For d’Arenberg Winery’s Chester Osborn, the five-storey A$14m (US$10.7m) glass-encased steel and concrete structure, inspired by the Rubik’s Cube, is the realisation of a 13-year dream.
Osborn, 54, is the chief winemaker and futurist for the company his great-grandfather, Joseph Osborn, founded 104 years ago, but is equally well known for his love of art and his eccentric collection of shirts.
His audacious d’Arenberg Cube, an architectural puzzle four modules wide, four high and four deep, is already soaring above its surrounding Mourvedre vineyards in the McLaren Vale, a fast 40km drive south from Adelaide.
Due to officially open in May 2017, the Cube promises to be an assault on the senses: it will be filled with art installations, a “wine fog room”, flagons connected to bicycle horns to “beep” the smell, wine tasting rooms, a restaurant and a top balcony made of two-tonne glass panels.
Not surprisingly there are those who see the Cube as Osborn’s folly, and he concedes he has at times made both his father, d’Arry, and his board quite nervous
“Some people refer to this as Willy Wonka’s wine factory, and in a way it is,” Osborn said, though the due diligence backs him.
“With 500 acres of organic and biodynamic vines we represent about a third of all McLaren Vale’s premium production,” he said. “And we’re the busiest cellar door in the region, with 50,000 visitors a year.”
Research released last year by the University of South Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute found that a visit to a winery's cellar door made consumers more likely to buy the winery’s product for months after the visit.
Lead researcher Johan Bruwer said the research showed a cellar door visit had a much wider impact beyond sales on the day.
“The cellar door can give the brand a good story if those who visit and taste the wine have had a good, authentic, and memorable experience. People who visit a cellar door also become more educated about the wine region and this increases the consumption of wines of that origin,” Prof Bruwer said.
During a six-month period after a cellar door visit, 54% of visitors bought an average of 9.1 bottles of the winery's wine. The likelihood of making future purchases is 47% on average.
Osborn plans to fill any vacant space with art installations he has either commissioned or collected over the years. There will be an “art installation room” created to give the impression of being inside a wine fermenter, featuring an installation by award-winning local artist Jane Skeer of hundreds of dangling VHS video tapes, combined with projections of people treading grapes.
“We want this to be very stimulating,” Osborn said, adding that the space could also double as a dining venue for special occasions
“We really needed a bigger tasting area and new offices, and d’Arry’s Verandah restaurant has been full for the past 12 years. I just woke up one morning and thought why do we want to recreate fake history, so I sat down and drew this. It took me 20 minutes.”
The Cube will nearly double d’Arenberg’s current workforce to just over 100, adding another A$2m (US$1.5m) a year to the wages bill, but with wine tourism rapidly picking up, Osborn says predictions of 500,000 visitors a year might not be out of the question.