Now many people with a bit of character are often described as being ‘larger than life’. Well they have not met Australian winemaker Chester Osborn. He truly is a one off. A brilliant winemaker in his own right, but also a truly inspirational figure who has intertwined the worlds of conceptual and modern art with wine at his incredible Cube tasting facility – which is as much an art gallery as it is a place to discover d”Arenberg’s wines. Here we find out what we can expect when he takes part in the upcoming Wine Australia’s Redefined tasting in London on September 17.
Chester Osborn only gets to make his d’Arenberg wine once a year, but with his art work he is able to show his creativity and imagination 12 months a year at his world famous Cube facility.
How has the 2019 harvest gone in terms of quality and volume compared to recent years?
Most of the reds are down in volume by about half on previous years. The wind in November during flowering, a dry winter, spring and summer, as well as a few heat waves in summer affected volume. Some of our fruit comes from the Adelaide Hills, and was substantially hit with adverse weather, mainly because of the bad weather during flowering affecting yields. Whites were not as heavily affected. Quality however is looking very good for all varieties.
How about Australia as a whole?
Australia ended up just 1% below the 10-year average, so well above early predictions that the harvest would be 10-20% down on 2018. Overall it was a quality vintage with a good sized crop.
Where does the 2019 vintage leave you in terms of planning your export strategy and allocating what wines goes where?
Well we are always wanting to sell as much wine as we can, particularly at the higher price points, in which we have a lot of wine sitting above $20, $50 and $100 per bottle. So it hasn’t really changed our export plan.
Fortunately 2017 was quite a big vintage, and we are coming up onto releasing many of those so we are looking alright for the time being, provided we get a good 2020 vintage. So far we have had quite good rain over winter, so that’s looking quite positive. Our strategy is to sell more of our premium wines where we sell in over 90 countries around the world.
What are your big growth areas for exports and why?
Our biggest growth area is China, which is going berserk. We are doing well there with multiple importers, and in the premium and super premium categories. If that continues, it will be bigger than our Australian sales before long. We’ve also had good growth in America – also at the premium end. In the UK the Australian dollar hasn’t been as advantageous because of Brexit, but it’s still a very important market for us.
What styles and price points are most in demand in export?
The most in-demand style internationally is Shiraz, but there seems to be growing interest in blends and other varieties. Alternate white varieties are gaining interest and demand is growing for Chardonnay. Rosé seems to be doing well around the world, and we intend to make more in the future. The super-premium area above $50 is a big growth area – we have more than 20 products in this range.
How is the UK now in terms of export? How important is it to you and what wines do you see working specifically well in the UK market?
The UK has a huge tax burden for wine, and also has issues in its marketplace with Brexit, so we haven’t grown in the super premium market as much as we would have liked. Having said that, our agents Enotria & Co have managed this effectively and sales are going well at all price points and we are seeing some small growth.
Has the UK market changed for you in terms of what you are looking for ?
It hasn’t changed much at all! We are working with the same customers and hopefully a few more!
What changes if any are you making to your winemaking style and the kinds of wine you want to make?
We’re making the best wines we’ve ever made at d’Arenberg right now. More integration of oak than ever before. With more equipment we’ve been able to get grapes in when we want them in all the time, so better fragrant length in the wines because we’re not picking some parcels overripe.
Our systems are improving and helping to make better wines. We haven’t really changed our style, they’re very structured, age-worthy wines. We’ve just perfected the style, more precision, more length, more terroir – a greater reflection of the site the wines come from. Many people are saying that we’re in the best spot we’ve been in for many years, if not ever.
How is The Cube, your visitors centre, tasting room with a difference, which really has to be seen to be believed?
The d’Arenberg Cube has been huge. The press we’ve had for it has been enormous, and nationally enormous too. Everywhere I travel throughout the world people are talking about it, and it has had a great effect on wine sales. We also have had an enormous increase in visits, which is excellent as the story of d’Arenberg is being told deeply through the art.
The feeling of authenticity is enhanced a lot through the creativity. Visitors are experiencing first-hand the winemaking processes with foot treading and basket pressing which is instilled throughout the Alternate Realities Museum.
The d’Arenberg Cube Restaurant has also been awarded the best regional restaurant in Australia, as well as top rated restaurant in South Australia. It’s going extremely well. It’s producing amazing food with its degustation style menu offering.
D’Arenberg was also awarded number 29 in the World’s Best Vineyards to Visit Awards 2019, which was an amazing achievement. We were the second highest Australian winery on the list, just behind Penfolds. We are thrilled with this result.
The d’Arenberg Cube is also home to many art exhibitions, currently showing a Salvador Dali sculpture exhibition which has been very well received.
The Cube has helped the McLaren Vale region enormously, with many places staying open throughout the winter period, and everyone is reporting healthy sales and visitation. Tourism is growing a lot in McLaren Vale. Forecasts are that Adelaide will be the number one tourist destination in Australia in the next 10-15 years as we are less cluttered, more nature nearby.
Eight per cent of premium Australian wine comes from South Australia, and there are 200 cellar doors within one hour’s drive of the city centre. It has everything going for it. It definitely helps to have places like the d’Arenberg Cube to bring visitors in!
Why are you taking part in the Australia Redefined tasting in London on September 9?
Because it’s refined! Obviously we sell good quantities of wine in the UK, and we certainly want to sell more at the premium end. We want to keep d’Arenberg in the forefront of our customers’ minds, and to show off new vintages and new wines. There’s a story to be told and we are thrilled that Wine Australia are doing this.
At the same time while we’re over in the UK, we’ll be working with our trade partners Enotria & Co. Definitely a big splash into the UK.
What types of wine will you be showing and why?
We’ll be showing a mix of wines as the marketplace is a mix. Guests will get a taste of our super premium wines like The Icons – we’re always keen to show them off.
If you were a UK buyer and sommelier looking to upgrade their wine list and make it up to date with what is going on in Australia, what you recommend they should by looking to stock up on.
D’Arenberg! OK, maybe that’s a little bit biased. Australia is in a very good spot right now. Now vine age is playing a part and the quality is the best it’s been in many years. So it’s a great time to be looking at the wines from Australia. There are many different grape varieties – we have 37 planted at d’Arenberg that we work with.
It’s interesting to see how they work. It’s a very rich selection of styles depending on what you like to drink. There’s really a style for everyone!
Anything else you looking forward to doing when you are in London?
Hopefully go to a few good restaurants! There are some great restaurants in London. I’m going to be a bit short on time while I’m there, but would love to get out to a few of them. Also I love to visit the Tate Modern if I can squeeze it in.
- The Australia Redefined tasting takes place on September 17 at the OXO2 in London, between 11am and 5.30pm, with a focus on the country’s premium winemakers including eight of Australia’s First Families of Wine, including Chester Osborn. It will look to show wines over £20 RRP a bottle, and as it says “challenge your perceptions of Australian wine with a line-up of more than 200 wines, from the rogue to the refined”. For more information and to register click here.