The heart of McLaren Vale - past and present
d’Arenberg is one of the most significant wineries in McLaren Vale. In 1881, Joseph Rowe Osborn, joined the prospering Wine Company Thomas Hardy and Sons. Although a teetotaller he eventually became a partner and director and was very successful. While not a drinker, he did have another vice of sorts... horse racing. Amongst his stable he had a horse called Footbolt who was relatively successful and won Joseph enough prize money to be in the position to purchase some land of his own.
Joseph's son Francis (‘Frank’) Osborn was studying medicine at Melbourne University but was advised upon ill health to, “take up life on the land”. In 1912 Frank and his father purchased two sections of land in the hills just north of the townships of Gloucester and Bellevue now just known as McLaren Vale. This amounted to 64ha which included the established Milton vineyards, which was 22.5ha in size and planted in the 1890s. Frank then renamed the properties Bundarra. They immediately started to sell grapes and plant more vineyards before Frank joined the AIF in 1915. Whilst serving overseas his family continued to plant vines and upon his return he renovated and extended the original d’Arenberg homestead looking across the Vale to St Vincent’s Gulf. Joseph Osborn died on 25 May 1921 leaving full control of the business to Frank.
Frank married Helena d’Arenberg in 1920, built a house, and had three children, Antoinette, Rowen and d’Arry. Helena sadly died shortly after giving birth to d'Arry and the children were raised by their father and a nurse fondly known as Mickie. In 1927, a year after Helena's death, Frank was encouraged by friends and family to consider building a winery and producing wine as a way of getting his life back on track.
The first vintage, in 1928, produced a heavy red table and fortified wine. Production increased to supply the Empire but was disrupted at the beginning of World War II. They were able to resume in 1943 when 16 year old d’Arry came home from school and helped his father, whose health was failing, to run the business. It was a demanding job for a teenager but d’Arry was equal to it and gradually took over the management of the business while ownership remained a family partnership with his sister and brother (which is how the winery is still governed today). He assumed full management control after his father’s death on 5 August 1957.
In 1958, d’Arry embarked on an expansion and replanting but discovered that many of the original vines of the 1890s were revitalised by supplementary watering. He decided to leave many of them in the ground rather than replanting. A decision that would prove far-sighted as they are the backbone of some of the finest d’Arenberg of the 1990’s.
The distinctive red stripe
As the interest and consumption of table wine started to take off in the 50’s with brands such as Angove’s, Tatachilla, Lindemans, Seaview, Penfolds, Hardys and Houghton’s, d’Arry could see the opportunity and wanted to be a part of it. In order to do this he needed a label. In explaining the theory behind the label d’Arry recalls some advice Ben Chaffey gave which he attributed to the success of his Seaview brand. ‘Something striking, bold, yet simple and make it distinctive.’ So in 1959 d’Arry and his wife Pauline set about planning the new label. The brand name d’Arenberg was chosen as he felt ‘it is different; it will last’. (Arenberg was a family name from his late mother’s side). d’Arry was highly impressed with the success of Houghton’s White Burgundy had in the marketplace and liked the distinctive blue stripe that adorned the label. He thought back to his school tie from Prince Alfred College days and remember it's striped red and white appearance and thought a distinctive deep red stripe would be appropriate for his new label. Red was also his favourite colour so it seemed a logical choice. d’Arry then called upon his friend Don Allnut to design the label.
It was a small, humble start with the launch including ½ gallon flagons and a small amount of table wines bottled under the d’Arenberg label but by 1963 the volume was up to hundreds of dozens. d’Arry’s wines of the 1960’s gained cult status amongst imbibers and Judges. The 1968 Cabernet Sauvignon won the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1969 and the 1967 Red Burgundy, a Grenache based wine went on to be awarded 7 trophies and 29 Gold Medals at Australian capital city wine shows.
d'Arry's son, Chester, started as Chief Winemaker in 1984 following his graduation from Roseworthy College and a trip to some or Europe's wine regions. Chester has taken the d'Arenberg brand to new heights while staying true to traditional winemaking and viticulture methods. d'Arry's daughter Jacki Osborn has also stayed close to the family business, working for Inglewood Wines in Sydney's North Shore. Jacki has over 20 years industry experience, 17 of which have been spent with Inglewood, where she has been selling d'Arenberg wines (amongst other Australian wine brands), since 1993.