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It’s not hard to see why South Australia holds a place among nine other Great Wine Capitals of the World.
The first European settlers to Adelaide and surrounding regions recognised the potential to produce wines from its soils, aided by a Mediterranean climate which encompassed the spectrum from freezing winters to hot, arid summers. Vineyards were planted in and around the colony soon after its establishment, and further afield in the fertile valleys of Clare and the Barossa.
That potential has grown into a multimillion dollar industry and our wines are recognised and appreciated around the globe, but until now our industry has developed quietly, its reputation grown steadily, with little fanfare.
But the vision of one man has managed to change all that, determined to raise the profile of McLaren Vale and its wines. Now the region boasts something more than brilliant vintages and wonderful food. It houses an architectural wonder, a wine attraction like no other. The Cube stands proudly in its vineyard setting and has hosted a thousand visitors a day since it opened its doors to the public in 2018.
The Cube is the brainchild of Chester Osborn of D’Arenberg Wines, and it’s a piece of high-concept design that’s intentionally irreverent and cheeky, confronting and challenging – and so much more than any cellar door stopover you’ll ever experience.
Chester says he was inspired by the complexity of wine making, as he constantly thought about how, as a winemaker, creating a product that’s truly special is a mixture of science, innovation and art. He suggests there is a sense of old-fashioned alchemy involved, blending a combination of ingredients that results in a new element, something entirely novel and distinctive.
While his cubist creation is certainly new, it’s also unashamedly different to anything you’ve ever experienced. To immerse yourself in the eccentric vision of The Cube, take a leisurely tour one hour south of Adelaide to McLaren Vale, famed for its rich red soils and prized Shiraz wines.
The building pops up like an architectural jack-in-a-box surprise, a five storey, multi-faceted building sitting among Mourvèdre vines, its imposing square layers of white, black and teal contrasting with the sea of greenery around its base, set starkly against the azure sky. It looks like a giant toy puzzle, left behind for tiny mortals to ponder.
The concept and construction of the building evolved over time – Chester first imagined it in 2003 and it took fifteen years to come to fruition – and the process was a serious business, but there’s such a fun aspect to the place.
While each of The Cube’s five levels have been designed to excite and stimulate, to leave a visitor with lasting impressions of having fallen down a rabbit hole to visit an imaginary wonderland, its purpose is nevertheless to enlighten and instruct, while at the same time getting pleasure from the whimsy and humour it evokes.
The building has private function areas and a restaurant, and also features a wine sensory room, a virtual fermenter, a 360 degree video room and numerous tactile experiences and artworks throughout the structure. For many first time sightseers, the bathroom facilities are a talking point. Like reactions to modern art, they can inspire outrage, confusion and laughter in equal measures.
There are few cellar doors which charge a fee when you enter their premises to look around. Visitors say the ten dollar admission fee is worth every cent because they are blown away by the imagination of the designers and innovation in its built form. All come away impressed with the uniqueness of their experience, one which entertains and educates them in the sensory and video rooms, where they learn more than they could have conceived about the character and blending of wine.
It’s all about the wine of course, and innovation is a hallmark of the D’Arenberg experience. Where else does a winery categorise its product with grouping labels such as the Socialities, the Outsiders, the Ancients, the Nobles, the Artisans and the delightfully named High Altitude Hillbillies?
While the label has earned its place among the pantheon of founding South Australian winemaking families - they have been in the business for five generations and are considered masters of their craft – the whole business today is characterised by innovation in everything they do.
Where else, in any other wine region in the world, would you find the depth of exploration in grape varieties, with offerings of Tempranillo in Sticks and Stones, Shiraz Viognier in the Laughing Magpie, Chambourcin Graciano in their Peppermint Paddock or the Sagrantino Cinsault in the tongue twisting Cenosilicaphobic Cat? The Cinsault grape, originally from southern France, is a heat tolerant variety brought to our shores from the former colonies of Morocca and Algeria, and is an integral part of the alchemy, inspiration and constant innovation that is part of the D’Arenberg tradition.
Most wines, apart from one or two of the more expensive drops, are available for sampling at the cellar door, and there are a range of special tasting masterclasses for the dedicated aficionado.
Then, of course, there is the quality of the food on offer. Guests describe the gastronomic delights of the restaurant as ‘spectacular’ and there are regular mentions of signature dishes such as the lobster ravioli and passionfruit soufflé, all made with fresh local ingredients from land and sea.
All visitors agree it is, without doubt, one of the most enchanting wine and food experiences our state has to offer and why The Cube has proved a major attraction for the southern vales.
The Cube stimulates discussion, even argument, about where life, art, media, chemistry, architecture and wine and food intersect, and how we individually feel and interpret these themes in the garishly bold and the subtly beautiful.
Inside all of its spaces, the futuristic atmosphere always faces out, gazing in all directions onto the undulating waves of vines, and the stunning views overlooking the ancient rolling hills of Willunga.
The contrast between the modern and the ancient could not be more juxtaposed. It is perhaps an allegory of our modern lives, lived at speed in a digital world, while we still crave the gentle timelessness of a fine wine, imagined by its makers and crafted so carefully by human hands.