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In South Australia, Wine-Making in a Giant Rubik’s Cube

By Kames Narayanan

An aerial view of the d’Arenberg Cube and its surrounding plains of vineyard.
 
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An aerial view of the d’Arenberg Cube and its surrounding plains of vineyard.

Amidst a sprawling 200-hectare stretch terrain of vineyard in McLaren Vale of South Australia stands a curious five-storey geometric structure coined the d’Arenberg Cube. Designed with reference to a Rubik’s cube, from a distance, the edifice hovers overground — only revealing the illusion created by its mirrored base in closer proximity. The oddities of the architecture alone may bear little hint of its function, but its surrounding vineyards and Salvador Dali statue at the foot of the building lend clues. 

Inaugurated in 2017, the brainchild of fourth-generation winemaker Chester Osborn was conceived as a tangible universe within which the separate realms of art and winemaking coalesce — an idea that was dreamt up by Osborn more than 16 years ago. 

“Wine-making is such a puzzle to figure out. Hence, I designed the building after a Rubik’s cube with its facade depicting the pieces of a puzzle,” shared Osborn as he gave a rundown of the facility. At initial encounter, the d’Arenberg Cube is a seemingly far stretch of the imagination but its oddities dovetail with the eccentricities of its founder. Dressed in a striking printed shirt with curly blonde locks that fell down to his shoulders, Osborn’s kooky personality called to mind the Mad Hatter — the d’Arenberg Cube, I later discover, is indeed the equivalent to his Wonderland. 

d’Arenberg CubeThe pattern on the d’Arenberg Cube combines puzzle pieces to that of its Rubik cube form to represent the complexity of wine-making.
The pattern on the d’Arenberg Cube combines puzzle pieces to that of its Rubik cube form to represent the complexity of wine-making.

As Osborn led the way through the premise, he left no stone unturned — at every step of the way, rattling off explainers to the fixtures he had so intently curated in the Alternative Realities Museum, the d’Arenberg Cube restaurant and cellar door spread across five floors. One foot into the door, the first of what greets guests is a wall designed as an optical illusion affixed on a visual map of vineyard in the region and in its periphery sits the world’s first natural wine-making machine and a life-sized cow statue. 

 If the architectural design of d’Arenberg Cube did not already hint at Osbourn’s off-kilter approach to a cellar door, a venture into the Alternative Realities Museum would do the convincing. The first exhibit was an olfactory display — jars attached to bicycle handlebars invite guests to press the honk for a sniff of ingredients employed in wine-making within. “In the same way that one never forgets how to ride a bike when they have learnt it once, one would never forget the scent of capsicum in wine once they learn to identify it,” said Osborn. 

The analogy was an introduction to the umpteen that followed throughout the d’Arenberg Cube. Osborn had a narrative to share at every turn of the corner: a 360-degree video room tells the story of his diverse inspirations; a skeleton hangs representative of the physical rigour of wine-making; and archival letters from generations before tell the tale of the family’s more than a century-long history in wine-making. Elsewhere inside, Osborn’s obsession with revered surrealist Salvador Dali sees an exhibit of 23 sculptures from the artist’s body of work. 

Andy NowellChester Osborn in the building’s Alternative Realities Museum.
Chester Osborn in the building’s Alternative Realities Museum.

On all counts, the d’Arenberg Cube is an experience like no other — it was a universe of whimsy conjured by a man whose mind was wired in fantasy. 

At the d’Arenberg Cube, the stereotypical properness associated with the world of wine is injected with a heavy dose of joie de vivre. Leading up to the cellar door, on the fourth level of the building sits the state-of-the-art d’Arenberg restaurant helmed by South African-born husband-and-wife duo Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Durr. Not without Osborn’s knack for whack, the restaurant serves a degustation menu heavy-handed on experimentation and obscure ingredients (think: Heston Blumenthal-style cuisine). “We create 3-D printed food in the kitchen,” Osborn proudly declared. 

The restaurant is a prelude to the best part of the d’Arenberg Cube experience: a wine bar on the fifth and final floor shaped after a lip, inviting guests to taste from a repertoire of more than 70 varieties of wine from 30 different grape varieties. Amongst them, a diverse category that ranks from distinct, fragrant wines that drink well on release, wines that capture the notes of a unique patch of terrain to celebratory sparkling wines and limited releases of fortified wines. 

Andy NowellLeaving no stones unturned, even the stairwell at the d’Arenberg Cube is designed with light fixtures that allude to grapes.
Leaving no stones unturned, even the stairwell at the d’Arenberg Cube is designed with light fixtures that allude to grapes.

Osborn’s wine-making philosophy “to make the loudest, most aromatic, fruit-flavoured wines that have great palate texture and are free of obvious oak” is a rare hint of unadulterated seriousness in his wondrous propositions. 

At the d’Arenberg Cube, wine-making may full well be weighty business but its eventual consumption is a high-spirited affair. The chances are, one would leave the d’Arenberg Cube giddy — if not from having one too many glasses of wine, then, from the unbridled joy of going down the rabbit hole with Osborn.