quality is founded entirely on what he calls 'Fruit Weight'. Fruit Weight is a percentage measurement of the silky, soft, fruity flavours and textures of a wine on one's tongue. If you experience the silky, soft, fruity sensation 70% of the way back, it is of excellent quality and comes from the Mollydooker series. If it goes back 80 - 85%, it is of outstanding quality and is from the Love series.

In so far as the style is designed to appeal to a certain drinker (as all wine styles are), his execution of well-made, intense and expressive wines cannot be faulted. Of his Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varietal wines and blends, only one has received a score below 90 points from Robert Parker in the last five years (2009 Maitre D' 88Pts). However the measuring tool is somewhat oversimplified. In rating wine-quality, the criteria of concentration and intensity of fruit flavour are only part of the picture.

Other aspects include complexity - the number of different aromas and flavours one can perceive, such as minerals, earth, herbs or flowers. Structure - the acid/tannin/alcohol/extract interplay that in varying ratios makes wines taste drier, earthier, more lively, or in this case, heavier (he did address structure, but identified it as the less pleasant sensation after the silky fruit had tailed off). Structure also contributes to diversity, as more structured wines typically complement food. And structure creates the classic quality measure of longevity -
how a wine will age and continue to improve and evolve (though I'm sure I will face vehement arguments that this is outdated if not downright misguided thinking). Length of flavour in the temporal versus physical realm is also a classic measure of quality.

I suppose it all comes back to purpose and individual preference.
Sparky's goal is to make the ripest, biggest, silkiest, softest wines he can, and no doubt has done so. Admirably, for all of their size and weight, they do not come off boozy. If you are a fan of icing without the cake, or jam without the toast, then these are high-quality, impressive wines indeed. In my experience, old, dry grown, low yielding vineyards can also contribute complexity, minerality and structure that persists throughout the taste experience rather than catching up at the end.

The most charming thing about Sparky and his pursuit is his whimsical and humourous insistence on and attention to backwardness. He celebrates the lower-percentage population of left-handers. He applies this thinking creatively to science. He flouts the blind worship of conventional wisdom and has been enormously successful in doing so. If he can create his own cultural definition of quality and gather supporters, then he has accomplished what any artist sets out to do. And the critic agrees.

-Matt Browman


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  • 4/4/2012 12:13 PM Krissy Miller wrote:
    Hey Matt,
    WOW! That's all I can say after reading your post. What an amazing, well-written piece. You really captured the essence of Mollydooker perfectly. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    Krissy Miller
    Marketing Coordinator
    Mollydooker Wines
    Reply to this
    1. 4/4/2012 1:21 PM Highlander Wine Team wrote:
      Glad you enjoyed it Krissy - and thanks for the wines!!!

      Reply to this
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