On Wednesday I visited D’Arenberg, an important producer in Australia’s McLaren Vale region. I remember when I was first getting into wine in the mid-1990s and being seduced by the D’Arenberg reds, with their beautifully detailed back labels and distinctive red sash design. I remember buying and selling the famous Dead Arm Shiraz, which is probably the only wine ever to be named after a trunk disease. But this was the first time I’d visited.
Chester Osborn, fourth-generation winegrower here, is largely responsible for the size, scope and prominence of D’Arenberg today. He joined the family business after studying at Roseworthy in 1983, 40 years after his father Darry joined. D’Arenberg is a significant presence in the McLaren Vale, with the cellar door packed each weekend and a bewildering range of over 60 different wines, not to mention 500 acres of vines managed organically and biodynamically. But D’Arenberg is just about to take a leap forwards with its wine tourism, with the opening of the much-talked about D’Arenberg cube in around five weeks, at the end of October.
Chester is a showman. D’Arenberg is D’Arenberg, but it is also Chester. With his long hair and colourful dress style (aside: I remember nine years ago discussing with him his plans for launching a clothing brand; apparently, this is still on the cards), he’s a powerful brand. But with this, he’s also a thoroughly engaging, friendly individual who’s lovely to taste with.
Chester had the idea for the cube over a decade ago, and planning permission was obtained in 2010, but the effects of the financial crash meant that the project had to be paused. Chester says he was lucky they got permission then, because the guidelines have since changed, and now any structure with this much glass, in a sunny area, would be denied permission for environmental reasons. The Cube, with it’s zany futuristic design, has cost some $14 million, but $2 million of that has come in the form of government grants.
What takes place inside the Cube will be every bit as extraordinary as the visual impression of the exterior. The top storey will be a tasting room with 115 television screens and bar areas. The next level will be a restaurant that Chester says will be extremely high end. Then the next level is a multi-use area that might be used as a floating bar, or for blending classes. The level below will be another multi-use area and will have kitchens and toilets, and then the downstairs is a contemporary art gallery, with an emphasis on installations. There will also be a wine fog room, where guests will inhale wine.
We had a look at 10 wines.
Dry Dam Riesling 2017
A blend of Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale fruit, this is lively, fruity and juicy with nice lime and a bit of pith. Very pure and primary. Just 10% alcohol with a pH of 2.8. 90/100
The Money Spider Roussanne 2016
Unoaked, from sandstone soils. Very limey and intense with some pear and peach notes. Rich, spicy and with a distinct pithiness. 89/100
The Lucky Lizard Chardonnay 2015 Adelaide Hills
Fruity and expressive with bright lemons and pith, and some green apple. Lovely fruit focus here with good acidity, and the oak is very well integrated. 91/100
The Custodian Grenache 2014
‘We have been big instigators of Grenache in Australia,’ says Chester Osborn. ‘We buy up to half of the McLaren Vale’s Grenache.’ This is really vivid and pretty with raspberry and cherry fruit. Lovely juicy, direct fruit with a bit of grip. Vibrant with nice fruit sweetness. 90/100
The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2014
Good concentration here: really vivid and quite structured with lovely raspberry and blackcurrant fruit. Quite refined with a hint of earth and some chalky minerality. Surprisingly understated and even a bit European in style. 93/100
The Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2009
Sweet and a bit minty with earth and spice, as well as good structure. Sweet berry fruits and high acid, with a juicy finish. 90/100
The Dead Arm Shiraz 2014
Only 5-8% new oak here, and all French. Aromatic with intense black fruits. Lush but fresh with real power and concentration. Complex with minerals, earth, tar and spice. Structured and intense, this dense wine needs time. 94/100
J.R.O. Afflatus Single Vineyard Shiraz 2012
This is a 100 year old vineyard with sand on sandstone. Very fresh and finely structured with nice brightness and fruit purity. Concentrated and intense with firm tannins. Very expressive with purity and concentration. Bright, linear. 94/100
The Old Bloke and Three Young Blondes 2011
This is Shiraz with 2.5% each of Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne (just the skins from the ferments of each variety are added). Very sweet and aromatic with some tropical fruit characters as well as sweet cherries and raspberries. Very sweet and concentrated with a chalky, mineral edge. Dense and brooding, but with very fine grained tannins. 93/100
Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
This is a nearly extinct clone that yields under 1 ton/acre. It’s a fresh, structured wine with pure blackcurrant fruit. Compact and vivid with nice freshness. Tight, compact and firmly structured with good potential. 93/100
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com