Willy Wonka’s wine factory

Joanna Lobo | Updated on April 27, 2018
Idiosyncratic: Personal stories have gone into the making of the avant garde d’Artenberg cube, the latest news from the McLaren wine region in Australia

Idiosyncratic: Personal stories have gone into the making of the avant garde d’Artenberg cube, the latest news from the McLaren wine region in Australia

Australia’s new five-storey Rubik’s cube-inspired structure is a visual and sensory experience, complete with gnomes, tinsel curtains and a mist room.

The room has flowers and fruits — the fake kind — covering every inch of the walls. It appears like a gaily-coloured version of the Garden of Eden, the forbidden fruits hanging low and tempting but inedible. Instead, for my sensory pleasures, are a few hand pumps, each showcasing fragrances of a different ingredient, fruit or flower. I sniff apple, cherries, jasmine and honey. “This room is about activating the senses. It’s the visual impact of seeing something you know the aromas of, so later, you can detect them in the wines,” says my guide. The pumps are attached to cycle handlebars – the reasoning being, aromas, much like cycling, is something you don’t forget once you’ve learned it.

There are stories and much thought has gone into the making of the d’Arenberg Cube, the newest structure to grace the McLaren Vale wine region in South Australia. “The d’Arenberg Cube represents the complexities of wine and winemaking. Wine is a puzzle to work out. I thought ‘what is the most iconic puzzle?’ The Rubik’s Cube! Now, the d’Arenberg Cube has become a much more difficult and challenging puzzle to work out,” says Chester Osborn, 51, chief winemaker and fourth generation of the Osborn family to continue the winemaking tradition.

The cube is also a visually appealing puzzle. At first glance, the five-storey green-and-white building, set amongst a vineyard of Mourvedre, appears to be floating in the air. True to its inspiration, the top two levels rotate on their axis in one direction, and then back again. The façade has a geometric pattern to add to the complexity of the ‘puzzle’, and the whole bottom layer is covered in mirrors. The idea for the structure, I’m told, has been in the making for over a decade.

A puzzle to solve

Each floor has something different to offer. The ground level has the Museum of Alternate Realities — a sensory experience including the fake fruit room, a 360-degree video room with special effects, and a mini-museum of stuff belonging to each generation of the family. Up one level is an open kitchen, and the bathrooms. The latter is so very over-the-top, it’s not uncommon to find people gathered outside admiring them. The ladies room has creepy dolls attached to faux greenery covering every wall, while the men’s room has action figures and caricatured faces that double as urinals; here, action figures replace the dolls.

Odd one out: The restaurant lives up to the quirky decor of the rest of the building


On the second floor are the offices and an open space dedicated to learning about wine, wine blending through masterclasses. Up one flight is the d’Arenberg Cube restaurant, and finally, the cellar door containing actual vines around the bar. This floor looks out onto the vineyards and the Willunga Region, and gives an occasional glimpse of helicopter depositing some celebrity on the grounds. This section is covered in glass, and thus has 16 hydraulically operated umbrellas to shelter it from the sun.

Yes, that was Chester’s idea as with everything else in the Cube. He likes things loud and quirky, is the common refrain. It has earned him a comparison with another creative, though fictional, genius. “We did a photo-shoot with a local newspaper where I dressed as the Willy Wonka. I think d’Arenberg Cube is somewhat like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, only wine themed!” he says. Willy Wonka of Wine does have a nice ring to it.

Challenging perceptions

At d’Arenberg Cube, normal is thrown out of the window. During my visit to d’Arenberg Cube, the room filled with fake flowers and fruit was not the weirdest thing on display. At the entrance, I spot a crib of gnomes (some serving wine), and the music that follows me inside is actually the sound of the wind. Once in, I spend a few minutes watching a peep show of Chester and his friends celebrating the launch of the Cube. There’s European wine, vinyl music, and everyone is dressed in 1920’s costumes and don’t seem too perturbed by the fact that they are being filmed. Later, I move through a circle of a dense tinsel curtain — meant to indicate the last moments before death — before finding the light. The light here is the pale glow of a room filled with paintings of people’s faces and upper bodies, all in shades of red. “It is somewhat of a journey into my mind. From the concept and creation of the building, through to the internal fit out, I have had an influence,” says Chester.

The d’Arenberg Cube also has very wine-specific pieces of art. These can be found in the stairwell, which has colourful caricatures of the 70 different wines in the d’Arenberg cellars, created by famous cartoonists across Australia. The pictures presented in the stairwell and scattered throughout the building represent the wines that visitors can taste at the cellar door.

Sensory treat

The complete treat to the senses is found at the restaurant. Here too, the space has that touch of quirk — an upside down bicycle, a wall of masks, refurbished barrels, and brightly-coloured upholstery. “The d’Arenberg Cube restaurant is another piece of the puzzle, and another aspect to the sensory experience. We wanted to create something that excites and surprises our guests,” says Chester. The creators of the ‘short’ and ‘long’ degustation menus are husband and wife duo, trained in Michelin-starred restaurants, Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Durr. Each course comes up from the kitchen through a dumbwaiter, and is paired with wines from around the world and the full d’Arenberg museum collection of wines.

Long-and-short The creators of the ‘short’ and ‘long’ degustation menus are husband and wife duo, trained in Michelin-starred restaurants, Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Durr



The food is playful and imaginative even if it can get a bit gimmicky, like the rolled up note that turns out to have Chester’s face on it. Scallops are teased into silk like threads and served with grapes and seawater that’s poured over dry ice to give off the salty scent of the ocean. A foie gras mousse masquerades as a pair of grapes and their tendrils are made with duck crisps. Barramundi comes as bush coals, paired with kingfish and trout roe. My favourite part of the meal is the dessert, because it has one thing that sets it apart from the rest of the food, being 3D-printed. The white-chocolate, Japanese-style ganache is part of the deconstructed lemon-meringue pie; this place is one of the first to use 3Dprinters in a commercial kitchen on a daily basis.

D’Arenberg may have launched in December but it is definitely attracting attention. I visit on the day when one of their guests was Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. “Consumers are ever more looking for unique and luxury experiences, and d’Arenberg is delivering here with the d’Arenberg Cube. The unique offering is really designed as a tourist destination,” says Chester. I would have to agree.

At 58 Osborn Road, McLaren Vale South Australia. Cost: $10 entry fee includes a standard tasting experience. The restaurant is open for lunch from Thursday to Sunday, priced at $150 onwards.


Joanna Lobo is a freelance writer in Mumbai

Published on April 26, 2018

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