When Shake found out that the 2013 Kapalua Wine & Food Festival would feature a wine dinner with Sarah and Sparky Marquis of Mollydooker Wines, he was the first to sign up. Literally.

You see, Mollydooker is one of his absolute favorite wineries, and this would be their first-ever visit to the Kapalua festival. Friends of ours had introduced us to the Mollydooker wines and there’s nary a dinner get-together with them that doesn’t involve at least one bottle from this Australian producer.

Bottles & bottles of Mollydooker Carnival of Love at the opening Grand Tasting event. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Mollydooker’s packaging is absolutely stunning and the label art is extremely memorable, which is helpful for folks like me who don’t drink wine too often and need some extra help remembering what it was they drank “that last time” that was so enjoyable. (And even more clever are the little pull tickets on the labels which carry a scannable QR code—they detach from the label easily so you can tuck it away for future reference. So smart!)

A box of Boxers! © 2013 Sugar + Shake

At the Festival’s Welcome Reception (invite-only; if you buy the 4-day pass, it includes this event), as things were tapering down, Shake wandered over to the other end of the Merriman’s Kapalua lanai where the reds were being served. (It was so hot and sunny; we were enjoying whites and bubbles.) He came back, and I have honestly never seen him so excited to meet people before.

“Hon, hon, THIS is Sarah and Sparky!!!!” (Wide-eyed fan-boy grin on face.) “MOLLYDOOKER!!”

So cute. And Sarah and Sparky were just amazing—incredibly friendly, gracious, sweet people.

With Mollydooker owner/founder Sarah Marquis. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

We semi-stalked them over the next several days of the festival, which they claimed they didn’t mind at all. In fact, they were kind enough to invite us to share a bottle of their top-of-the line offering, Velvet Glove, after the Grand Tasting event. This was the first time we’d tried this wine, and I can’t think of a better, more memorable first-taste experience than to have the winemakers pour a glass for you personally, while you hang out at a posh resort. We felt very lucky. We even asked them to autograph the bottle so we could keep it as a souvenir!

We were incredibly honored to have Sparky Marquis of Mollydooker pour us our very first glasses of Velvet Glove, MollyDooker’s top-of-the-line offering. © 2013 Sugar + Shake Our souvenir of the weekend: the empty bottle of Velvet Glove we shared with Sarah & Sparky. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Back to that Winemaker Dinner… On the Saturday night of the Festival weekend, various restaurants in the Kapalua Resort area host dinners featuring pairings from a single winemaker. The Mollydooker dinner was held on the patio at Sansei Restaurant, which was just wonderful—the restaurant decorated with lanterns and our steaks were grilled on the spot right there.

Be sure to check out the gallery to see the rest of what we ate. Each course (except dessert) was paired with a Mollydooker offering

Mollydooker Kapalua Wine & Food Festival 2013 Winemaker Dinner with Sarah & Sparky Marquis at Sansei Kapalua. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Bresaola Carpaccio paired with the 2011 Mollydooker Shiraz “The Boxer.” © 2013 Sugar + Shake Second Course: Steamed Manila Clams — Housemade tagliatelle, Ho Farms grape tomatoes, house-smoked chorizo, braised hearty greens, arugula pesto. Paired with Mollydooker 2011 Verdelho “The Violinist.” © 2013 Sugar + Shake

The dinner set up was wonderfully intimate—just two long tables of wine lovers and fantastic food from Sansei’s chef Micah Honma, served family style. Sarah and Sparky even sat and dined with us and chatted with the guests. (By the way, if you’re thinking of going to the Festival and want to attend a Winemaker Dinner, make your reservation as soon as possible if you see a winemaker you love—every seat at our dinner was taken, and we heard the same was true at all the other dinners.)

After dinner, Sparky gave a presentation about Mollydooker — their background, how they grow the wines and his and Sarah’s philosophy of wanting to create wines that people could enjoy. (Take a moment to read their story at the Mollydooker site—it’s heartwarming.) You can really tell that the Marquises love what they do and are genuinely happy to hear that people like their products. Mollydooker isn’t a fussy winery; they are fun and easy to get along with—like their wines.

Before Sparky started his talk, though, Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya came by to introduce him. (This is kinda a big deal because Chuck’s one of the grand poobahs of the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, helping to keep it going and bring in quality winemakers; he’s also a partner in Sansei, the host restaurant for the dinner.) “Sarah and Sparky’s wines are delicious—enjoy them, don’t store them,” said Chuck. Indeed, Sparky added, “We age our wines as long as it takes me to find a cork screw.”

Some of Sparky’s talk went way over my head. He’s a quick talker, got that fun Aussie accent and began rattling off watering schedules and percentages. (I was doing fine ‘til the math was thrown in…)

Sparky diagrams the revolutionary watering program that enables them to maximize production from a younger vineyard. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Basically, Mollydooker grades their wine based on a system they call the Marquis Fruit Weight™—“the measure of how far back on your tongue the velvety sensation of fruit goes, before the prickly sensation of tannin is exposed.” They bottle a few different lines (I’m sure there’s some kind of official wine terminology for this, but my knowledge of wine is pretty much limited to “it comes from grapes”): The Lefty Series (you can tell them by the cute cartoon characters)—The Boxer (Shiraz, a favorite of Shake’s and our friends), The Scooter (Merlot), The Maitre D’ (Cabernet Sauvignon), Two Left Feet (Shiraz/Merlot/Cab blend), The Violinist (Verdelho, the only white in the Mollydooker lineup), Miss Molly (Sparkling Shiraz); The Party Series (these labels feature the Marquis children, when they were young): Blue-Eyed Boy (Shiraz, another favorite of Shake’s and our friends, label features Sarah and Sparky’s son, Luke) and Gigglepot (Cabernet Sauvignon, label features Sarah and Sparky’s daughter, Holly); The Love Series: Carnival of Love (Shiraz) and Enchanted Path (Shiraz/Cab blend); and the “luxury” offering, Velvet Glove (Shiraz, it comes in a velvet bag and the label is a fuzzy, velvet-y black glove with silver printing).

And here’s where Sparky really started to lose me, although I gamely took a few notes because even a wine-dummy like me could tell that what he was describing was a process that was a real game changer. In school, Sparky pondered the question, “Why do the best wines come from old vineyards?”

Sparky diagrams the revolutionary watering program that enables them to maximize production from a younger vineyard. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Sparky diagrams the revolutionary watering program that enables them to maximize production from a younger vineyard. © 2013 Sugar + ShakeNo one could answer him, so he set out to figure it out…with science.

Basically, it has to do with maturing the vines so that they produce better, more flavorful fruit. And through managing their water intake, you can affect the amount of sugar vs. “flavor” that the grapes contain. Mollydooker works with their growers on a very specifically calibrated watering schedule.

I managed to understand this, generally speaking, not because of Sparky’s crazy diagram (right), but because of his spectacular impersonation of a grape vine:

Sparky impersonates a parched grapevine. © 2013 Sugar + Shake A happy, well-watered vine (named Sparky)! © 2013 Sugar + Shake

That would be a parched Sparky grapevine on the left, and a happy, well-watered Sparky grapevine on the right. (Sparky is just the most entertaining guy, and a fantastic showman. Shake attended the “Que Sera Syrah Sera Wine Tasting” seminar the next morning and reported back to me upon his return, “Ask Sarah to show you her new ring tonight!” Apparently, during his seminar presentation, Sparky took the opportunity to present her with a beautiful new ring…because, he announced to the room, decades ago when they last visited Hawaii, Sarah had lost her ring in the ocean, and he thought that it was time she should have a replacement. All together now: “Awwwwwww!”)

Bottles & bottles of Mollydooker Carnival of Love at the opening Grand Tasting event. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

I’m never going to be one of those people who, like Shake, just enjoy a glass of wine all on its own. But, thanks to the Marquises, I have a new appreciation of what it takes to make wine, and I’ve found some reds (which I almost never like) that I know I can enjoy with dinner—and a new favorite white!

Sarah and Sparky said that they really enjoyed themselves at the Festival, and we hope that that means that they’ll be back again in the near future!

(PS—I bet you’re wondering…“Why is the winery named Mollydooker?” It’s an Aussie term for “left-handed”—which both Sarah and Sparky, and many of their staff (coincidentally), are! You’ll notice this lefty branding across their labels and materials—Sparky happily hands out “left-handed pens” on which the Mollydooker logo can only be seen properly when you hold it in your left hand. Clever!)

Disclosure: Sugar + Shake were hosted by the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua hotel and the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival. Travel for Shake, accommodations and access to festival events (with the exception of this wine dinner, to which we bought tickets on our own) were provided by the hosts, but no compensation was received for this post, and the opinions expressed are strictly my own.