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Book Review – The Story Behind the Stripe, by Fay Woodhouse

By October 4, 2012No Comments

2012 marks a century of wine for the Osborn family based in the McLaren Vale, near Adelaide in South Australia. In Australia and in most countries of the New World, 100 years is an achievement that should be celebrated and must be recognised and the story told. This book is the work of Dr Fay Woodhouse, historian researcher and biographer, who undertook the task of telling the 100 year history of d’Arenberg and the distinctive red stripe that bottles of d’Arenberg wine bear on their labels. Woodhouse readily admits the openness of the Osborn family, especially the research undertaken by Rowen Osborn over the years in recording his family’s history, and credits his work as a supporting author for the book. The style is very much that of a historian, but this is what lends the book a sense of authority.

Rowen Osborn is the brother of Francis, known commonly as d’Arry, who with his son Chester, run d’Arenberg Wines, a company that is regarded as one of Australia’s top wineries, producing a large range of styles of wines at the highest level of quality. d’Arenberg is very well-known for the use of quirky names for their wines, but more importantly very highly respected for the consistent, individual house style that makes the wines sought-after throughout the world.

This is the story of the success that grew from the smallest and simplest beginnings that can be traced back to William Osborn and Elizabeth Rowe, grandparents of Frank Osborne who arrived in the McLaren Vale in April 1912 to establish himself as a vigneron, and great –grandparents of d’Arry. Woodhouse brings to life their lives from the scantest material and builds the Osborn family background gradually leading to and intertwining it to the earliest days of the vineyards in the district. The tale is a classic and familiar one of gradual growth through sheer hard work and determination in periods of adversity, made poignant by the humanity of the people. Woodhouse incorporates Rowen Osborn’s detailed findings of property, plantings, profits and production, giving much credence to the story.

The Osborn’s history becomes real-life when d’Arry’s work is described. d’Arry’s mother, Helena nee d’Arenberg died as a result of complications from his birth and the name of the business was in her honour, which came into its own when the use of the ‘Bundarra’ name was contested. An interesting aside is the background of the d’Arenberg name itself, and how the use of it was also contested. The red stripe was introduced by d’Arry who was inspired by the diagonal blue stripe of Houghton’s wine label. And the striped tie of his days at Prince Alfred College. Designed by his friend Don Allnut, the label had the stripe tangerine in colour, and this exasperated d’Arry who complained “It’s red wine, not bloody tangerine, you Saints boy!”, referring to the opposition school St Peter’s Church of England.

The book moves seamlessly onto Chester, son of d’Arry, and his story. Though going through Roseworthy Agricultural College, Chester maintains he has had to learn to understand the land and winemaking on a personal level from scratch, as did his father, in deciding how to take the business into the future. It’s living the life, that despite all the wisdom and experience that is on tap or handed down, must be done. Chester’s success is clear to see, and indeed enviable, as d’Arenberg leads the way for Australia in the world of wine. (d’Arry and Chester took to the road, showing the world their latest wines, which are outstanding. Read my notes on their 100 Year Celebration Tasting and Lunch held in Wellington at the start of August, by clicking here.)

The final section of the book is titled ‘Notes from the winemaker’, in which Chester espouses his philosophies, approaches and techniques in the vineyard and the winery. They are at the cutting edge of today’s winegrowing and winemaking. From this position of strength, d’Arenberg and the Osborn family will no doubt continue to move forward with success. It’s a fascinating, heart-warming and salutary story.
The Story Behind the Stripe, By Fay Woodhouse
John Wiley & Sons, Australia Ltd, Milton, Queensland 2012, ISBN 978-1-118-23136-0
RRP AU$39.95

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