Penfolds, Yellow Tail, Henschke, Two Hands and Mollydooker are among the biggest Australian wine brands in the US - with Mollydooker much better known to Americans than Australians. That is by design.
Mollydooker has its own importing company in the US and two permanent staff members as well as owner and CEO Sarah Marquis' son Luke, who heads up the winery’s US distribution.
About 70% of its US distribution is through retail outlets including Costco and Trader Joe’s while the remainder is to restaurants and other on-premise customers. Its wines are sold in 48 states with California and Texas the biggest buyers.
Sarah Marquis (above) said the recent surge of online sales in the US had been a “saving grace” and pointed to further opportunities to grow direct-to-consumer sales in the future.
She said the import business was the key to Mollydooker’s long run of success in the US as it allowed the company to increase its margins and maintain control of its wine for longer.
“A lot of Australian wineries were in the US and then when the GFC hit and the exchange rate was bad many pulled out because they weren’t making any money but we stayed in there because we owned the import business, which allowed us to make a little bit more margin than most other wineries and that means our product also ends up at a really good price point.
“When the exchange rate was at $1.10 in 2011 and 2012 that did hurt us but we stayed in the market along with only a few others such as Penfolds, Yellow Tail, Henschke and Two Hands and right now with the exchange rate we’re making almost double.”
The name Mollydooker is an old Australian slang word for left-hander, or southpaw, and the wines are made to appeal to US consumers: with plenty of flavour and sweetness.
“When Covid-19 hit, the US just stopped ordering and our sales slumped 60% there last month - but the increase in online sales [domestically] has helped,” Marquis said
“We’ve still got the wine in bottle and we can still sell it once we get through Covid, so I’m not too worried – it’s not like it’s perishable and we’ve got to sell it now."
Back home, Mollydooker has 50 staff and Marquis is thinking about how to reinvent the cellar door experience with a possible re-opening next month.
“I like the time to reflect at the moment and reinvent the business and a lot of people should be doing it because things will change and we just need to be flexible," she said.
“I’m really looking at the business including the profit and loss and the operating costs of the cellar door and I want to re-open with a new offering that’s not just a free-for-all tasting.
“We want to do proper cellar door packages from a full velvet experience including a winery tour and private tasting through to a fun $10 tasting where you taste nine wines and get to keep your glass.
“Maybe next month if we do open we might do it by appointment only on the weekends so we will limit our numbers and keep it safe and then when everything goes back to normal we’ll offer a couple of different experiences.”
Mollydooker Wines was started by Marquis and her former husband Sparky in 2005.
The company produced 90,000 cases in 2019 and now sells about 50% in the US, 25% in Australia and 25% in other countries including South Korea, Denmark, Germany and Canada.
About 98% of Mollydooker’s wine is red with shiraz and shiraz blends making up about 80% of production.
Dry conditions and a cool spring led to a much smaller than average vintage across South Australia this year with Mollydooker on track to produce just 55,000 cases from the 2020 crop.
About a third of the winery’s grapes are estate grown while the remainder are sourced from McLaren Vale and nearby Langhorne Creek.
# Copy provided by The Lead.