Vintage year for d'Arenberg wines
The first time the always-smiling d'Arry Osborn was preparing for a wine vintage Japanese forces had invaded Singapore and Humphrey Bogart was appearing opposite Ingrid Bergman in Hollywood's latest blockbuster Casablanca.
Francis d'Arenberg Osborn, who in the global wine industry is more affectionately known as d'Arry, is now limbering up for his 72nd vintage in a row at his beloved d'Arenberg wines, the wine with the red sash from McLaren Vale, although he will take a more light-touch approach to the arduous job of transforming grapes into wine.
"He'll be wandering around, but of course he doesn't quite get his boots these days and throw out a fermenter," laughs Chester Osborn, the fourth generation of the family to now work at d'Arenberg wines and the chief executive of the winemaker.
"He won't be foot treading any grapes, but ... for an 87-year-old his mind is very sharp." Chester Osborn, who took on the reins as d'Arenberg chief winemaker in 1984, is today reaping the benefits of the decisions made by his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents and is fairly confident the sector can weather the storm of a high Australian dollar, intense competition and the power of the major chains.
For Osborn the future of d'Arenberg, as well as the Australian wine industry, is in moving away from cheap and cheerful wines to premium and even super premium wines.
This has driven Osborn to set his sights on the super premium category, with its release of the "Amazing Sites" brand that comes with a hefty price tag of about $100 a bottle.
Its success, as well as brisk sales for its premium Dead Arm range, has helped d'Arenberg boost its net profit to $790,000 for 2012-13, up from $170,000 in the previous financial year, according to documents lodged with ASIC.
"We did find that sales of our premium and super premium wines did well," Osborn said.
"The Dead Arm has gone up in sales quite considerably, which is one wine we are really known for, but also we have launched the Amazing Sites, which are all $100-per-bottle wines, they have done very well, and that's where most of that profit increase comes from."
The weakening Australian dollar has also boosted margins, but only made a small contribution to the 2012-13 financial year for the winemaker. More importantly, though, it tempted overseas buyers back to the cellar door.
"What we saw with the dollar weakening in the last part of the financial year were orders from overseas, they all got a bit excited.
"America is turning around, bits of Europe are turning around and Asia is doing well."
A recent switch in its distributor into China has helped generate a five-fold increase in wine sales for the first few months of the new distribution relationship.