Chester Osborn – keeping up appearances and the personality in Australian wine.
The industry leader in front of me is by no means quiet by nature or by fashion. In fact, I have seen this man in action several times in London. Indefatigably captivating wine tasters crowded 5 or 6 deep around his tasting table while other tables have no-one. It is impossible to separate the bright, lairy shirts from the charismatic wines under the red d’Arenberg sash. They both capture your imagination whilst delighting your senses. And sitting across the table from Chester Osborn, my comment to him is along the lines of, ‘Just when I think I am getting a sense of you and your wine, you both take deviations into the unexpected.’
Dressed in a recent blue and purple acquisition from the Middle East that coincidentally, albeit unintentionally, provided a perfect fashion foil for the DADD label, Chester was in town to discuss his current release icons and Amazing site wines. Of course, as with most things d’Arenberg, there was something else to talk about as well. While he had our attention, he was also spreading the news that contrary to last year’s reports that it was a gloomy vintage for Australia, 2011 was another good year for d’Arenberg and by the way – it is time to rethink what you know about McLaren Vale.
McLaren Vale is a region that produces some of Australia’s most drinkable wines but it is nowhere near top of mind for our international markets. The exception being maybe the US love affair with the Mollydooker label, a brand that until recently never appeared on any Australian shelves (apart from a few targeted especially for visiting US drinkers). Of course, the brands are known. Mr Rigg’s, Two Hands, Wirra Wirra and d’Arenberg, just to name a few, have a strong presence on shelves in the US and the UK. However, the region has in the past lost out behind the better known Barossas and Margaret Rivers of Australia.
In Australia, those who are long time lovers of the region have seen the region continue to present a cohesive front with initiatives such as the Cadenzia and Scarce Earth programmes. With these projects, Australians are only just beginning to think of McLaren Vale as having sub regional character within its borders and are waking up to the diversity that has long been offered by the Vale.
And so, armed with statistical proof of the different microclimates within McLaren Vale, Chester gave us a masterclass on the sub-regions that are putting their best foot forward. Again showing yet another facet to the passionate McLaren Vale ambassador and the force of nature that keeps d’Arenberg the lively family brand it is. One that is perhaps more meticulous than the shirts indicate.
Regions such as Blewitt Springs, and the d’Arenberg named Beautiful View and Sand Hills. Thanks in part to the work that the team have done in gathering the weather readings from around these sub-regions, he could also give us the low down on the 2011 vintage and its convolutions. A McLaren Vale vintage well worth seeking out.
The d’Arenberg Amazing Sites range for 2011 is 13 Shiraz wines, although Chester hastens to add that some of the range has such limited quantities that it will quickly sell out. These wines all are sourced from family owned vineyards around the McLaren and are all blended into the family icon ‘The Dead Arm Shiraz’. The team decided to produce these wines to really show what each vineyard can do, and at the same time to showcase how the sub regions characterise McLaren Vale.
Compared to the 2010s, these wines have crept up in ripeness by nearly a degree ABV each. They are perceptively fuller, but you could not say each was full bodied. The wines are foot trod at 4 beaume, fermented in oak and matured for 21 months in seasoned (mostly French oak) with no copper and no fining. This has ensured that each has achieved its own personality.
And then the discussion turned to those names!! Sometimes a lesson in logic laced with obscurity. Sometimes just plain absurd. Always memorable.
In the early days, it was a collaborative effort from Chester and Zar Brooks, who continues the tradition with his own brand, Dandelion, with such whimsical names as ‘Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling’. The d’Arenberg labels are now Chester’s creative babies apparently. Often born in the long midnight hours. Names such as The Bamboo Scrub and Little Venice tend to roll off the tongue with more ease than those like The Noble Botryotinia Fuckeliana and Stephanie the Gnome with Rose Tinted Glasses. Imagine asking your Sommelier for the former at the end of the evening!
However, each and every name has significance to the family, the grape or the vineyard or any combination of the three. Even the names that are ostensibly simple are packed with meaning. I particularly like that The Lucky Lizard is a salute to the close shave a reptilian friend had with a fermenting vat. Although, The Cenosilicaphobic Cat also strikes a chord long after the proverbial glass is empty.
Conversely, while it seems that there is no end to the energy that Chester pours into his family’s label, he does draw the line at doing his own foot treading these days. This task, he now leaves to cellar staff and even cellar door visitors who happen to be in the right place at the right time. And rest assured that clean rubber boots are used each time.
Here is one of Chester’s favourite out of the Amazing Sites range, I will put up the others in a part 2:
d’Arenberg The Amaranthine Shiraz 2011 ($100) 14.4% – The 2011 displays more minerality and richness than the 2010 although, it is still an elegantly structured wine. The name means everlasting, eternal, as well as a deep purple colour. Fittingly it is a prominent wine in the Dead Arm blend. The black plums are ripe and fleshy with some cloves and earthy minerals. The powdery tannins take on some grippiness in this wine. A wine made to last the distance of a decade or so in the cellar.
To read the reviews on the 2010 Amazing Sites, click here….