Chester Osborn was born in 1962 into a wine making family, and raised on the family property where father d’Arry Osborn had begun producing wines with the red stripe label in 1959. During Chester’s primary and secondary years of schooling he worked in the vineyards and the cellar floor during school holidays.
Now the fourth generation winemaker of the family, Chester is in charge of winemaking at one of Australia’s most iconic wines, d’Arenberg – famous not only for the symbolic red stripe across the label but for making quality, terroir driven wines from the McLaren Vale.
Wine Times had the fortunate pleasure to catch up with Chester on his recent trip to Hong Kong and we wanted to get to know more about the man who many say, (including us) is legendary within the wine business these days. Wit and humour aplenty, Chester is the life and soul of most, if not any party and his friends include some of the most revered and respected winemakers of today.
WTHK: How did you first get into winemaking?
CO: “Well I am a fourth generation winemaker so I grew up with it. I worked most of my holidays in the winery or in the vineyard and now for most of my life. I got paid 10 cents an hour when I was seven years old….and I think I wasn’t worth it – I think I ate more grapes than I put in the bucket! I’ve always wanted to be a winemaker and when I was about seven years old I sat on Aussie wine guru Len Evans’ knee and he asked me what sort of wine I was going to make. I said, ‘a yummy one’!”
WTHK: What sort of wines do you drink when you’re not drinking your own wines?
CO: “I am fortunate that my father has let my buy lots and lots of wine; much to his disgust from time to time! I try and buy three bottles of all of the great wines that come from and to Australia. My favourite wines are Burgundy, Barolo…anything that starts with ‘B’ – only joking!! I do drink Priorat, Ribera del Duero…every country really. But only three bottles because I think you get bored – even if it’s the greatest wine in the world, I get bored after three bottles! I do have an enormous collection though so wherever I go, I take a case of wine with me”.
WTHK: Have European wines influenced the way you make wine at d’Arenberg?
CO: “It’s important to note the length of European wines is precise and long and their minerality is beautifully accentuated and a lot of people say d’Arenberg is a cross between Australian and European in that their styles are very much soil reflective and they’re about length and agability”.
WTHK: How obvious is the motion of ‘terroir’ looking at your wines?
CO: “Terroir to me is extremely important – I have become obsessed with it. I have 15 wines that are all single vineyard wines – 13 of them Shiraz that are individual and reflect the spot they grow in. Soil and age of vines are very important to me so we don’t fertilize. It depends on the age of the geology if you can get away without fertilizing – our geology is between 2.4 million years old and 56 million years old. At this age, you can grow without fertilizers. We don’t irrigate and the winemaking influence is very minimal so really our wines are a true reflection of their terroir”.
WTHK: Is there much vintage variation at d’Arenberg – it sometimes seems that wines from the new world offer very little in that way?
CO: “I see in d’Arenberg a lot of vintage variation just as I see in wines that I taste from Europe. But there’s no doubt that if you are irrigating and in a warmer environment that vintage variation maybe is a little bit less than in a marginal climate where it’s really cold and you’re struggling to ripen. I still see enormous differences in vintages in the wines we make and I don’t try to interfere with that”.
WTHK: In your opinion, is there any such thing as a ‘bad wine’?
CO: “Yes, definitely there are bad wines in the world for sure. There are many bad wines! One of the problems we have in the wine world right now is that fruit is getting riper and you start seeing oiliness as the big feature of the wine. This is textural granted but it gets in the way of the fruity and flowery characters – and of course in the way of the mineral tannins. Over-ripeness removes the notion of terroir too”.
WTHK: Do industrial wines negate or belittle the work you do as a winemaker making terroir driven wines?
CO: “Well, the wines themselves are ‘fit for purpose’ – they’re not exciting for sure, but they can be pleasant to drink at times. I wouldn’t call them awful wines; I just don’t waste my time drinking them! But big brand industrial wine certainly has helped get people interested in Australian wines – certainly in markets such as the UK. It opened up people to Australian wines and opened the door for other wines into the market for sure. If the cheaper wines did not exist then maybe people would not have started drinking wine in the first place”.
WTHK: Can you recall the best / most memorable wine you have ever had in your life; and of you can’t, can you name me one wine you’d like on your deathbed?!
CO: “You mean the desert island wine!!?? Well, my most memorable wine has to be an 1890 Lafite which is an interesting thing – but not the best wine I’ve had. Also a 1927 Bollinger I had sticks in the memory! But the best wine I have ever had was a 1922 Hospice de Beaune selection from Paul Bouchard – it was still very, very fresh and looked like it had a bit of Grenache in it; which it most likely did in those days! It was so bright and looked fantastic. A desert island wine though, would have to be – and I have never even had it – a 1947 Cheval Blanc; isn’t that what everyone else says!?!?”
d’Arenberg wines are exclusively available in Hong Kong from Watson’s Wine. You can find the wines in their shops city-wide on online at www.watsonswine.com