It’s been called Willy Wonker’s Wine Factory, the Mad Hatter’s House, and Chester’s Folly but, however you refer to it, the d’Arenberg Cube is cementing the McLaren Vale’s reputation as an extraordinary food and wine destination.
The startling construction, which was inspired by a Rubik’s Cube, is the brainchild of Chester Osborn, fourth generation grape grower and Chief Winemaker at one of South Australia’s most significant wineries, d’Arenberg.
Situated in the gorgeous McLaren Vale, just a 45-minute-drive south of Adelaide, d’Arenberg winery is a traditional small-batch wine maker, which also serves some of the best food in the region.
The winery, which was established in rolling green countryside in 1912, has seen more and more visitors to its cellar door and fine-dining restaurant in recent years, and needed to grow. Chester says he was baffled about how to expand the winery until he came across the idea of using the popular 1970s puzzle as a model.
“We needed new office space, our tasting room had been full on weekends for around 13 years, and d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant had been pretty much full for that amount of time too,” he says.
“Originally I was going to build a colonial-style building like the 1800’s buildings we already have, and then one day I woke up and said to myself ‘Why do the same?’ Our quirky wine label names are a puzzle to work out and winemaking is a bit of a puzzle too. I wanted something to represent d’Arenberg, and a giant Rubik’s Cube came to mind.”
Chester built a half-metre-high model of his ambitious concept 14 years ago, but construction was delayed as he tried to convince his family that his idea wasn’t as wacky as they suspected. Then came the Global Financial Crisis, which made it even riskier to build.
“Finally, in 2014, we decided we could do it, so we went back to the designers and architects and it started to materialise,” he says.
A multi-million dollar puzzle set in a vineyard
The five-storey building, which is due to open to the public later this year, looks like a flight of fantasy in white and bottle green glass. The top two levels are askew, rotated on their axis, like a half-solved puzzle. And the whole creation seems to float above the vines, thanks to its base that sits a metre-and-a-half above the ground.
A custom-made main door folds and opens origami style to reveal a theatrical inside. On the ground floor are a range of rooms, including a contemporary wine museum and “wine fog room”.
“The mist blows in and you are immersed in a fog of wine,” Chester says. “It lifts your sensual awareness so that your senses will be heightened. There’s even a ‘non-alcoholic fog’ for children to enjoy.”
Next comes a room with artificial fruits and flowers on the walls and images projected across the floor. In here you can find 30 aroma containers that issue individual scents that match the tastes of white and red wines. Expect cherry and plum, chocolate and oak, passion fruit and pineapple, apple and lime.
From here you wander into a 360-degree video room with special effects that make you feel as if you are in a vast vineyard. The space can double as a dining venue, Chester notes.
Another room has thousands of dangling VHS video tapes hanging from a ceiling and features a moving projection of people crushing grapes by foot, created by award-winning South Australian artist Jane Skeer.
“It’s like you have fallen over in the crushed grapes and it’s pitch black. Some people might find it a bit confronting,” Chester says.
Other areas contain sculptures and artworks collected or commissioned by Chester himself.
Onwards and upwards into the Cube
The first floor of the Cube reveals bathrooms complete with corrugated iron cubicles covered with artificial plants. A kitchen takes up much of this floor, and there’s also a dining room that can be used as a Chef’s Table, for cooking classes, functions, and tasting experiences.
Offices are on the second floor, along with a function room with a movable bar held up by winches and cables and made up of 38 television screens joined together. Artistic impressions flow from one TV to the next.
On the third floor is a spacious and minimalist “ultra fine dining restaurant” partitioned by wooden staves culled from 4500-litre wine vats. The restaurant is simply called The d’Arenberg Cube, and is headed up by husband and wife duo Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Durr. Both are Michelin star trained chefs, who previously worked at the acclaimed Lake House, in Daylesford, Victoria, and were most recently at Leonards Mill on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
It features both a nine-course and five-course menu with “lots of extra morsels” as well as matching wines.
“It’s a lot more than just a plate of food. It’s about local produce and it’s very creative and artistic and theatrical, with a lot of play,” Chester says.
Finally, the fourth floor reveals a glass-encased pavilion with retractable umbrellas and views that overlook the whole region. The main bars are here, made of melted-glass containing real grape vines.
“The building will be a tourist attraction, obviously, and it will put the McLaren Vale on the map internationally because it will change the way people experience a wine venue,” Chester says. “It’s a full immersion into wine and premium dining.”
By Marc Llewellyn