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John Quinn
31 October 2016 | John Quinn

"Willy Wonka's wine factory": Inside the extraordinary d’Arenberg Cube

Chester Osborn with the cube being built at d'Arenberg.

For leading Australian winemaker Chester Osborn it’s the realisation of a 13-year dream, but for South Australia’s McLaren Vale wine region Chester’s Cube could bring tens if not hundreds of thousands more wine tourists to visit one of the world’s most unusual and dramatic cellar doors.

Chester’s Cube, or as he would prefer it, the d’Arenberg Cube, is already soaring above its surrounding Mourvedre vines at d’Arenberg Winery in the heart of McLaren Vale, a fast 40km drive south of Adelaide.

The five storey, AUD$14 million glass-encased steel and concrete structure was inspired by Rubik’s Cube. The building – an architectural puzzle four modules wide, four high and four deep – seems to float above the ground-floor entrance. The architectural twist is that the two top floors are askew, rotated on their axis, just as if you’d twisted your Rubik’s Cube.

“Both the architects and the engineers say it’s been the most complicated and time-consuming design they’ve ever worked on,” Chester says of the ADS Architects design, yet it’s exactly as he envisaged it in a paper and balsawood model he constructed 13 years ago.

But the structure itself, though a startling addition to the surrounding vine-clad rolling slopes, is just the start of what will be a remarkable assault on the senses of anyone who ventures inside. Although due to open to the public in May 2017, it is sufficiently complete for Chester to provide a guided tour.

The custom-designed entrance door will spin and fold open, origami-style, with feathertouch sensors to ensure no-one is inadvertently squashed as it closes. A sharp left turn leads to a small “wine fog room”, a vinous sensory overload as the visitor is immersed in a thick fog of whatever happens to be the wine of the day: breathe it, feel it, wear it. Osborn is even planning a non-alcoholic fog so children can enjoy the sensation too.

Next stop is the “flower and fruit room” with walls and ceiling smothered with artificial flowers and fruit, and up to 30 flagons containing a selection of the 72 different wines d’Arenberg produces under 60 labels. Each flagon is connected to a bike horn with rubber puffer. Beep the horn and inhale – what a hoot.

“We’re trying to get the senses really alive and excited by now,” Chester explains.

With no time to recover you’ve lurched into the “360-degree video room”. Osborn has hired a full-time videographer to provide the content, with projections intended to make viewers feel as if they’re in the middle of a vineyard with a lifelike soundtrack to enhance the realism.

“We want this to be very stimulating,” Chester says, adding that the space can also double as a dining venue for special occasions.

Osborn, 54, who says he likes to paint and sculpt when he’s not fully occupied as chief winemaker and futurist for the company his great grandfather Joseph Osborn founded 104 years ago, plans to fill any vacant space with art installations he’s either commissioned or collected over the years.

The first of these is the next stop, an “art installation room”. The room is created to give the impression of being inside a wine fermenter and features an installation by award-winning South Australian artist Jane Skeer of hundreds of dangling VHS video tapes, combined with projections of people treading grapes.

On to the “faces room” with a ceiling covered in representations of grapes and its brick-red walls decked with paintings of faces and bodies from Osborn’s personal art collection – each painting matched with an appropriate d’Arenberg wine.

And that’s just the first floor.

There’s a lift to each floor, but that would mean missing out on the high-gloss stainless steel-mirrored stairwells, a shifting light show depicting the various colours of grapes – red, white, yellow, green – and caricatures of d’Arenberg wine labels commissioned from 30 of Australia’s leading cartoonists.

The first floor opens to the ladies’ toilets, four steel-grey corrugated iron pods that will be totally covered in realistic fake foliage, with hanging chandeliers of grapes above the hand basins. The men’s has similar designs and two larger pods as urinals.

“My own design, very artistic,” Chester says with a cheeky grin.

This angle gives a hint about the spectacular views to come.

This floor gets down to business, though, with a large kitchen and dining area that will be used for cooking classes, chef’s tables and so on. In a rare moment of super practicality it also houses an office area.

The second floor opens out to the largest open space in the building where d’Arenberg will move its busy function program that includes tutored tastings, single vineyard and vertical tastings, and blending classes. Here there are also the first two of several private function rooms, hidden behind a shiraz-stained door constructed from the front of a 4500-litre wine vat, that can be used for VIP tastings and dinners.

On to the first of the twisted floors, a design that creates a series of outdoor open spaces, and it’s here that Osborn will locate the winery’s second restaurant, leaving d’Arrys Verandah under long-standing chef Peter Reschke to continue as usual adjacent to the current cellar door.

The fourth floor of the Cube is, in effect, a glass-encased and roofed pavilion with both public and private wine-tasting bars overlooking views of the entire McLaren Vale region. The 16 glass roof panels, each of which weighs two tonnes, feature the same geometric black and white design as the wall panels and are topped with 16 retractable umbrellas for sunny day protection. Even the bars are constructed from glass:

Not surprisingly there are those who see it as Chester’s folly, and Osborn concedes he has at times made both his father d’Arry, and his board a bit nervous.

The architect’s impression of how the completed cube will look.

“Some people refer to this as Willy Wonka’s wine factory, and in a way it is,” Chester says.

“It’s going to change what wine tasting rooms are about.”

But Osborn insists the numbers stack up.

“With 500 acres of organic and biodynamic vines we represent about a third of all McLaren Vale’s premium production,” he says. “And we’re the busiest cellar door in the region with 50,000 visitors a year.”

Despite the wonderfully weird design, business growth was at the heart of decision to build the new cellar door.

“We really needed a bigger tasting area and new offices, and d’Arry’s Verandah restaurant has been full for the past 12 years.

“I just woke up one morning and thought why do we want to recreate fake history, so I sat down and drew this. It took me 20 minutes.”

The Cube will nearly double d’Arenberg’s current workforce to just over 100, adding another $2 million a year to the wages bill, but with wine tourism rapidly picking up Osborn says predictions of 500,000 visitors a year might not be out of the question.

This story was originally published on The Lead. 

John Quinn
25 October 2016 | John Quinn

Penfolds Pourer

When I first worked for Penfolds in the 1980’s, headquarters was commonly known as the Old Tempe Cellars, on Princes Highway in the south of Sydney. Back in the day if we had a win we’d retreat to the downstairs bar on a Friday afternoon and open a bottle of Grange, poured into glasses of all shapes and sizes. The bar would open at 4.30 pm but only when Jim Williams said so. Above is the decanter and carafe’s they served this year’s 2012 Grange upon release. A bit different to the bar at Tempe.

Time Posted: 25/10/2016 at 8:38 AM Permalink to Penfolds Pourer Permalink Comments for Penfolds Pourer Comments (1)
John Quinn
21 October 2016 | John Quinn

BREAKING NEWS - Journey Wines 2015 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir WON GOLD MEDAL

BREAKING NEWS. Journey Wines 2015 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir has taken out a gold medal at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. Damian North’s wine beat a host of highly credentialed wines in the class that recognises Pinot Noir from 2015 or younger. Congratulations to Damian and the team at Journey Wines.

Time Posted: 21/10/2016 at 3:07 PM Permalink to BREAKING NEWS - Journey Wines 2015 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir WON GOLD MEDAL Permalink Comments for BREAKING NEWS - Journey Wines 2015 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir WON GOLD MEDAL Comments (2)
John Quinn
17 October 2016 | John Quinn

The first 'wine fountain' just opened in Italy - and it's free

Red wine flowing from a fountain, offering a refreshment at the end of a long walk... it sounds too good to be true, but on Sunday, a wine fountain was inaugurated in central Italy.

Locally-produced wine will flow from the fountain in Abruzzo, the first of its kind, and it's accessible 24/7.

The best part? It's completely free to help yourself to a glass.

The fontana del vino is located in Caldari di Ortona, in Abruzzo, along a popular pilgrimage route, the Cammino di San Tommaso.

"The wine fountain is a welcome, the wine fountain is poetry," the Dora Sarchese vineyard wrote on its Facebook page.

It noted that the fountain was not a place for "drunkards" or "louts", nor was it a "publicity stunt".

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists make the journey from Rome to Ortona, in order to visit the city's cathedral where the remains of Thomas, one of Jesus' disciples, are kept. The new fountain is a joint project of the vineyard and the non-profit organization which maintains and promoted the pilgrimage route.

Inspiration came from a similar red wine fountain installed along the Spanish pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago, a few years ago.

Tourists watch red wine flow from the fountain.

The Ortona fountain is not the first in Italy to offer wine, but its creators describe it as the country's first 'proper' wine fountain, because the wine will be accessible every day.

Some other fountains in Italy have been used to distribute wine, but only on special occasions such as local festivals. One of the most famous is in Marino, south of Rome; during the town's annual grape festival, for one hour white wine rather than water flows from the taps.

In 2008, a technical error - or was it a miracle? - saw the wine of Marino channelled into local homes instead of the fountain.

John Quinn
27 September 2016 | John Quinn

What's Nick Haselgrove doing on the weekend?

I was speaking to Nick Haselgrove on Sunday and I casually asked what are you up to? He said I’ll send you a photo.

The Haselgrove family has deep roots in Australian wine production and research and has exerted considerable influence throughout the industry. Grandfather Ron Haselgrove learned winemaking under the great Emil Sobels at Leo Buring in Watervale, during the 1920s but made his name as an innovator in fortified wine and St Agnes brandy production at Angove’s in Renmark. He went to Mildara Winery in 1934, bolstering its quality and reputation by steering the original Mildara Cabernet Shiraz Bin 23 in 1952, and drove the establishment of Mildara’s Coonawarra cellars in 1963. He played an important role in the establishment of the Australian Wine Research Institute and served on its council for 18 years (1955-1973) with a number of years as Chairman. When he died in 1977, Ron left a legacy built on deep technical knowledge and innovation, coupled with smart business and management strengths that elevated Mildara to become one of the powerhouses in Australian wine.

Time Posted: 27/09/2016 at 2:09 PM Permalink to What's Nick Haselgrove doing on the weekend? Permalink
John Quinn
22 September 2016 | John Quinn

The bushing king does a DEAL. Buy a 6 pack but only pay for 5 bottles

As a young marketer finding his feet in the wine industry I made the smart decision to not impose myself until I knew what I was talking about. Apart from my first boss ( Steve Wiblin, Erin Eyes) I picked out 2 winemakers over the years that I enjoyed being with and just as importantly ones from which I knew I would learn. The first was Peter Douglas from the Coonawarra who taught me wine. He didn’t know it at the time but I listened to his every word. The second was Nick Haselgrove from McLaren Vale. Nick reminded so much of Pete that I was almost attracted to him….ouch.

The first time I spent real time with Nick was at the 1998 Bushing King lunch. The Bushing King is awarded to the best wine of the McLaren Vale Show of that year. If you love a lunch get yourself a ticket, absolute gold. Nick was the McLaren Vale Bushing King in 1993, top prize at the Sydney International Wine Show in 1998, and Winestate Magazine’s Australian winemaker of the Year 2010. All this whilst under the strain of making his own wines as well as answering to a corporate granddaddy.

The Haselgrove family has deep roots in Australian wine production and research and has exerted considerable influence throughout the industry. Grandfather Ron Haselgrove learned winemaking under the great Emil Sobels at Leo Buring in Watervale, during the 1920s but made his name as an innovator in fortified wine and St Agnes brandy production at Angove’s in Renmark. He went to Mildara Winery in 1934, bolstering its quality and reputation by steering the original Mildara Cabernet Shiraz Bin 23 in 1952, and drove the establishment of Mildara’s Coonawarra cellars in 1963. He played an important role in the establishment of the Australian Wine Research Institute and served on its council for 18 years (1955-1973) with a number of years as Chairman. When he died in 1977, Ron left a legacy built on deep technical knowledge and innovation, coupled with smart business and management strengths that elevated Mildara to become one of the powerhouses in Australian wine.

His son James – Nick’s father – learned his winemaking craft at Mildara, but made a greater impact after creating his own wine label in 1981, based in McLaren Vale and serving as the solid foundation on which Nick Haselgrove Wines has been built. Nick draws from the vast well of generational experience that has seen the Haselgrove family achieve great accomplishments in the wine industry, and continues the same dedication to achieve outstanding quality.


Buy a 6 pack of Nick’s ‘Old Faithful-Top of the Hill 2012 Shiraz and we’ll only charge you for 5 bottles, that’s right, buy 5 get 1 FREE. Unbelievable value. For the next 2 weeks this deal will be reflected on our site, ends 6th October. Normally you’d pay $360 for a 6 pack but for the next 2 weeks only pay $300. BUY NOW

John Quinn
22 September 2016 | John Quinn

In the office with Sam Connew

Before the introduction of the GST Australian wines sold locally endured a 42% wholesale tax, going straight back to the Government of the day. When the GST was introduced it was sold as a consumption tax that would replace all wholesale taxes and indeed in a lot of cases save the consumer money. Bollocks. The Government, knowing they were losing out under a 10% tax introduced a WET….yep a Wine Equalisation Tax. Conveniently the WET just happened to be 29% and when compounded with the new 10% GST it miraculously equated to 41.9%.In order to assist small winemakers the then Government introduced a sales threshold to allow them to claim back the WET if sales didn’t extend over $500,000.

With the budget now under huge pressure the Government is looking to how to balance the books and has the winemaker in its sights.

Sam Connew, respected Industry voice answers a few questions about the mooted changes.

Sam tells us about an issue extremely important to the Australian Wine Industry and our going forward.

Q. Is the above intro correct?
A. Basically, although it misses out one of the main reasons why the government is focussing on this reform – that the amount of WET rebate being claimed by the wine industry has grown exponentially over the last few years as the enabling legislation has numerous loopholes which allow for widespread rooting, particularly multiple claims by associated entities and on bulk and unbranded wine. It should also be pointed out that the industry, through its representative body, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia, requested a reform of the WET provisions. 

Q. The assistance given to the small winemaker, how important was it for them to compete?
A. Absolutely vital. Like any industry economies of scale apply, so the larger you are the more your cost structure comes down which is a huge benefit to the big guys. In addition, the wine industry has two other elements going against it for the small producer – it is enormously capital intensive and the lag time between production and sales income can be years, so cash flow is a huge issue. The WET rebate to some extent has helped to offset this for the small dudes.

Q. I gather the small winemaker didn’t pocket the rebate and go to lunch;  you would have reinvested into the business and hence the industry?
A. Correct. If you take me as an example, my ability to purchase a vineyard this year is largely because I have had access to the rebate (as well as working my arse off for the last few years). Other stars in the wine industry who started with no physical assets, such as S.C. Pannell, Andrew Thomas, Ministry of Clouds etc. have all been able to grow their businesses and invest back in their regions as a result.

Q. What’s the major change the Government wants to implement and what are the consequences?
A. There are two main changes which the industry as a whole is arguing against – the government want to reduce the cap on the rebate from the existing $500 000 to $350 000 and then to $290 000, which will disproportionately hurt the medium sized wineries; the small guys don’t reach this sales threshold anyway and this is just a blip in the ocean for the big guys.

The other change which is what myself and the Small and Emerging Winemakers group are working against is an eligibility test which is based on ownership or leasing of a winery. There are some in the industry who argue this should be broadened to ownership/lease of a vineyard or cellar door – the so-called ‘skin in the game’ test. We are vehemently against any sort of asset test as we think it essentially amounts to tax breaks for the rich – those that can afford a vineyard, winery or cellar door will get preferential treatment over those who are just starting out in the industry. This will really punish those who have done a huge amount to revitalise the whole Australian wine category; those who are young, dynamic and innovative will be penalised in favour of the industry establishment.

On top of that, modelling by Price Waterhouse Coopers and WFA shows that an asset based eligibility criteria will not increase government revenues, as the rooting comes from elsewhere.

Q. Is this an  issue for large format (cask wine) and bulk production?
A. Yup, as it looks pretty clear that bulk and unbranded wine will not be eligible. The bigger issue which needs to be discussed here is of course whether it is time for a volumetric tax to be implemented as opposed to the existing ad valorem tax; something which every single small producer I have spoken to supports.

Q. Will the large corporates get their way because of their bigger muscle or will the small to medium get a fair hearing?
A. Well, I think we will find out soon, won’t we?

Q. What’s the story with the New Zealand winemakers getting respite? Can you explain that in an Aussie accent?
A. No! I fiercely guard my Kiwi accent thank you very much! Look, it’s a difficult one and but basically the Closer Economic Agreement which was signed between Australia and New Zealand in 1983 ensures that there can be no discriminatory trade or taxation practices which prevent products on either side of the ‘ditch’ being more competitive, so since then NZ producers have also been able to claim the WET rebate, which is clearly ridiculous, but the Oz government is not going to dismantle a free trade agreement to get rid of this practice, unfortunately.

Q. You’ve just released a Riesling from Tasmania for Iconic Winemakers which we’ll focus on in our next edition, one sentence on why our friends should buy it.
A. Because it’s bloody delicious, that’s why!

Q. What about you chicks taking over the industry, any truth to that rumour?
A. As less than 10% of winemakers in this country are female and there are even less viticulturists, I think we would pretty hard pressed to ‘takeover’, but those old crusty men in suits better watch out is my advice!

John Quinn
21 September 2016 | John Quinn

In the cellar with Tash Mooney


When most people think of the ‘Pinot Gs’ I reckon they believe a Gris and a Grigio  are 2 different grape varieties. In fact they are made from the same grape but just handled differently from vineyard to winery to winemaker. In the Northern Hemisphere the Gris style comes from French winemakers and the Grigio from the Italians. Pinot Grigio wines are typically lighter-bodied, crisp, fresh, with vibrant stone fruit and floral aromas and a touch of spice. Pinot Gris wines are more full-bodied, richer, spicier, and more viscous in texture. They also tend to have greater cellaring and ageing potential. Hence when an Australian winemaker prefers the Gris style I’d suggest they’d probably leave the grape on the vine a little later during vintage in order to get those traditional characteristics.

Today we talk to Tash Mooney about her La Bise Pinot Gris;

Q. Hey Tash, your photo on our site shows a pretty relaxed chick kicking back….is that you?
A. ahh yes that’s me but it was a bad day, I usually look a lot more like Gisele Bundchen.

Q. You make wine under your own label but you also produce under contract for others. Is this common in the industry?
A. are you calling me common? I think there are some winemakers doing this, especially people with their own brands. A brand that is starting out is quite cash flow negative which is difficult to manage so pimping yourself out as a consultant is quite a good option.

Q. Tell us about the thinking behind the La Bise label and its relevance?
A. La Bise is French for “the kiss”. I started La Bise as a reaction to several vineyards that I had found that were neglected and in need of renovation. The two in particular that I first found were full of weeds with limited irrigation and really not preforming at their best but the fruit that we picked still looked good. I thought that with some renovation and  love I could get a really harmonious parcel of fruit and hopefully produce a ‘single vineyard” wine, I thought I would produce them under my own label and in so I was giving them “the kiss of life”.

Q. When I asked you to  submit a wine for Iconic Winemakers you had no hesitation in the Pinot Gris. Is there a history there or do you just believe the consumer loves the style?
A. I believe that wine drinking consumers go on a journey over their wine drinking life and this often starts with sweet wines and moves to sauvignon blanc or shiraz and then as confidence and knowledge grows, they move to different varieties and maybe different regions. With my brand I try to offer people wines that form that journey. The Pinot Gris is important as it offers a wine that drinkers that are a bit over Sauvignon Blanc can move onto. The wine is at a good price point and delivers flavours that are refreshing and good for summer.

Q. Gris Vs Grigio. Did you determine it would be a Gris or did the vineyard and terroir dictate this?
A. The Gris part was really market driven in what I believe people are looking for in a style of wine, I think a bit of lusciousness and concentration is a good thing and this is what my Pinot Gris has due to the style as you mentioned above that is French in origin rather than a more Italian austere style.

Q. Am I correct in saying a Gris is a Chardonnay drinker’s wine and a Grigio a Sauv Blanc style consumer?
A. I am not sure about that, I agree with Grigio being a Sauv Blanc style but I think Gris has more of a Segway between Savvy and something more complex as I explained above.

Q. If a French winery gave you the opportunity to do a vintage up there making a Gris would/could you do it?
A. YES, I AM FREE TOMORROW………………. How nice would that be? I am spoilt thou as my partner is French and I can even speak a bit of the language especially when drunk.

Q. Because of the acidity in a Grigio does it make it more of a food wine whilst the Gris a drinking wine?
A. my thoughts differ as Grigio is a perfect aperitif style with the acid and the greenness of fruit , it really gets the digestive juices pumping as all good aperitifs should. Gris is great for drinking so I do agree with that.

Q. At $22 a bottle, for an Iconic Winemaker, it seems great value.
A. I try to produce and offer wines for consumers at a fair price, I want to educate people and allow them to try new styles at under $25, if it is more than that, they may not be as adventurous and then they would be drinking savvy for the rest of their lives and no one wants that.

John Quinn
8 September 2016 | John Quinn

Spring In To Semillon

Some 7-8 years ago I sat attentively at the Sydney Wine Show lunch listening to the tradition of the International Judge giving their dissertation of the wines presented for judging. Paraphrasing he said ‘The Hunter should only produce Semillon and Semillon should only come from the Hunter’.

I was sitting next to Jay Tulloch as he grumbled “ that bastard obviously didn’t taste my Verdelho….or my Shiraz”. Whilst nodding knowingly toward Jay, it didn’t take me long to realise the statement was the ultimate compliment to Hunter Semillon.

Semillon is hard to sell but shouldn’t be because it is so easy to enjoy. Australian seafood is blessed with natural oils hence why we squeeze a wedge of lemon over our fish. A young Semillon is full of lemon and lime citrus characters and absolutely loves seafood, or is it seafood loves Semillon? As Spring has sprung I challenge all of our subscribers to match a Semillon with your favourite seafood dish. Young Hunter Semillons are gorgeous with our seafood and none better than our mate Marg’s.