One Hundred for Four (April 2012)

Chester & d'Arry Osborn

Chester and d'Arry Osborn

McLaren Vale's legendary d'Arenberg estate celebrates its centenary

If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Chester or his father d'Arry Osborn, great supporters of Wine Society events, you probably have some idea of what their hundred-year celebrations might be like. A launch party, the first of many planned for this special year, was held at the winery in February. More than 139 wines were served (Chester said they found it impossible to limit it to the intended 100), including an impressive array of 80 back vintages.

Chester will be in the UK next month for a series of special events to mark this important milestone over here, including a tutored tasting in London on 28th May and a dinner in Cheshire on 29th May for Wine Society members. So that we can all join in the fun, the Osborns have released two special cuvées in recognition of our shared history (we have been shipping their wines since they first started exporting them to the UK in the eighties).

Chester Osborn

The One Hundred for Four labels pay homage to the four generations of Osborns who have tended the 19thcentury vineyards of the d'Arenberg winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia. Current custodians Chester and d'Arry are immensely proud of this achievement, matched by very few Australian wineries. In addition to being grape growers and winemakers, Chester's forefathers Joseph, Frank and d'Arry were all keen sportsmen (Chester says he was quite good at swimming, but that was about it, painting and philosophy being more his thing) and donning cricket whites on Saturdays was something of a tradition in the Osborn household, hence the characters on the labels.

Thankfully, Chester has maintained the most important family tradition, that of winemaking, which he has embraced in his own inimitable style, not only in terms of winemaking but also in the gifted way in which he communicates about wine; the eye-catching names of the wines and the legendary d'Arenberg back labels are all his doing.

A flamboyant presenter, Chester is often called upon to talk on wine at international conferences. Most memorably, last year he gave a talk on marketing wine in Hong Kong. The striptease he performed on the podium, to make the point that you need to be noticed and memorable (his modesty covered by labels; The Dead Arm on the front and The Last Ditch on the rear), certainly achieved just that. The video posted by Jancis Robinson MW, helped the message go global.

Chester took over from his father as chief winemaker and viticulturist in 1984. He immediately set about returning the vineyards to their traditional grape-growing practices of minimal inputs and no fertilisation, cultivation and irrigation wherever possible. Winemaking processes of the past have been maintained, and all grapes are gently basket-pressed in wooden presses dating from the 1860s. Reds are still traditionally fermented with the grape skins (the cap) submerged in open wax-lined concrete fermenters using the age-old technique of foot-treading.

I managed to catch Chester by telephone in between parties and mid-vintage to ask him a bit more about the wines that they have produced exclusively for Wine Society members. Rather more prosaically than usual, the first thing Chester had to say about the One Hundred for Four wines was that they are a very good price! He told me that shiraz vines have been grown on the estate since the 1880s even before Joseph Osborn bought up the vineyards. In the 1950s more than half of all Australian dry reds were made from McLaren Vale fruit. Shiraz was, and still is, highly prized for blends (still only 17% of McLaren Vale wine is bottled under its own label). Our 2010 One Hundred for Four Shiraz (ref N-AU14681, £7.50) is made from vines that are 40+ years old, 'it's quite structured and aromatic with good integrated oak, not fat and heavy like some shiraz can be, but you're getting a lot of wine for your money,' Chester says. GSM blends (grenach/shiraz/ mourvèdre) also have a distinguished pedigree in this region and particularly at d'Arenberg where grenache especially plays a major role in many of the estate's wines. This is mainly thanks to Chester's father d'Arry who recognised the potential of the grape and has worked hard to protect older plantings of the variety. Much of the grenache that has gone into our 2010 Shiraz-Grenache- Mourvèdre (ref N-AU14671, £7.50) comes from old, dry-grown vines in the cool Blewitt Springs sub-region of McLaren Vale. The sandy soils and cooler nights give wines that are aromatic with good acidity and elegance. Supple and smooth, the wine combines finesse with force in a highly quaffable style.

Chester & d'Arry Osborn

Chester & d'Arry Osborn

Clearly grenache is close to both d'Arry's and Chester's heart and we are lucky to be able to offer members two singlevineyard bottlings from the 2009 vintage from Blewitt Springs (ref N-AU14511, £38) and Beautiful View (ref N-AU14521, £38), available exclusively to us in the UK. Chester says the Blewitt Springs is akin to Burgundy with 'lovely long violet, flowery, mineral fruit.' The d'Arenberg winery is located in this Beautiful View sub-region of McLaren Vale (an area originally called Bellevue); there are old vines dating back to the 19th century here and a complex mix of soils, 'red earth on limestone and younger sand on clay. It all gives a more earthy character to the wine which is chunkier and more solid than the Blewitt Springs.'

Chester believes the big thing for McLaren Vale will be high-quality, singlevineyard wines. 'The Dead Arm Shiraz, for example, is made up of lots of individual parcels of wine. I've been experimenting by keeping some of these separate. Quantities will be tiny, only eight barrels of each, but this is where we can be innovative and go that step further. It's only really family-run businesses like ours that can do this sort of thing.'

Hats off (but keep your trousers on Chester!) and here's to the next 100 years.

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