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Behind the design of the d'Arenberg Cube

Celebrated winemaker Chester Osborn has added a bold twist to the traditional cellar door with an immersive experience for all the senses in South Australia's McLaren Vale.

By David Sly
The d’Arenberg Cube in McLaren Vale
The d’Arenberg Cube

One twist of a Rubik's Cube in 1980 convinced Chester Osborn that it was something perfect: a confluence of mathematical logic, clean design and a riot of colour; a jumble of possibility that contains an inherent solution.

Fast-forward to the early 2000s, when the flamboyant McLaren Vale winemaker, known for his vividly patterned shirts, was dreaming of a new cellar door for his family vineyard – but like nothing seen before. "Wine is a bit of a puzzle with so many interconnected facets, so a Rubik's Cube is the perfect design to express that," says Osborn, the fourth-generation d'Arenberg winemaker. "I wanted a giant version as a tasting room that would instantly make people think about wine differently."

He built a model of his idea and presented it to the winery's board in 2003; 14 years and $15 million later, the d'Arenberg Cube appears to hover over a mourvèdre vineyard on the estate, an effect created by the mirrored cladding around its base. The project's long gestation proved fortuitous for its architect, Nick Salvati, of ADS Architects; the façade required double-tempered glass that wasn't available in such large sizes until 2015.

Views across McLaren Vale
Views across McLaren Vale

Visitors enter the five-storey building through a faceted-glass door that unfolds like origami, and wander through a series of "wine experience" rooms filled with 60 contemporary artworks, from installations and video projections to surreal portraits of Osborn. In one room, filled with imitation fruit and flowers, visitors squeeze bike horns to release mists of wine scents; in another, a "virtual fermenter", they squeeze through dangling strips of videotape, meant to simulate the experience of being immersed in a tank of grapes.

The d'Arenberg Cube restaurant
The d'Arenberg Cube restaurant

The Cube's restaurant, on the third floor, is run by South Africa-born chefs Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Dürr, previously at Lake House in Daylesford, Victoria, and Leonards Mill on South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula. Their dégustation lunch menu, a flight of inventive dishes such as glossy purple "grapes" filled with foie gras mousse, is accompanied by a list of 550 wines, including d'Arenberg's range of 350. Osborn's collection of tribal masks from Papua New Guinea, Australia, Africa and Asia takes pride of place. "It's meant to be culturally eclectic," he says of the room, "illustrating that the cuisine doesn't just hail from any one place."

Tribal masks in the d'Arenberg Cube restaurant
Tribal masks in the d'Arenberg Cube restaurant

On the fourth floor is the cellar door, where melted glass panels by Glenn Howlett of Willunga Glass Studio flank a long bar fitted with 115 monitors screening digital art. Bold design features appear on every floor, from harlequin-patterned couches and chairs by Adelaide custom upholsterer McConnell's to corrugated-iron toilet pods covered in faux foliage and hung with grape-festooned chandeliers.

The South Australian Government, which contributed $2 million to the project, expects the Cube to attract up to half a million visitors a year and focus attention on McLaren Vale as a destination. Attendance since its December opening lives up to these expectations, supporting Osborn's belief that serious wine should always be fun. "People will feel like they've been into Willy Wonka's Wine Factory," he says.

The d'Arenberg Cube is open 10am-5pm daily (the $10 admission includes a standard wine tasting). The d'Arenberg Cube restaurant is open for dégustation lunch noon-5pm Thu-Sun. The estate's flagship restaurant, d'Arry's Verandah, in a farmhouse on the property, is open for lunch noon-5pm daily. 58 Osborn Rd, McLaren Vale, SA, (08) 8329 4888, darenberg.com.au

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  • Author: David Sly