What if there was a Willy Wonka experience for adults — but instead of candy, you could sample more than 70 labels of wine? And what if, instead of lick-able wallpaper, you could enter a room filled with floor-to-ceiling fruit and squeeze bicycle horns to release different wine aromas?
It might sound unreal, but this is exactly the experience that d’Arenberg’s Cube in South Australia offers.
Located about 45 minutes from Adelaide in the McLaren Vale, d’Arenberg has been producing wine on the same piece of land since 1912. But don’t let the winery’s heritage, prestige or its serif fonts fool you: The Cube is weird. Like, really weird. There’s the aforementioned room filled with plastic fruit. There’s artwork of monsters with giant genitals eating humans. And when you go to the washroom, there’s massive gaping carnival mouths instead of urinals.
When I arrive at the Cube’s entrance, I’m met by Chester Osborn. Once known for his loud shirts (of which he’s rumoured to own more than 350) and peculiar methods of naming wines (“the Biophilic Silurian” or “the Solipsistic Snollygoster” anyone?) the fourth-generation winemaker is now celebrated for his vision.
Osborn first conceived of the Cube more than 15 years ago. Previously, the cellar door had been housed in a 19th-century homestead — much like other wineries throughout the region. Osborn wanted something different. Wine, he thought, is like a puzzle — and no puzzle is more iconic than the Rubik’s Cube.
He presented a model to his family. The Cube would be like a puzzle-in-progress, with its top two floors askew and rotated on their axis.
His family called him crazy.
Once they came around, it took about $14 million and a decade for building materials to catch-up to his vision. Opening in late 2017, the mirrored building put McLaren Vale firmly on the map, welcoming as many as 500 visitors on a quiet day. In its first year alone, more than 130,000 walked through the Cube’s doors.
Now, it was my turn.
“Walk in like you’re pissed,” instructs Osborn.
Pretending you’re drunk, apparently, is the best way to view the reverse perspective mural at the entrance. A model of the winery’s production area, the oak fermenters appear to pop out as you approach, but they actually slope inwards.
“When you have a glass of wine and I have a glass of wine, we have altered realities,” says Osborn.
By the time we reach the 360-degree video room, which features trippy footage of Osborn’s face as the man-in-the-moon explaining the winery’s slogan, I’m beginning to wonder if I actually should be pissed?
Throughout the “Alternate Realities Museum,” as the Cube’s ground level is known, metaphors are layered upon metaphors. The aroma testers are mounted on handlebars, explains Osborn, because once you learn a smell as a winemaker, you never forget it; just like riding a bike. In another room, a Sumatra tiger holds a bottle of wine in its mouth, representing the danger that treading grapes by foot poses.
Lost yet? Don’t worry, there’s a downloadable app to lead you through the experience. But I’m going to be honest; even with Osborn as my personal guide, it was hard to follow.
Either way, he’s present throughout the experience. His face is everywhere, from a mosaic made of thousands of stickers, to a wax figurine of his likeness. (At one point, the Cube’s fine-dining restaurant even had a palate cleanser called “nose candy.” A vial of white powder, it came served with a rolled-up banknote with Osborn’s face on it.)
There’s finally some reprieve from the noise in the top floor’s tasting room, where sweeping views of the surrounding countryside are the main visual feature.
Yet, it’s not until I’m pulling away that I realize I just spent two hours touring a winery without actually tasting a drop of the stuff. It was like going to Wonka’s factory without diving into the chocolate river.
I’m confused as I come to this realization, but I’m just as confused about what I just experienced. Is the Cube a bit self-indulgent? There’s no doubt. Garish? That’s up for debate. The building’s architecture is stunning, while some have described the interior in less-than-flattering ways. But is it worth it? Having toured wine regions throughout South Australia, I can tell you there’s no other cellar door quite like it.
If you visit
You don’t need a golden ticket to access the Cube; you just need $10 and a couple of hours to spare.
The Alternative Realities Museum at d’Arenberg is open daily from 10 am to 5pm, with tastings included in the entry fee. As of August 2019, Osborn is currently preparing new installations for the Cube, so some exhibits may be closed. Until then, visitors can view “Dali at d’Arenberg,” a sculpture exhibit running until May 2020. Don’t miss the seven-metre-tall “Triumphant Elephant,” an original Salvador Dali that will be added to the exhibit in October 2019.
Advanced bookings are recommended. One last word of advice: Don’t miss both bathrooms, regardless of your gender and the sign on the door. Osborn wouldn’t have it any other way.