Francis d’Arenberg Osborn (d’Arry to his friends….actually, d’Arry to everyone) and I have the same daily schedule. We were born on the same day 47 years apart and we are effectively neighbours, with our vineyards sharing a common border. We have a morning chat at the bustling centre of gossip and community that is the McLaren Vale Post Office. We collect the mail for our respective businesses, we shoot the breeze with numerous other locals, and then head back down Oliver’s Road to start our days’ work.
Those little chats at the post office each day are very special to me. There have been many times when this quick word ended up being just what I needed to hear at that particular moment. His reassuring voice of some 73 vintages experience has helped calm my brain and gain perspective in the midst of a frantic harvest or challenging weather event many times. He has connections with numerous generations of my family, and I feel like McLaren Vale wouldn’t be what it is today without the likes of him. So when the chance arose to have a longer discussion with the legend that is Francis d’Arenberg Osborn OAM, I jumped at it.
What I really wanted to chat to d’Arry about is the (soon to be not-so-secret) secrets to his success- the keys to building d’Arenberg Wines into one of Australia’s most iconic wine brands. With my own wine brand being singularly fledgling in comparison, perhaps this direction of questioning was slightly self-serving I admit. But, what I discovered, is that the d’Arenberg story has relevance not just for business, but for a life well lived in general.
d’Arry opinions that one of the pillars behind the success and strength of the d’Arenberg brand is that of being ‘memorable’. This has manifested in many ways in the d’Arenberg story, from the myriad of wines with kooky names, the entertaining back labels and matching cartoons, to d’Arrys son Chester and his legendary brightly coloured shirts. In fact, the d’Arenberg catch cry currently is “The Art of Being Different”.
But nothing has cemented d’Arenberg in our collective memory more than its iconic diagonal red stripe across the label. In the early 1960’s, tastes in Australia swung from predominantly fortified wines into red table wines. d’Arry, having taken over the winery after the untimely death of his father in 1957, was one of the first to produce the historic half-gallon flagons of red wine. After years working within the bulk wine market predominantly, this move to the consumer market required the development of a brand. d’Arry took advice from designer friends, poached the red stripe from his old school tie, fashioned up a family crest, and an icon was born. At their peak in 1978, d’Arenberg flagons accounted for 75% of all flagon sales in Australia. If you were one of the new wave drinking red in the 1960’s, it is more than likely that your first experience with wine had a red stripe on the label. I know I still remember my first wine.
Fast forward 50+ years, and the d’Arenberg team are about to take it to the next level. The rumoured $11m ‘d’Arenberg Cube’ is in the early stages of construction. Best described as a 4-story glass building, in the shape of a rubix-cube mid turn, with a bit falling off into the vines, looking like it is floating above the vineyard!! Upon its completion, memorable will be somewhat of an understatement I expect.
Another pillar of success, d’Arry will humbly tell you, is making sure you surround yourself with experts in their field. A technically untrained winemaker, d’Arry’s list of winemaking and business mentors is a roll-call of the great names of Australian wine- Dr. Bryce Rankine, Cud Kay, Ben Chaffey, Len Evans, Doug Collett, Wolf Blass, Jim Ingoldby and Penfold legend himself, Max Schubert. Leaning on their skills and experience, d’Arry created wines that scooped a myriad of awards, including the much sought after Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1969. It wasn’t just in the winemaking sphere that d’Arry surrounded himself with the best in the business- from export specialists and marketing gurus, finance guns and advertising whizz-kids, right through to gold star chefs and fine artists- he has always been open to advice.
The final key element to the success that d’Arenberg has enjoyed, d’Arry sums up with the word, “civic-mindedness”. This strikes a chord with me in a number of ways, as I have a strong belief in contributing to your community, region, industry or country in some way. From playing sport for the region and becoming involved in the inaugural McLaren Vale Bushing Festival, to contributing on an industry level. In 1958, d’Arry became part of the Wine & Brandy Association, contributing as president, vice-president and treasurer over many years. Contributing outside his industry, d’Arry was a councillor on the South Australian Chamber of Commerce for 28 years. It was for these many tireless contributions that he was awarded an OAM in 2004. d’Arry strongly believes that his community works had a massive positive impact on his brand. Sure, his commitment required plenty of his time and energy, but “You get out what you put in”, he says with a smile.
A remarkable man who has created a remarkable brand, shining a light on McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia and the world. d’Arry has been more than ably assisted by his equally legendary next gen, Chester and Jackie, and the brilliant team they have gathered around them. Here’s hoping that iconic red stripe is around for generations to come. If you will excuse me now, I’m off to be as memorable, civic-minded and surrounded with experts as I possibly can. I hope you are too.
Originally published in Fleurieu Living Magazine Spring 2014