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Monday, 30 July 2012

d'Arenberg 100 Years Young

100 Years young.  It seems appropriate, if a little corny.

Young, fresh, energetic, driven, sharp.  Consider the principals of the business: Managing Director d'Arry Osborn, 85 years young and sharp as a tack - not missing a beat, recalling details of vineyards planted, by whom and when with ease.  Chief winemaker Chester Osborn, impish - yet spend time with the man and you get to see this mischievous character as a mask, a facade in front of an individual of extraordinary focus, detail and passion.  Passion - that's a word you'll come find yourself coming back to time and again having spent some time in the man's  company.

I was provided with a not-to-be-missed opportunity to taste through a dazzling range of d'Arenberg wines, back vintages and current releases from the broad portfolio and two newer ranges focussing on site expression (Shiraz) and sub-regionality (Grenache).

The alpha-male, the jock that gets the majority of attention.  For many, Australia's signature variety - McLaren Vale's too for that matter.  Over-worked, abused, maligned, celebrated, championed.  What is Shiraz?  A question that can generate as many answers as 'What is Terroir?'

d'Arenberg's flagship is the Dead Arm.  A wine comprised of fruit contributed from 12 select sites.  Sites that until now were only really known to the d'Arenberg team.  That's all changed with the 'Amazing Sites' initiative.

The opportunity to taste through the 12 wines was not to be turned down. Each was from the 2010 vintage: the Asian spice of the 'Swinging Malaysian 2010'; dense, olive and black character of the J.R.O Afflatus Shiraz; and the initial sweeter Amrathine but latterly showing spice, with firm and raspy tannin.  This is Terroir in action.

Grenache is one of Chester's favourite topics for discussions.  The subject of a possible screenplay.  A grape variety that he appears to spend much time mulling over, a variety that he and d'Arenberg have relentlessly championed (as they have with many other 'lesser' known Rhone varieties). 

From offering unheard of prices per tonne in the late 80's to placing it at the heart of one the winery's flagship wines - the Ironstone Pressings - you see the subject burns fierce with Chester.  

The range of sub-regional Grenache (Blewitt Springs - florals and spice; Beautiful View - depth and earthiness; and McLaren Sand Hills - elegance, bigger and more confronting at this juncture) for me represent the next stage in Grenache's renaissance, and the point at which d'Arenberg pushes its case further at a time when other wineries are beginning to understand and learn how to best work with the variety.

That we tasted d'Arry's Original (Shiraz/ Grenache) at 3, 8 and 10 years of age and the Custodian (Grenache) at 3, 6 and 8 years of age made a mockery of the assertion that Grenache doesn't age well.

What Next?
I think we have seen the future.  Expression, of site and purpose.  Passion.  Passion for the brand, the region and the recognition of a responsibility as a custodian and role model within a leadership group within the region and Australia.

Naturally the question arose about some of d'Arenberg's somewhat unusual wines.  Chester showed no sign of slowing down on the number of releases, alluding to a notebook listing future potential releases.  

Whilst it could be said that some of the previous releases could have had more than a nod toward generating a headline (a raised Gallic eyebrow from a leading Champagne house over d'Arenberg's 'Dadd" NV sparkling; or a schoolboy chuckle over the Fuckeliana botrytis perhaps) you cannot dispute the quality of the wines across the board.  The Amazing Site Shiraz and sub-regional Grenache are firmly quality led, a springboard for to the next level perhaps.

d'Arenberg in Numbers
450 - the number of acres that d'Arenberg owns
430 - the number of blocks of grapes they work with
180 - the number of 5t fermenters they have at their disposal
100 - years since the Osborn founded their winery 
69 - the number of wines produced
29 - number of years Chester Osborn has been Winemaker

As a guest of d'Arenberg I would like to express my sincere thanks for the opportunity to taste through this unique range of wine and for the opportunity to do so with d'Arry and Chester in such an intimate setting. 

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