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Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria Sommeliers Visit An Australian Winery

March 24, 2010

We Are Cunard

Posted in: Queen Victoria

Countdown to Queen Elizabeth – 200 days


As you can see it’s just 200 days to go before Queen Elizabeth enters service, so it’s getting very exciting. I’ll have some more news, from Monfalcone where she is under construction, soon, but in this post we are going to Queen Victoria on her third World Voyage. Although we left Australia some time ago there’s one more story about our visit there I’d like to share with you.  I was very fortunate one day to receive a phone call from Fabrice Cune, Queen Victoria’s Chief Sommelier, telling me he had arranged a visit to one of the Wineries that supplies Cunard, and would I like to go along?  You only have to ask me a question like that once; I just knew we were in for a treat but the visit exceeded all my expectations.


As I joined Fabrice and eleven of his Sommeliers, a minibus took us to the d’Arenberg winery in McLaren Vale, which is just over an hour outside the South Australia city of Adelaide. Fabrice told me d’Arenberg, is one of the most renowned wineries in Australia. This was a day of wine tasting, great food and photos! The first was of our group by the entrance of the winery.



It all started in 1912 when Joseph Osborn, a teetotaller and director of Thomas Hardy and Sons, purchased the well established Milton Vineyards of 25 hectares in the hills just north of the townships of Gloucester and Bellevue, now known as McLaren Vale.  In 1943 Joseph’s grandson Francis d’Arenberg Osborn, universally known as “d’Arry”, returned from school, age 16, to help his father, eventually assuming full management in 1957. In 1959 d’Arry launched his own label d’Arenberg, named in honour of his mother, Frances Helena d’Arenberg.


After humble beginnings the wines gained cult status amongst imbibers and judges, winning numerous awards and accolades over the years. D’Arry’s son Chester, took over the reins as Chief Winemaker in 1984, and with his father still very actively involved in the business, they focus on minimal inputs and no fertilisation, cultivation and irrigation wherever possible, therefore achieving natural soil flavours with very low yields.  The winery has also become an attraction in itself, with the award winning d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant not to mention their Cellar Door tasting room, both housed in the beautiful original house.



In June 2004 d’Arry was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday honours for his contributions to the wine industry and to the McLaren Vale region. After meeting Nick James-Martin, d’Arenberg’s Winemaker & Brand Ambassador and Luke Tyler who is in charge of Marketing and Communications, we met d’Arry busy at work.



We started the day by walking around the vineyards and got the chance to taste some grapes, since the harvest would be taking place a couple of weeks later. The vines themselves were amazingly varied due to the numerous different soil types in a relatively small area, so each section was clearly marked.



I was very impressed by some of the questions from the very knowledgeable group I was with. At times it was like they were speaking another language, but they were clearly soaking up all the fascinating information we were given, as we then headed up to the winery. This was a real treat as the regular wine tours rarely get to see this part of the operation, but we did and found out that traditional methods are still very much in use;



All grapes, red and white, are basket-pressed. The reds are still traditionally fermented with the grape skins submerged in open wax-lined concrete fermenters utilising the age-old technique of foot-treading.



Nick the winemaker explained that they wanted to preserve and respect what nature does in the vineyards as much as possible, therefore human intervention and technology is kept to a minimum. He likes to think the wines are a reflection of the land. Fabrice told me that the open-air fermentation tank was definitely a highlight for him as they are hardly ever used anywhere else around the world.



The wine is then stored in oak barrels, each selected for the age of the wood, which would give the finished wine its own distinctive flavour.



To see the operation to the end, we saw some wine being loaded on a lorry ready to deliver; perhaps to Queen Victoria!



Then it was time for lunch and an opportunity to taste some of the 43 different wines produced by d’Arenberg; as well as enjoying some excellent food in a specially prepared six course menu with, yes you’ve guessed it, a different wine with each course. Each wine was of course fabulous, but I never realised you could describe them in so many different ways;  but I could tell I was amongst professionals, as they savoured every drop, and chatted about the flavours, bouquets and body of each wine.



It was a fabulous lunch and I learned so much from my colleagues and managed not to drink the entire contents of every glass given to me, but to taste it and move on to the next! By the end of the meal we had tried nine stunning wines and here’s the evidence!



On the way back I chatted to Rajesh Swarnakar, otherwise known amongst the team as “The Professor”, who joined Cunard in 2003, part of Queen Mary 2’s inaugural team.  Having passed the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Qualification (WSET) (level 3), he is now studying for his WSET Diploma which involves a lot of study at home and on board, as well visits to London for more classes and his exams. He was the only Sommelier to represent Cunard at the London International Wine and Spirit Fair in 2009 and told me:

“It was a fantastic experience, being able to visit a winery and see the whole process in person, and to meet the producers of the wine we sell on board. It was also great to spend time with my fellow sommeliers, to taste the wines which were so beautifully paired with locally grown food. Since I came back it has been great to be able to be more knowledgeable about the wines I am sharing with our guests, who seem to enjoy hearing about my experiences. It has also helped to build my confidence about the products we offer so I hope we’ll be able to go on similar trips in the future.”


A few days after our visit we received a great message from Luke Tyler :

 “It was fantastic to host Fabrice, Alastair and some of the Cunard Sommeliers at our winery and to provide a tour of our near 100 year old winery. We are in the middle of vintage at the moment so it was a perfect time to explain the unique viticulture and winemaking practices we use here. Nick James-Martin, our Winemaker & Brand Ambassador and I were both impressed with the level of knowledge among the team and were pleased to see a genuine willingness to learn more about d’Arenberg and the McLaren Vale region. With so many nationalities represented among the group it was a fascinating lunch and a real pleasure to discuss our passion for wine and to hear some stories of life on the ship. We are already looking forward to hosting the group again on their next trip to South Australia.”


Thank you so much Nick and Luke for looking after us so well on that day; it was brilliant, and thank you to Fabrice and his team for letting me tag along – I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. You can find out more about the d’Arenberg Winery at www.darenberg.com.au .


I’ll be back tomorrow with pictures from our recent call to Hong Kong and on Friday Shanghai. Cheers for now, Alastair

  1. Robert Hubter Valley says:

    Very pleasing to know that the Vineyards of South Australia, have received continued acclaim from Cunard. We, the mnembers of our table, on the initial voyage of Q.V. in 2008, remember the Professor. Erudite on cricket and always upheld the importance of Mr. Singh. Hope the Professor may decide, in the future, to let Australia appreciate his talents. Ought to see him, hopefully, on the QE, from Sydney. We may then continue a battle of wits on who won the Ashes

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