Obsessed … and just a little bit mad
Words: Tony Love
Chester Osborn is no stranger to the outrageous. His shirt collection alone is infamous worldwide. His lengthy, blond curls hang unfettered over his mid-fifties year old shoulders. Social pages have thrived on numerous pictures of the McLaren Vale winemaker dressed up to the nines and beyond – from a Mexican cowboy to unflattering drag costumes on Variety Club Bush Bashes. His is a world where the limits of expression and creativity have far broader settings than most other people.
He’s quite at home releasing a range of wines (a gob-smacking 65 in all) for his landmark d’Arenberg family company which can spin your head just trying to pronounce them, let alone understand the liquid inside the bottle. Take for instance the fairly straight Stephanie the Gnome with Rose Coloured Glasses then step into a whole other lexicon with a red blend called The Cenosilicaphobic Cat, a mix of two lesser known Mediterranean varieties Sagrantino and Cinsault.
Take a deep breath and order this from a bottle shop: The Noble Botryotinia Fuckeliana Sauvignon Blanc, a dessert wine that sounds quite lascivious but in fact is a scientifically correct name for an asexual grape fungus that turns white grapes into luscious sweet nectar.
And he’s game enough to release a $200 bottle of red called The Old Bloke and Three Young Blondes which immediately attracted criticism as a case of everyday sexism, though Osborn argued the name was just humorous marketing, referring to the wine’s old vine shiraz and three white varieties in the blend.
All of which seems pretty tame when you come across the winemaker staring up at his latest creation, the now popularly labelled d’Arenberg Cube, a multi-million dollar, four-storey, multi-dimensional architectural dream, wildly angled and toned, glass and mirror construction that will house several bars, a stratospherically high-end restaurant, and private and public tasting rooms just for starters.
The natural response when you first see this slowly unfolding wonder is to imagine a giant Rubik’s Cube perched smack in the middle of the current hilltop d’Arenberg winery complex where already an admin centre, cellar door and award-winning d’Arry’s Verandah restaurant sit on Osborn Rd in the dress circle of the McLaren Vale wine region, just 45 minutes south of Adelaide’s CBD.
But that is just way too prosaic for the over-active mind of one Chester Osborn, fourth generation proprietor and chief winemaker at d’Arenberg, son of beloved McLaren Vale identity, 90-year-old d’Arry Osborn who still collects the business mail daily and looks over the wine business’s books.
For inside that oddly shaped cube will exist a whole other world which some already have likened to the wildly imagined settings of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Others see a bit more of the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Wonderland, in which Osborn is crafting a place like no other on Earth, a land full of absurd twists and turns, a stage where he poses absurd riddles and challenging, highly sensory experiences.
Much like the Mad Hatter, Osborn’s imagined world has a personal logic without appearing uncontrollably crazy. “More obsessed,” he says. “Not mad – though it is supposed to be a little mad.”
His list of “alternate realities” for the d’Arenberg Cube’s interior includes a glass and mirrors world of video-enhanced revelations, of a fog-room where visitors will inhale wine rather than sip it, a smell-a-rama corner derived from 30 flagons, and an art-installation room (one of many) representing a virtual fermenter into which you will “fall”. Another will be covered in artworks and paintings where you will taste wines matching the curated pieces.
Even the building-coded, central-shaft lift will get the winemaker’s imaginative treatment, the walls to become scene-based video screens featuring 3D labels, while the stairwell will be a mirror and light show to make even the entry and exit a sensory journey.
Within this world of augmented reality will also sit a kitchen-based storey that can offer chef’s table and wine-tasting experiences, a function floor which also can offer private and hands-on tasting and blending opportunities, and a top-floor tasting room/cellar door that will also feature glass art, lightboxes, screens and videos and also can transform into exclusive zones with moveable walls.
Then there’s a “very high-end” dining room offering creative tasting plates in theatrical style, the food to be delivered in an “emotive and expressive way that matches our wines”. “Whatever you can imagine, we can create,” Osborn says of his innovative cellar door plans due to be finished mid-2017.
The building has been unfolding for 13 years, the first model he built still sitting proudly in d’Arenberg’s old stables which currently house a smartly renovated private tasting area and will under the new plans also act as the Cube’s cellar-door wine pickup location.
“When we realised we needed a new cellar door and offices, my original concept was to have more colonial buildings – then one day I thought, why do I want to do what is so obvious,” Osborn recalls.
“It became: why not build something that is really impactful, really meaningful, and really represents d’Arenberg, and is not just colonial.”
The Cube plan came out of the day to day “puzzle-solving” that winemaking presents, he says, the most iconic puzzle also in his lifespan being the Rubik’s multi-sided and layered toy.
Osborn’s first design was a simpler block building with flecked glass walls to be coloured by projections, which he now realises were “a bit garish” and which, he admits, “somewhat disturbed” the family company board, including dad d’Arry.
Of course, Osborn’s brainwave solution was to make the structure even bigger and harder to make, which is when the Rubik’s idea fomented. “I used to do the Rubik’s Cube – I couldn’t do it on my own but once I read how to it was relatively easy,” Osborn remembers. “This one is a lot harder to do.”
In the years it took to convince the rest of the family, and to ride out the impact of the 2008 global financial crash on international wine trade and profits along the way, Osborn’s imagination for his dream building didn’t stop, while during the same time the technology to achieve even his wildest designs enabled the plans to become reality. “I don’t sleep a lot. Dad doesn’t sleep a lot. It’s just one of those things,” Osborn says. “If you’re lying in bed at 5am, it’s a beautiful time to be thinking about the cube. And at night I do a lot of researching (on the net and social media). There’s a lot of inspiration out there. I put it all down as I think about it, I draw it. I store it all in emails, which take me hours to look over.”
After a decade of Osborn’s creative input, the building of the cube by Sarah Constructions is closing in on its completion mid this year – and already visitors are flocking to have their pictures and selfies taken in front of the architectural oddity.
The addition of such an attraction to McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula is a game changer, according to McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association general manager Jennifer Lynch. “The Cube breaks all the boundaries for wine tourism if not general tourism,” Ms Lynch says. “It’s unlike any cellar door you’ve ever seen. It’s unlike any art gallery or museum you’ve ever seen. It will stand similarly to what MONA had done in Tasmania – and its impact not only for our region but for South Australia will be phenomenal. In terms of cellar doors anywhere in the world, this absolutely puts McLaren Vale and Adelaide and South Australia on the map.”
Through the grapevine
Top of the world
Barossa Valley winery and tourism destination Seppeltsfield has set the benchmark for wineries around the world after taking out the Global Best of Wine Tourism category at the 2017 Great Wine Capitals awards. The accolade, announced in mid-November in Portugal, backs up the recognition from Drinks International last year, which named Seppeltsfield the world’s “Best Visitor Centre”.
Owner Warren Randall says the wins are a testament to the passion of his team. “That award is really saying the Barossa Valley now has a cellar door that’s been voted by all the Wine Capitals of the World judges to be the best,” he says.
The Best of Wine Tourism awards, run by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network, serve as an industry benchmark for excellence and recognise leading wineries and wine-tourism related business within each Great Wine Capital.
The state’s entry to the international awards was the first major step in SA’s membership of the network. While other members represented only one region in countries including Spain, France, South Africa, Germany, Portugal, the US, Chile and Argentina, Adelaide was granted the right to showcase the 18 recognised wine regions of South Australia.
Other wineries and associated businesses, who represented SA in the awards, included Primo Estate in McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley hotel The Louise, Banrock Station in the Riverland, Clare Valley’s Skillogalee and Kalleske Wines near the village of Greenock, also in the Barossa Valley. “Around 80 per cent of Australia’s premium wine comes from SA — and through our membership of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network, we’re rightfully boasting our position on the world stage,” SA Tourism Minister Leon Bignell says.