The dead arm fallen off some Halloween zombie costume last seen in the Adelaide Hills turned up in an accountant’s document case at Providence, a recording studio in Manhattan’s midtown west.
The black case was traveling with Chester Osborn, the golden-locked impresario of McLaren Vale, who stopped in New York City recently to celebrate one hundred years of survival at d’Arenberg. Hauled along by Kath, Osborn’s equally blond other half, the document case included other not-quite-alive denizens: green plastic lizards, red velvet hermit crabs, a pixie’s hat, a galvo garage sized for a hamster and his kin.
Osborn, who has made his living and his name on an ever-expanding portfolio of wines with fantastical names, was using the occasion to unveil his latest additions, 12 single-vineyard shiraz bottlings, each a part or parcel of the vines that contribute to The Dead Arm, d’Arenberg’s flagship shiraz.
The vinous Dead Arm is somewhat less disturbing than the zombie arm, with none of the rubbery character: a deep, luxurious shiraz that gains its concentrated flavors naturally. Osborn farms his family’s 1,200 acres of vines in McLaren Vale without fertilizer and without cultivating the soil, intent on extending the lives of the old vines, including those with eutypa lata—a fungus that attacks the wood of a grape vine, leaving some of his bush vines with a “dead arm.” Osborn has turned this natural pruning to his advantage, selecting those extremely low-yielding vines for his top shiraz. To sustain the vineyards, he regrafts the eutypa-affected vines every 20 years, maintaining the root systems (phylloxera is not a problem in his vineyards).
Fans of The Dead Arm—some of whom sipped or sloshed their way through Osborn’s more than 50 other labels at Providence—will now have these 12 to investigate with lamb: wines like The Fruit Bat (as fruity as its name would suggest), The Blind Tiger and The Amaranthine (among the most savory and intensely earthy of the selections), their sites spread through the hills of McLaren Vale, on varied mixes of clay and red, brown or gray earth over limestone, or sandstone, or the ancient sands over dense clays at Blewitt Springs.
Somehow, while others narrow their focus onto a few limited bottlings, Osborn keeps adding labels. He says he’ll follow up these 2010s with roughly 12 in 2011 and 2012, and in future vintages when the quality is high and the yields are adequate. “We have a healthy amount of Dead Arm that will keep it flowing.”