d'Arenberg is one of the undisputed kings of Australian Shiraz and other Rhone varieties that have historically defined the region. A century on, their vineyards have grown to some 450 acres in McLaren Vale, including Shiraz dating back to d'Arenberg's first plantings in 1912, and nearly one-third of McLaren Vale's old bush-vine Grenache. Fourth generation winemaker, Chester Osborn, recently converted all of the family's vineyards to organics and biodynamics and moved to solar energy in the winery. All the while, in terms of winemaking, not much has changed--all the wines are basket-pressed, the reds foot-trodden during fermentation; everything is done in small batches, leading to an impressive array of bottlings every year, each showing a different facet of McLaren Vale terroir. Having been inducted into Wine & Spirits Magazine's Hall of Fame for earning a place on its Top 100 Wineries nine times, this accolade is a reflection of d'Arenberg's revered reputation worldwide.
"Nothing, they say, succeeds like success. Few operations in Australia fit this dictum better than d'Arenberg, which has kept its 100-year-old heritage while moving into the 21st century with flair and elan."
James Halliday, Australia's Top 100 Wineries 2018
- Founded: 1912 (by Joseph Osborn)
- Winemaker: Chester Osborn (fourth generation)
- Size: 450 acres
- Climate: Mediterranean, substantial meso-climate variation between sites
- Key Varieties: Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier
The d’Arenberg cellars were constructed in 1928 by Chester’s grandfather, Frank, and since then have undergone major restoration and expansion with Chester and father d’Arry at the helm. Despite this modernization, traditional techniques such as foot treading and basket pressing are still employed.
Grapes are gently crushed in rubber toothed crushers, with fermentation taking place in stainless steel tanks, barriques or, for the reds, open fermenters with heading down boards providing gentle extraction of color and tannin. Nineteenth century ‘Coq’ and ‘Bromley & Tregoning’ basket presses are used in pressing both red and white musts. Maturation occurs in American and French oak barriques, with small batches vinified separately throughout. These techniques ensure the winemaker is in touch with the individual textures and flavors of each parcel of wine, bringing balance and complexity to the final blends.
100% Basket Pressing – For Red and White!
d’Arenberg is unique in that it is one of a few wineries in Australia to still use the age-old basket press method for white wines as well as reds.
At d’Arenberg, all fruit is pressed in wooden baskets using the very gentle, traditional ‘Coq’ and ‘Bromley & Tregoning’ presses. The presses are both old soldiers, dating from approximately 1860. d’Arenberg liked the gentle action of the original ‘Coq’ press so much that they had it replicated in 1940.
The main job of the winepress is to get juice, or fermented wine, from the grape skins and pulp. For white wines, this happens before fermentation (so the more delicate whites do not pick up any color or phenolics from the skins) and for the reds, after fermentation, so that the action of the ferment and the alcohol has extracted the good bits out of the skins.
Basket pressing all of the wines makes for a very labor-intensive exercise, but the quality of results justifies the effort. The pressing action is very controlled and is extremely gentle. The d’Arenberg winemaking team uses their collective imaginations in coming up with a way to make basket pressing oxygen free, thereby preventing oxidation in the whites. This is achieved by using a big plastic bag and some dry ice, which encases the whole basket.
Chester believes that one of the advantages of basket pressing is cleaner juice, as it is partially filtered through the mass of pulp it drains through in the basket. This saves time in settling and clearing the juice, and brings the procedure much closer to how d’Arenberg like things – minimal interference which enables them to preserve quality.
After gentle crushing through the Demoisy open mouthed, rubber toothed crusher (which came originally from Burgundy in France) the juice and skins are transferred via the gentle peristaltic action of the must pump to the open fermenters.
The cap of fermenting juice and grape skins is kept submerged by fixed ‘heading down’ boards which ensure the maximum extraction of flavor, color and tannins. Each batch is kept separate and the whole process is very intricate and labor intensive.
The majority of d’Arenberg’s white wines are fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks which protect their delicate varietal characters. Others are either partially or fully fermented in new and used oak barriques (mainly French) for example, some Chardonnay and Viognier – for added complexity of flavor and structure.
One of the most important jobs Chester and the d’Arenberg winemaking team undertake is to taste each and every barrel at the blending stage to decide which barrel will go into what wine.
It sounds like fun (and it sort of is) but it is this attention to detail which makes the whole winemaking and blending process at d’Arenberg such a painstaking, slow, detailed and critical affair.
This hands-on, and feet-on, approach to winemaking means they’re intimately in touch with the individual textures, flavors and characters of the wines. It’s a gentle, harmonious approach that ensures d’Arenberg wines, particularly the young reds, are patiently and individually nurtured.
Estate Bottled Wines
To ensure all of their hard work and commitment in the vineyard and cellars are protected at all costs, all wines are bottled on the property. Their quality control procedures include the most advanced bottling and filling technology that ensures each wine reaches you in top condition.
Natural minimal processing (which means they rarely fine or filter their red wines) ensures maximum flavor. d’Arenberg is perhaps the last small to medium sized producer that still undertakes all of these three functions – growing, winemaking and bottling and packaging, all at the estate.
Four generations of learning have provided Chester with an intimate knowledge of his vineyards and a healthy respect for each site’s unique terroir. To optimize vine health, vineyard sprays are minimized, while legume cover crops and clover are grown between rows, increasing organic matter and nitrogen in the soils and providing natural weed control. Many of the oldest Grenache vineyards house traditional dry-grown bush vines yielding small berries of intense flavor; the remaining vines are stressed in the pursuit of naturally low yields. Chester’s predecessors, father d’Arry and grandfather Frank, established McLaren Vale as a champion of the red Rhone blend, and today d’Arenberg remains an industry innovator, with plantings of the white Rhone varieties as well as Tempranillo and Souzao. Diversification into the cool-climate Adelaide Hills has provided material for the production of crisp, focused Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Vineyards Over 100 Years Old
The Osborn vineyards were first planted in the 1890’s and now total approximately 270 acres of actual vines.
The Osborn vineyards are planted to shiraz, grenache, mourvedre, cabernet sauvignon, chambourcin, chardonnay, viognier, marsanne and sauvignon blanc, in varying proportions. The three red varieties, grenache, shiraz and mourvedre are among some of the oldest vines at d’Arenberg, indeed McLaren Vale and South Australia, having been planted in the 1890’s.
Chardonnay was first planted in the 1970’s, with further plantings continuing in the 1980’s and 1990’s. d’Arenberg was one of the very first to plant chardonnay in McLaren Vale, and later was the first to plant d’Arenberg’s so-called “Great White Hopes”, viognier, roussanne and marsanne.
Pedler’s Divide was purchased by d’Arenberg in 1997 and planting began in that same year and continued over the next three.
The vineyard has been planted to varying amounts of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, roussanne, viognier, marsanne, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, mourvÃ¨dre, petit verdot and tempranillo.
The trellis system for most of the vines of the Pedler’s Divide vineyard is a two-wire divided vertical (or ‘one up one down’), consisting of one cordon wire at 800mm and a second cordon wire at 1400mm.
d’Arenberg also sources grapes from friends’ and neighbors’ vineyards in McLaren Vale. Many of these vineyards have vines that are as old and gnarly as the original Osborn family vineyards, and many yield tonnages just as low. These parcels, as with all of the grapes brought into the cellars, are vinified and matured separately until the final blending process.
Sauvignon blanc and riesling (as well as chardonnay and pinot noir) are also sourced from the Adelaide Hills region, as well as from vineyards further south in the Fleurieu Peninsula. This provides us with some excellent cool climate material which makes available a great blending component for the McLaren Vale grapes.
Diversity of Soils
Soils on the Osborn vineyards vary quite widely, and can be grouped as follows:
- loose bleached sand over marly limestone clay
- sand impregnated with ironstone
- quartz over marly limestone clay
- shallow loam over limestone clay and Terra Rossa (friable red earth over limestone)
The majority of vines on the Osborn vineyards are trellised using one or two cordon wires, though the oldest grenache and mourvedre vines in the Twentyeight Road vineyard on the Osborn property are still trained as very traditional bush vines (approximately 14 acres) which means all picking and pruning is done by hand, a laborious task but one that yields excellent quality grapes.
Soils on Pedler’s vineyards vary widely, ranging from very deep sand on a hill to classic gray cracking clay and loam over limestone clay.
d’Arenberg employs both hand and machine pruning in the vineyard to control vigor and crop levels. Pruning is carried out in the winter months, and involves cutting off the dominant shoots from the vine. Summer trimming helps keep the grapes exposed to the light to increase grape quality.
d’Arenberg employs a minimal spray program to protect against major crop losses, and the vineyards are constantly monitored for pests and disease.
Legume cover crops are planted in the vineyards annually, generally in alternate rows, as well as clover and grasses, which are planted in some blocks and mown periodically. These processes usually begin with the opening rains in April or May.
The purposes of these various processes are threefold:
- to add nitrogen to the soil and also to serve as a natural and organic way to help prevent the growth of any weeds
- cover crops also act as a natural mulch, which helps to add organic material to the soil, promoting worm and microbe activity and in the summer helping moisture retention
- gypsum and fowl manure is applied every third year to the majority of the vineyard, though by regular standards, very little fertilizer is applied at all. All of d’Arenberg vines are planted on their own rootstock.
Irrigation and Stress
Some of d’Arenberg’s vineyards receive a limited degree of supplementary irrigation during the growing period, but the emphasis on grape growing here is to stress the vines so that they work hard and produce the kind of intensely flavored and small- berried grapes that are required.
This type of vineyard regime means that crops are limited – in some of the older vineyard blocks sometimes as little as ¼ or ½ a ton to the acre is produced. In this case less is definitely more, as the quality of fruit off these low-yielding old vines is tremendous.
Many of d’Arenberg’s vineyards are dry farmed, that is they do not receive any supplementary irrigation at all. The resultant grapes are incredibly small and have very intense flavor and color. The smaller the grapes, the greater the skin to pulp ratio, which has a huge positive impact on the quality of wine made. Much of d’Arenberg’s grenache is grown in this way.
Vintage at d’Arenberg usually begins in late February or early March and ends very late in April/early May, with botrytis- affected fruit for the renowned Noble Riesling coming in during June.
A combination of hand and mechanical harvesting is utilized. Mechanical harvesting helps ensure, especially for the white varieties, that the grapes arrive into the cellars cool, so their more delicate flavors are protected and indeed enhanced, while the risk of oxidation is minimized.
- AMAZING SITESThe Amaranthine2014 2013 2012The Beautiful View Grenache2012 2010 2009The Blewitt Springs Grenache2012 2010 2009The Eight Iron Shiraz2013 2012 2011The Fruit Bat Shiraz2013 2012 2011The Little Venice Shiraz2012 2011 2010The Bamboo Scrub Shiraz2014 2012 2010The Blind Tiger Shiraz2012 2011 2010The Other Side Shiraz2012 2011 2010The Swinging Malaysian Shiraz2013 2012 2011Tyche's Mustard Shiraz2013 2012 2011The Vociferate Dipsomaniac Shiraz2013 2012 2011The Garden of Extraordinary Delights Shiraz2011 2010
- THE ICONSThe Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon2016 2015 2014The Dead Arm Shiraz2017 2016 2015The Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre2016 2015 2014
- THE ARTISANSThe Last Ditch Viognier2011 2010 2009The Money Spider Roussanne2018 2017 2016The Lucky Lizard Chardonnay2014 2013 2012The Twentyeight Road Mourvedre2016 2015 2014The Galvo Garage Cabernet Blend2015 2014 2013The Bonsai Vine Grenache Shiraz Mouvedre2017 2016 2015The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier2015 2014 2013The Wild Pixie Shiraz2016 2015 2014The Cenosilicaphobic Cat Sangatino Cinsault2012 2011 2010The Sticks & Stones Tempranillo Grenache Souzao2014 2013 2012The Feral Fox Pinot Noir2015 2014 2013The Derelict Vineyard Grenache2016 2015 2014
- THE ORIGINAL RED STRIPESThe Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc2019 2018 2017The Dry Dam Riesling2019 2018 2017The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne2018 2017 2016The Olive Grove Chardonnay2013 2012 2011The Custodian Grenache2017 2016 2015The Love Grass Shiraz2017 2016 2015d'Arrys Original Shiraz Grenache2016 2015 2014The Footbolt Shiraz2017 2016 2015The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon2016 2015 2014
- THE STUMP JUMPSThe Stump Jump Riesling2018 2017 2016The Stump Jump Sauvignon Blanc2018 2017 2016The Stump Jump White (White Blend)2018 2017 2016The Stump Jump Lightly Wooded Chardonnay2018 2015 2011The Stump Jump Cabernet Merlot2017 2013 2012The Stump Jump Shiraz2017 2016 2015The Stump Jump Red Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre2017 2016 2015
- SWEET, BUBBLY & FORTIFIEDThe Noble Wrinkled Riesling2018 2017 2016The Noble Prankster Chardonnay Semillon2015 2010 2008The Noble Botryotinia Fuckeliana2017 2015 2011The Vintage Fortfied Shiraz2008 2007 2006The Noble Mud Pie Viognier Pinot Gris Marsanne2017 2015 2011