Current Issue #488

The Great d'Arenberg Cube Debate

The Great d'Arenberg Cube Debate

To some it’s McLaren Vale’s Mona, a fantastical gastronomic answer to David Walsh’s groundbreaking Hobart museum. To others it’s a mismatched tourist trap. Our arts writers visited the d’Arenberg Cube and left with contradictory views on the highly publicised structure simply known as the Cube.

A masterpiece in waiting

Jane Llewellyn

A mad trip inside d’Arenberg head honcho Chester Osborn’s mind, the Cube is an ultra-modern glass-encased steel and concrete structure inspired by the Rubik’s Cube. It shouldn’t work but it does, as it’s completely bonkers and you can’t help but be drawn in.

Rising out of the vineyards, the Cube sits in stark contrast to its vineyard surrounds and the 19th century homestead and stables that house d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant and wine store.

darenberg cube restaurantDescribed by some as Willy Wonka’s Wine Factory, it is the creation of the eccentric fourth generation family member and current chief winemaker at d’Arenberg, Chester Osborn. Osborn has built a five-storey multi-function centre that houses the winery’s cellar door, a restaurant, and private tasting areas, as well as an immersive art gallery. Osborn’s 14-year vision became a reality in 2017 with construction of the Cube completed.

The man who loves loud shirts has managed to get the balance right, as the combination of traditional and modern somehow works. On the ground floor is the Alternate Realities Museum, embodying a light-hearted fun approach to the art of wine tasting. The flower and fruit room helps visitors get their senses ready for the wine tasting ahead. Jars filled with the aromas of d’Arenberg wines are fitted with bike pumps so you squeeze and take in the scents. The museum also includes a 360-degree video room and artworks from Osborn’s private collection throughout.

darenberg cube restaurantAfter working my way through the wines I stopped off on the first floor to use the bathrooms. Who knew toilets could be so much fun? They feature corrugated iron cubicles covered with artificial plants and the men’s urinals are particularly unique – a must see according to my partner.

While my experience of the Cube only involved the basic wine tasting and self-guided tour of the Alternate Realities Museum, I will return to explore some of the dining options and other wine experiences on offer.

Osborne proves that if you build it they will come. With an average of 1000 people visiting the Cube a day, it is one of the busiest cellar doors in the region. D’Arry’s Verandah is still as eventful as ever with the former cellar door now rebranded as Polly’s, a relaxed place for a cheese platter and a glass of wine. Osborn has created a wine tasting complex.

darenberg cube restaurantThe Cube is a breath of fresh air compared to the region’s traditional cellar doors but it doesn’t detract from the main focus: the wine. While there may be debates about whether the Cube is appropriate for its environment, one thing is for sure: it’s as quirky as its designer, Chester Osborn.

Architectural designs that challenge stereotypes have always caused initial controversy – from New York’s Guggenheim to the Sydney Opera House – only to be later hailed as masterpieces. No doubt the same will happen with the Cube.

Just another big sculpture

John Neylon

There were some that were there to bear witness. As the excavators ripped the living heart out of the Festival Centre Hajek Plaza, a wraith-like figure rose out of the dust cloud and was seen heading south. Coincidentally, on the same day, some mule skinners working in the Southern Vales saw something similar hurtle downwards, into the ground east of McLaren Vale.

And so the legend begins.

We are talking about the d’Arenberg Cube. It’s quite a folly. What a pity that a word describing a costly ornamental building or mock ruin should today be synonymous with foolishness because follies in their original contexts did quite useful things – like improving the view from the balcony of some stately pile. But the Cube wants you to get up close and personal. So it’s into the darkness, fretful that you haven’t brought that ball of string to find your way out. But you might be able to beg a bag of breadcrumbs from the fine dining restaurant hidden in the bowels. Exposed plumbing pipes overhead suggest that this is some kind of Matthew Barney Down Under experience.

darenberg cube restaurantAlternatively, could this be Dante’s Divine Comedy revisited – a journey through the nether regions to Paradiso? Come to the think of it, the centrally located toilet block is surely a Dantean Purgatorio. The time spent in there trying to find the right doors to get in or out or gazing into the open maws of tortured souls is surely referencing the time penitents spent in Purgatory sweating out their sins.

Beatrices (disguised as very helpful staff) are on hand to keep everyone heading in the right direction. Into the Sniff room with its best intentions spoiled by the hilarious behaviour of punters bent over like devotees of some shisha den. Then the wrap around video experience which starts out as a ‘Dawn of Time then the Settlers Came’ sort of narrative but quickly changes into a Python-esque skit as the full moon in the shape of Chester Osborn’s head rises and opens its mouth.

darenberg cube restaurantThe House of Marimekko graphics that follow reinforce the notion that one had reached the lowest reaches of Designer Hell. Some wunderkammer installations incorporating memorabilia suggestive of Plastic Paddy Irish pub decor are a right tease. Are they a glimpse into the psychic lumber room of family memories? The press of bemused cultural tourists, sensing wine tasting time, doesn’t allow for reflective viewing. Time to move on
and up towards the light and suddenly you have reached Dante’s Empyriam, the highest celestial sphere – a whole 360 degrees of Southern Vales vista. It’s drink it in time in every sense – the magnificent view and d’Arry’s wines arranged for the delectation of the Blessed.

darenberg cube restaurantThis is the jewel which makes the experience so special. It doesn’t need the Mona riffs below to prop it up. Heck you just have to have a couple of glasses of d’Arry’s Sisypheanic Euphoria Shiraz to see the funny side of life. The rest is dross by comparison. The constipated hang of the ‘art gallery’ confirms the Rabelaisian mood of irreverence towards high art values. The art world must be trembling. Then it’s out into the glorious light and all those living, beautifully designed vines with their translucent leaves – the real heart of the Vale. Success breeds excess and there is nothing the Aussie tourist likes more than a Big Sculpture.

A Big Rubik’s right now might look cooler than the Big Pineapple but it may be only a matter of time before a wine-themed Ettamogah Pub or a three-storey high wine bottle pouring into a vine-shaped swimming pool appears on an adjoining hillside. Build it and they will come.

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