The famous D’Arenberg Winery in McLaren Vale in South Australia is known worldwide for the exceptional wines that the estate produces. Founded in 1912 by Joseph Osborn, he started a wine dynasty that has continued for over one hundred years! The winery is now run by the fourth generation of the family, Chester Osborn. I was privileged to meet this very dynamic and talented winemaker at the London Wine Fair in 2007. Having sold and sampled several of the 60+ wines that the estate produces. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have met the artist behind the amazing wines. Chester is a very eccentric and humble lovely man.
The story begins in Truro Cornwall in the UK when Joseph who was born in 1852, immigrated to Australia at six years of age. He did not come from a family of winemakers and spent his early years playing professional football for the Richmond Football Club in 1871-1874, he then established the Norwood Football Club in 1878. Joseph not only played football however, but he also began his journey into the world of wine as company secretary for Thomas Hardy and Sons in 1881. The irony of the situation is that John is a teetotaler. Three years later he became a director alongside Mr. Hardy’s son and in 1894 Joseph was appointed as company director when in the same year the company was rebranded as Thomas Hardy Limited.
From 1895 and 1912 Joseph raced horses under the name of J Rowen (to hide his activities from his mother who was a deeply religious Methodist and believed such activities to be scandalous). He was a remarkably successful jockey with seventy-two wins and earned a small fortune during this time.
In 1912, He decided to sell his prize-winning horses after learning that his son Frank was too ill to continue his medical studies at Adelaide University and had to quit after only two years. Joseph encouraged Frank to work the land alongside him and in the same year purchased land in McLaren Vale, where he planted eight acres of Shiraz vines. Unfortunately, only four acres survived. The vineyard area that Joseph purchased was originally called Bundarra. In 1913, the first grape harvest was sold to other winemakers in the area for the astonishing price of twenty AUD per ton! This was considered to be an exceptional price for grapes during that epoque.
Frank Osborn served in the army between 1915 and 1917 then returned to the family business. Sadly, Joseph Osborn passed away in 1921 after suffering from a prolonged illness that he contracted in 1913 and never fully recovered from and left Frank to continue the family business.
Frank Osborn is convinced by his brother-in-law Sam Tolley who is also a wine industry mentor to take the business a step further by making his own wine. Convinced that it is an innovative idea, Frank constructs a winery and learns winemaking at Ryecroft. In 1928 Frank produced his first vintage of a heavy dry red wine and a port style wine which was made exclusively for export and labeled F.E. Osborn & Sons. Frank never fully regains his health after the Great War, as a result, no grapes are crushed during 1942, and production only recommences after his son d’Arry quits school in 1943 at the age of sixteen and begins his work full-time at the winery.
The Osborn family are known for their innovative ideas and though they were taught to be careful when spending money, important purchases such as a rubber tire tractor (which replaced the six Clydesdale horses) to till the soil in 1946 making the viticulture process much more efficient. The winery was electrified in 1951. These successive progressive moves kept the business at the forefront of wine production and ensured that the enterprise was successful. The first hydraulic basket wine press which was purchased in 1963 is still in use today.
In 1959, d’Arry Osborn launches his own wine label with the distinctive red stripe (which is a reminder of the happy times he spent in school at Prince Alfred College) that is still appears on the labels today in addition to creating a family crest with the phrase Vinum Vita which translates to Wine is Life.
Over the years property continued to expand the size of the winery with the construction of different buildings and in 1969 the start of the first bottling line began and was ready for use in 1971.
Chester Osborn, the second child of d’Arry and grandson of Joseph Osborn was born in 1962. Chester graduated from Roseworthy Agricultural College with a Bachelor of Applied Science Oenology in 1983. After the completion of his studies, he traveled to Europe on a wine tour for six months.
In 1984 Chester returned to Australia and took on the role of Chief Winemaker. He decided that the time had arrived to focus on producing distinctive wines of high quality and made drastic changes to the viticulture process, reducing the use of irrigation and eradicating fertilization. In the winery the pressing process returns to the traditional methods of basket pressing and foot treading. Chester’s first vintage in 1984 also celebrates the famous red stripe on the d’Arenberg labels that his father created 25 years earlier.
During a time when the domestic wine market looked bleak, the d’Arenberg Estate was one of the few Australian wineries that was successfully exporting wines to Europe during the period, both Chester and d’Arry were delighted in 1990 to receive their first international order of a full container of wine from the Netherlands where their Shiraz and Shiraz Grenache blends were appreciated.
In 1969 d’Arenberg won the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for the best Claret or Burgundy style wine. The award is given just one month after Neil Armstrong walks on the moon. Chester Osborn received the Winemaker of the Year award from Winestate Magazine in 1998. In 1999 the d’Arenberg Estate received a further trophy for being The Most Successful Winery of the Year from the Wine Society at the Sydney International Top 100 Competition. The awards continued to flow in with the receipt of The Winery of the Year Award in 2000 from Wine & Spirits Magazine. In the same year Chester was recognized as Man of the Year at a ceremony held in the United States for his exceptional contribution to Rhône wines. The tradition of receiving recognition, as Chester, the winery and individual wines continue to receive countless awards, a testament to the skill and dedication to only create wines of the very highest quality.
In 2013 in a move to become more environmentally friendly, Chester installed the largest solar power generator in a South Australian Winery, which produces 20-30% of the energy needed to run the winery and reduces greenhouse emissions by around 30% (more than 181 tons of Carbon Dioxide per year). In 2015, after a very long conversion process, all the vineyards owned by the d’Arenberg Estate received Organic status (organically certified vineyards use farming practices that maintain a balance of productivity while also lessening the impact of on the environment ensuring that the ecological quality of the land is preserved for future generations).
A truly inspirational and talented winemaking family, the Osborn’s are pioneers in not only the Australian winemaking industry but throughout the world.
My favorite wine in the portfolio is the Iconic Dead Arm Shiraz which was born in 1993. Which wine will be yours?
For more information on d’Arenberg wines visit www.darenberg.com.au
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With 22 years of experience in the wine industry, Cristal held the position of wine advisor. She was part of the wine education team at a prestigious wine merchant for several years before starting her own bespoke wine tourism company in France, which caterers to top-end clients, and working on an ongoing wine research project as Head of Research. Educated by the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust), recognized in over 32 countries, she graduated with distinction. Cristal’s passion for wine started when she worked as Reception Manager in top Michelin-starred restaurants and actively assisted with their wine lists. Cristal has been writing about wine for over 15 years. Cristal is not just about wine; she is an avid rock climber in her spare time and has climbed in many different countries. She also enjoys playing piano and painting, her three cats, and traveling the world.