By Nigel Hopkins
It’s expected to be one of the world’s most unusual and dramatic cellar doors; often referred to as ‘Willy Wonka’s Wine Factory’ – and it’s right here in South Australia.
For South Australian winemaker Chester Osborn, it’s the realisation of a 13-year dream but, for McLaren Vale’s wine region, Chester’s Cube could bring tens if not hundreds of thousands more wine tourists to the area.
Chester’s Cube, or as he would prefer it, the d’Arenberg Cube, is already soaring above its surrounding Mourvedre vines at d’Arenberg Winery in the heart of McLaren Vale.
The four storey, $14 million glass-encased steel and concrete structure was inspired by Rubik’s Cube.
The building – an architectural puzzle four modules wide, four high and four deep – seems to float above the ground-floor entrance. The architectural twist is that the two top floors are askew, rotated on their axis, just as if you’d twisted your Rubik’s Cube.
“Both the architects and the engineers say it’s been the most complicated and time-consuming design they’ve ever worked on,” Chester says of the ADS Architects design.
The custom-designed entrance door will spin and fold open, origami-style, with feather-touch sensors to ensure no-one is inadvertently squashed as it closes.
A sharp left turn leads to a small “wine fog room”, a vinous sensory overload as the visitor is immersed in a thick fog of whatever happens to be the wine of the day. Chester is even planning a non-alcoholic fog so children can enjoy the sensation too.
Next stop is the “flower and fruit room” with walls and ceiling smothered with artificial flowers and fruit, and up to 30 flagons containing a selection of the 72 different wines d’Arenberg produces under 60 labels. Each flagon is connected to a bike horn with rubber puffer. Beep the horn and inhale – what a hoot.
“We’re trying to get the senses really alive and excited by now,” Chester explains.
With no time to recover, you’ve lurched into the “360-degree video room”. Chester has hired a full-time videographer to provide the content, with projections intended to make viewers feel as if they’re in the middle of a vineyard with a lifelike soundtrack to enhance the realism.
“We want this to be very stimulating,” Chester says, adding that the space can also double as a dining venue for special occasions.
There are also plans to fill any vacant space with art installations Chester has either commissioned or collected over the years. On this note, the next stop is the ‘art installation room’, which is created to give the impression of being inside a wine fermenter. This room features an installation by award-winning South Australian artist Jane Skeer of hundreds of dangling VHS video tapes, combined with projections of people treading grapes.
On to the “faces room” with a ceiling covered in representations of grapes and its brick-red walls decked with paintings of faces and bodies from Chester’s personal art collection – each painting matched with an appropriate d’Arenberg wine.
And that’s just the first floor.
There’s a lift to each floor, but that would mean missing out on the high-gloss stainless steel-mirrored stairwells, a shifting light show depicting the various colours of grapes – red, white, yellow, green – and caricatures of d’Arenberg wine labels commissioned from 30 of Australia’s leading cartoonists.
The first floor opens to the ladies’ toilets, four steel-grey corrugated iron pods that will be totally covered in realistic fake foliage, with hanging chandeliers of grapes above the hand basins. The men’s has similar designs and two larger pods as urinals.
“My own design, very artistic,” Chester says with a cheeky grin.
This floor gets down to business, though, with a large kitchen and dining area that will be used for cooking classes, chef’s tables and so on. In a rare moment of super practicality it also houses an office area.
The second floor opens out to the largest open space in the building where d’Arenberg will move its busy function program that includes tutored tastings, single vineyard and vertical tastings, and blending classes. Here there are also the first two of several private function rooms, hidden behind a shiraz-stained door constructed from the front of a 4500-litre wine vat, that can be used for VIP tastings and dinners.
On to the first of the twisted floors, a design that creates a series of outdoor open spaces, and it’s here that Osborn will locate the winery’s second restaurant, leaving d’Arrys Verandah under long-standing chef Peter Reschke to continue as usual adjacent to the current cellar door.
The fourth floor of the Cube is, in effect, a glass-encased and roofed pavilion with both public and private wine-tasting bars overlooking views of the entire McLaren Vale region. The 16 glass roof panels, each of which weighs two tonnes, feature the same geometric black and white design as the wall panels and are topped with 16 retractable umbrellas for sunny day protection.
“Some people refer to this as Willy Wonka’s wine factory, and in a way it is,” Chester says.
“It’s going to change what wine tasting rooms are about.”
The Cube will nearly double d’Arenberg’s current workforce to just more than 100, adding another $2 million a year to the wages bill, but with wine tourism rapidly picking up Chester says predictions of 500,000 visitors a year might not be out of the question.
The d’Arenberg Cube is expected to open to the public in May 2017.
Images by Tony Lewis
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