Australia’s Willie Wonka of Wine, Chester Osborne of d'Arenberg Wine and the McLaren Vale

Photos courtesy of McLaren Vale d'Arenberg Wines

Australia's wine industry is ripe with visionaries, mavericks and colorful characters with a bullheaded commitment to creating world-class wine. They are after all farmers and, by definition, toil season after season, crop after crop, and harvest after harvest in hopes - and often failures - of creating liquid gold from each uncertain vintage. Arguably South Australia’s most colorful winemaker, literally, is Chester Osbourne of McLaren Vale’s d’Arenberg Wines. Known for his flamboyant shirts that tastefully manage to fit more colors on one garment than you’ll find in a crayon box, he is a true wine icon of the region. His boisterous personality is as bold and colorful as his shirts which ironically can be said of his wines as well.  Beyond their outstanding wines, d'Arenberg has also put McLaren Vale on the international oenophile map with their creation of one of the most unusual, and of course colorful, cellar doors that you’ll find anywhere in the world, the d’Arenberg Cube. 

Along with the Barossa, McLaren Vale is the motherland of Australian wine dating back to 1850.  This is also the land of the long and lazy lunch with an epicurean trail of cellar doors, farm gates, and gourmet bistros. The views are stunning, a la Tuscany, with rolling hills covered in grapevines, alongside livestock paddocks and red gum tree forests.  The region is ideal for winemaking, with the Mediterranean like climate, close proximity to the cooling breezes of the Indian ocean and a soil variety ideal for many types of wine.    

d’Arenberg was founded in 1912 by Chester’s great grandfather, Joseph Osbourn.  Each generation has left its mark on the label and as a result, d’Arenberg has now become the most prominent winery in the McLaren Vale. d’Arenberg has built its reputation on small-batch wines known for their rich, robust, and bold flavors. Insiders will also know that their process of creating wines bucks the trends, often to produce wines the old fashion way, with little intervention, and using sustainable farming techniques. 

The d’Arenberg wines are distinguishable on a few levels. First thing that one will notice is the label with its distinct red striped label which was introduced by d’Arry, Chester’s father, in 1957.  Chester will have his legacy set with two significant impacts on the label.  In terms of viticulture, Chester has implemented sustainable practices with less intervention and does not use fertilizer nor irrigation.  Additionally, d’Arenberg uses traditional wine production using a basket press for both reds and white, a process no longer practiced in Australia. Reds are produced in wax-lined concrete fermenters and are still foot-trod, another practice you’ll seldom see in todays’ high-tech wineries.  As a result, the wines are unfiltered which may leave sentiment in the bottle, but this method also leaves the flavor unchanged by processing.

Chester shares: ‘I aim to make the loudest, most aromatic, fruit-flavored wines that have great palate texture and are free of obvious oak. I look for tannins that are long, lively, gritty and youthful, with fragrant fruit minerality.’ And that is exactly what you’ll find in their full range of bold reds and white wines. In particular, the tannin and structure of the wine allows for proper cellaring. 

The names of the wines are as colorful as one of Chester’s shirts with such names as  The Laughing Magpie Shiraz - Viognier,  The Stump Jump, The Hermit Crab Marsanne, The Love Grass Shiraz, Dry Dam Riesling, The Derelict Vineyard Grenache, The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc,  and The Money Spider Roussanne.  The Dead Arm Shiraz is a name that one will probably never forget but there is a method to the madness here. These particular wines are made from a fungus-infected Shiraz vine that causes one of the branches, or arms, to wither and fall off. The result is a low yielding production of very potent fruit and ultimately bolder more structured wines. And since its release in 1993, The Dead Arm Shiraz has received countless accolades and awards throughout the wine world.  

Chester’s next most notable legacy will undoubtedly be the d’Arenberg Cube. Much like Chester’s wardrobe, the cube is loud and completely in your face.  But also, like Chester, that is just the wrapping yet inside it is full of substance and relevance. The d’Arenberg Cube is an abstract five-story high green and white building that is a part cellar door, gourmet restaurant, bars, tasting rooms, museum, and event space. The intended resemblance is of a mammoth Rubik’s Cube and has quickly become a beloved architectural landmark of the region since its opening in 2017. 

Although certainly controversial, the d’Arenberg Cube is a masterpiece for which the entire wine industry of Australia can be proud. It has attained a somewhat of the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty icon status for South Australia as evidenced by the thousand people that visit each day.  One would imagine that this would be Chester’s magnum opus but it’s hard to say as no one can imagine what he may have planned next. 

d'Arenberg Wine is a story of South Australian vision, hard work, and the success of their winemaking industry. It is a testament of courage to take risks in order to make something special and unique. This can be said of d’Arenberg’s flavorsome wines, the pièce de résistance that is the d’Arenberg Cube, or a choice of an overly colorful attire. However you look at it, Chester Osbourn is a true original who has made his mark on McLaren Vale and wine scene around the world.  

Glenn Harris

Glenn Harris is an accomplished journalist focusing on international travel, fine dining, and luxury lifestyle events. His wanderlust has taken him to over 105 countries where he is constantly straying off the beaten path uncovering new and exotic finds. He particularly enjoys seeking out lesser known travel gems and places to stay, dine, or experiences to capture. ...(Read More)

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