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Friday 22 December 2017

McLaren Vale's new wine wonderland throws down the gauntlet to MONA

It's been McLaren Vale's most talked-about project for a couple of years - and now d'Arenberg's Cube is finally open in time for the holiday season. 
The ambitious project, part-restaurant, past-tasting room, part-museum, is envisioned as bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the wine region 40km south of the South Australian capital of Adelaide.

d'Arenberg owner Chester Osborn says the opening is "the realisation of a 14-year dream" and the five-storey $15 million glass-encased steel and concrete structure - inspired by Rubik’s Cube – has a unique architectural twist. 
The two top floors are askew, rotated on their axis, just as if you’d twisted your Rubik’s Cube – which both architects and builders agree have made it the most difficult project on which they’ve ever worked.
As visitors approach the entrance there’s a haunting background sound, created by a local DJ but the instrument making it is a weather station. As the weather changes each of eight parameters (temperature, humidity and so on) talk to a unique musical playback system along a range of keys, tones and volume.
But it’s inside the Cube where Chester’s imagination has run riot, stretching the limits of technology and challenging visitors from the moment they enter through mirrored stainless steel doors that fold back, origami-style.
Guests are confronted by an upended black and white bull cradling a polygraph (lie detector) control panel, the first exhibit in what Chester describes as an Alternate Realities Museum in which everything has more than one meaning, and everything is wine focused.
“I never wanted it to be compared to MONA (Hobart’s famous Museum of Old and New Art),” Chester says. “This is, after all, a cellar door – but it’s also an art gallery. Like MONA there’s a bit of sex and death in here, but it’s really all about wine and alternate realities. Everything has a double or triple meaning.”
The bull and the lie detector, for example. Many winemakers talk about organics and biodynamics without any real commitment … to which Chester’s art installation screams “BS”.
Chester backs his less than subtle art choice with 200ha of certified biodynamic vineyards, making d’Arenberg the largest biodynamic winemaker in Australia.
Next, two peep shows – one housed in a rusty old oven, the other in an ancient refrigerator – show six hours of six people (including Chester) partying while drinking Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. 
There’s also the Sensory Room, for example, with 44 wine flagons mounted on bicycle handlebars, each 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.
Given that d’Arenberg produces 72 different wines under 60 labels there are plenty of aromas to choose from.
Just around the corner is the 360 Experience with a circular video depicting various artists’ impressions of each group of d’Arenberg wines, or what Chester describes as “an interdimensional voyage through the alternate realities inspired by the visual art of our labels.”
There's history here, too, with the company founded by Chester's great- grandfather Joseph Osborn founded 105 years ago. 
There’s a lift to the upper floors but mirrored stairwell features caricatures of d’Arenberg’s range of wines by Australian cartoonists. 
The second floor is a multi-function space for tastings and blending classes, while the third floor houses the d’Arenberg Cube restaurant.
South African husband and wife team Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Dürr are in charge here, with menu options including a “long” degustation lunch, the Sisypheanic Euphoria (allow up to three hours) and an “extra long” lunch, the Pickwickian Brobdingnagian (allow at least four hours). 
The top floor is an all-glass tasting room – four glass bars made up of 115 televisions featuring opaque projections of a naked female underwater swimmer, floor to ceiling windows on all sides – even a glass ceiling, with 16 two-tonne glass panels topped with 16 massive umbrellas that automatically retract and fold in a gale.
The d’Arenberg Cube opened to the public on December 14 (although the winery put some noses out of joint by trying to embargo the news until two days later). Not even Chester, much as he'd like to, can control the news. The new facility is open daily 10am-5pm.

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