Weekly Crush: Mark Warren, Marq Wines

Meet this weeks #WeeklyCrush, Mark Warren, the self confessed wine geek and chemistry nerd who combines these passions into his innovative label, Marq Wines. Based in Margaret River, Marq Wines explores the opportunities provided by the maritime terroir through unique crop varieties and playing around with wild yeast. The success of his experimentation can be credited to his in depth understanding of Biochemistry & Microbiology, from his time studying at the University of Western Australia. But he is more than just a science fiend pushing the borders of wine making in Western Australia, he’s also great to talk to so we recommend you read on to hear all things Marq Wines, innovation, travel, food, “new classics” and more. 

To find out more about Marq Wines visit their website, and pick up a bottle from the online shop to try one of their “classics in the making”! Stay in the loop on all things Marq Wine via their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Do you have a winery pet? 

Our Dog is Dash and he is a rescue dog who is 6. He loves people, hanging at Cellar Door and his favourite thing is to chew sticks and go to the beach!

You have a very impressive transcript when it comes to all things science and wine. So tell us how you got from point A to Marq Wines? 

I guess my wine story starts back when I was studying Biochemistry & Microbiology at UWA. At that stage I was really interested in genetics and I thought that would be my career. But as luck would have it my part time job throughout Uni was waiting tables in a winery restaurant in the Swan Valley. I very quickly developed an interest in wine and loved how it fused science and art. 

Once I graduated from UWA I decided to take a year off and work in a winery to see if it was a ‘good fit’. After a year in a winery I knew this was where I was meant to be so enrolled at Charles Sturt University in NSW to complete my winemaking degree. I worked in the Swan Valley for 13 years and loved it but moved to Margaret River 18 years ago to work at Happs Winery. The appeal of Happs was that Erl Happ had planted a crazy vineyard with every variety you could think of (and then some). So this was exciting stuff – getting to understand and appreciate varieties that at that stage were very unfamiliar to the Australian palate. 

This interest grew, and with regular trips to France & Italy with my wife we discovered beautiful wines that matched perfectly the cuisine of the region in which these grapes were grown. It was these experiences that motivated the start of Marq Wines, to experiment with other varieties and non-conventional winemaking methods but at the same time respecting the science that lies behind quality winemaking.

Through the Marq Wines label you have pushed the boundaries a lot, particularly when it comes to trying unconventional varietals in Margaret River, and taking it a step beyond by adding wild yeasts into the mix too. In what ways has your technical understanding of science influenced your approach to winemaking? 

My winemaking philosophy is still very much rooted in a scientific understanding. I’m a wine geek at heart! But for me if you understand the science you have a better chance of your art expressing itself in the most positive way

If you take, for example, the wild yeast fermentation of wine, this is something that can be quite risky. However, if you understand the science you can modify the winemaking to give the yeast the best chance to do what you want it to do, and reduce the chance that it might bring spoilage. In my mind wild yeast are a component of a vineyards terroir, but if that yeast or those yeast spoils the wine then that’s a winemaking issue and I feel strongly that scientific understanding helps get the best out of these yeast.

Your motto is producing “classics in the making”. Where has this journey into unexplored territory in winemaking taken you, and what are you most proud of? 

Margaret River is an amazing wine growing area. The pioneers of the region undoubtedly got it right as Cabernet and Chardonnay are world class. But as much as I love these wines from Margaret River, I think the wine experience is broader and this interests me greatly. I believe that Margaret River‘s moderate maritime climate will allow the production of other wines to an incredibly high standard. What those varieties are to be is yet to be confirmed, but the journey is fun and I’m enjoying encouraging others and being part of the group of people trying to discover the next “classics in the making”. 

In terms of what I’m most proud of I guess it’s that we took the risk to start the brand and champion all things different, and that we were able to make it successful. I think it’s every winemaker’s dream to have their own wine and own vineyard but it’s easier said than done. Achieving this goal, and creating a lifestyle our family loves, I think is a great outcome that I’m very proud of.

On the Wine Market…We asked Mark to shed some light on his experience in the wine market, as a big part of what we do at Cellr is make true direct to consumer marketing easy for producers. Find out more here

What do you think it is that really gets people engaged with the Marq Wines brand? 

I think that the wines are interesting first and foremost. For some people coming to our cellar door is a unique experience because these varieties are unfamiliar or very new to them. Even those who are familiar with these varieties through travel are excited to see what they look like in Margaret River. I think it’s also a bit unusual in Margaret River to come to a cellar door and be able to chat to the winemaker and the winemaker’s wife, so that gives the brand a real personal connection. 

(Shout out to Danielle, Mark’s wife, who provided Chris with an exceptional experience when he visited their cellar door recently, in addition to agreeing to organise this feature with Mark!)

What other channels do you use to engage customers to buy your wine outside the cellar door? What do you do in these channels? 

We have great distribution in Perth & Sydney, where we focus on restaurants and independently owned liquor stores. We also have our own website online store as well as a mailing list and wine club. 

We also enjoy presenting our wines with food so are always on the lookout for a willing chef to create a wine dinner experience. 

Social media is also important, but we see that more as a mechanism to stay connected to the people who are interested in what we are doing. We don’t focus on it as a selling tool as such.

How has the digital disruption, and now COVID-19 changed how you engage with consumers? What challenges do you now face in engaging customers, and what do you think you could do to overcome them? 

Whilst we were closed through Covid we no longer had the face to face contact and direct to customer sales that cellar door brings. However, years of building a mailing list gave us a contact point for people who like what we do. This gave us a way to reach out and still provide direct sales without contact. I think going forward this will be a bigger sales channel as more customers have become familiar with how easy it is to buy online. 

Beyond that we are very lucky because WA is in a great position, cellar doors are open and WA tourism is booming with WA tourists.

On Authentication and Supply Chains: We asked Marq about his views on authentication and her current supply chain management. At Cellr we want to understand how producers feel about the current systems in place and make a packaging solution that is consistent with what they need. Find out what we do for brand protection and supply chain track and trace.

Talk to us about your supply chain, do you currently have visibility of your products after they leave the winery? What impact would having detailed data showing you where (in the world) and when your wine is being opened by the consumer?

We don’t really have export and to be honest I’d rather focus on my own backyard. Overseas markets are not my area of expertise. We have great distributors in Perth & Sydney and a busy cellar door in a premier wine tourism region. We haven’t really looked at other states seriously because at the moment we simply don’t have the volume of product. So for now, until we have exhausted the possibilities within Australia, and until we have more products to sell, such data has a limited value.

With the global explosion of wine fraud pushing into the mid/premium brackets due to sheer volume, how important is it for wine consumers to be able to identify your (legitimate) products via anti-counterfeit measures?

Realistically, we are a nano brand and I can’t see we have the brand penetration that we would be targeted for wine fraud. So at the moment this is something we don’t even consider.

Being quite remote in the south, how do you stay in the loop with what is happening in the wine industry around Australia and the world? 

When you get involved in the wine industry it becomes your life. We tend to socialise with industry people a lot, as well as passionate consumers. We travel throughout the world’s wine regions, as well as visiting our markets in Perth and Sydney. 

My wife is a chef so we are also interested in the restaurant scene, which is a reflection of what’s happening in wine. We also buy a lot of wine to taste and to see what others are doing. So I guess being a passionate producer and a passionate consumer means we have our eye on what’s happening.

What do you think the future for wine will be in Margaret River? 

By and large Margaret River will focus more and more on Chardonnay & Cabernet as these wine styles are world class and in a global context we are up there with the best. In terms of export, these varieties give the region great leverage because of the known quality. However, there are other smaller producers who are less involved in export and are able to make ‘edgier’ wines. I think these wines will add colour and texture to the whole Margaret River experience. 

What other wineries are doing cool stuff to change the wine production landscape, can you name a couple of your favourite wines by them for our own *cough* research purposes?

Really like what LS Merchants are doing, Mr Barval, Las Vino, Tripe.Iscariot and Ipsofacto. All well worth checking out. In terms of a couple of favourite wines I’d say try the Snake & Herring Bizarre Love Triangle (Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling) or the House of Cards Black Jack Malbec. I also like what Stella Bella are doing with their Otro Vino label – it shows even bigger wineries are interested in doing something different. 

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