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Sunday 31 March 2019

Alors! French told to drink less wine

When I lived in France, my GP (once the mistress of President Mitterand, so the gossip went) encouraged my consumption of red wine, assuring me it was good for my health. 

Times change, however, and this week health officials in France have told the nation that it should be drinking no more than two glasses of wine a day, and not everyday, to reduce the risk of alcohol-related diseases.

Santé Publique France said almost a quarter of French adults are regularly drinking too much alcohol, and this level of drinking is killing 41,000 people a year, making it the second-biggest cause of avoidable deaths in the country after smoking, Drinks Business reported.

“It’s about 10.5 million adults who drink too much," said Viet Nguyen-Thanh, head of Santé Publique France. "They drink in proportions that increase the risks to their health, including cancers, high blood pressure, cerebral hemorrhage and cardiovascular diseases.”

In its official guidance, Santé Publique France is advising people to drink no more than 10 glasses of wine each week, with that being the equivalent of 100ml a glass, totalling just under a bottle and half a week. 

It sounds downright unFrench to me. 

“For your health, alcohol should be limited to a maximum of two glasses per day, and not every day either,” the new campaign from Santé Publique France says.

The French have an average annual consumption per person of 12.6 litres of alcohol, well behind Lithuania’s 15 litres and Germany’s 13.4 litres. 

Jérôme Villaret, general delegate of Languedoc AC winemakers, told La Depeche: “This kind of publicity campaign upsets the moderate consumer,” he said. "To us, these kinds of studies just make consumers feel guilty.”

The new nationwide campaign about the dangers of alcohol will run until April 12.

Saturday 30 March 2019

Go glamping surrounded by wildlife

If you really, really want to get away from it all then New South Wales bush retreat Turon Gates is an excellent choice. 

Turon Gates has just added six new riverside, self-catering glamping tents on its 6000-acre property at Capertee on the outer edge of the Blue Mountains. 

The new 50sqm tents feature teak and canvas interiors and combine a rustic charm with functionality. 

Furnishings include a sumptuous four-poster bed plus daybed and lounge area, contemporary bathroom (with bath for two), kitchenette with Nespresso coffee machine and a Danish wood burner stove for winter nights.

Expect a welcome gift of local wine and honey, complimentary toiletries, and an in-tent selection of magazines, books and board games.

All Turon's tents overlook the clear trout stream running through the property, which is dotted with cabins and alive with native wildlife. 

After a three-hour drive from Sydney you will be surrounded by kangaroos, wombats, the odd platypus and echidnas.

Katoomba, Mudgee, Bathurst and Lithgow are within easy reach. 

Another new offering at Turon Gates is The Pavilion, an event glamping tent accommodating up to 100 seated or 150 standing guests for social gatherings, corporate and wellness retreats.

The sustainable resort is solar powered but wifi is available around the glamping site. 

For more information about Turon Gates including accommodation options, prices and availability visit 

# The writer was a previous guest in a Turon Gates cabin

Friday 29 March 2019

Imagine a big night out with no adverse effects

Wouldn’t it be great if a night of drinking didn’t pose a risk to our health and we could wake up the next morning feeling fresh and ready to go?
A new synthetic alcohol that produces all the good effects of booze without out any of the harmful ones may be available within five years.

A company called Alcarelle, founded by British professor David Nutt (above), believes the product will transform the drinks industry.

“Our goal is to develop an alcohol-free adult beverage which imitates the aspects of alcohol that we all want – sociability, relaxation, fun - but without those horrible harmful effects that cause so much damage to our health,” the Alcarelle website says.

Nutt has spent years studying the way alcohol stimulates different receptors in the brain and has discovered that some receptors bind with alcohol to provide the positive effects we enjoy, such as feeling relaxed and sociable; while others combine to bring about negative effects such as headaches, liver damage and hangovers.

“We know where in the brain alcohol has its ‘good’ effects and ‘bad’ effects, and what particular receptors mediate that – Gaba, glutamate and other ones, such as serotonin and dopamine,” he told the science pages of UK newspaper The Guardian.

“The effects of alcohol are complicated but … you can target the parts of the brain you want to target.”

Nutt says it is possible to design a peak effect into Alcarelle which means no matter how much a drinker consumes, they won’t get drunk.

Nutt is an English neuropsychopharmacologist specialising in the research of drugs that affect the brain and conditions such as addiction, anxiety, and sleep.

He is head of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Centre for Academic Psychiatry in the Division of Brain Sciences, Dept of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College London. He is also visiting professor at the Open University in the UK and Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

Nutt and his business partner David Orren started raising seed funding in November 2018 to bring Alcarelle to market.

Their aim isn’t for Alcarelle to become a drinks company in its own right, but to supply companies in the drinks industry with the active ingredient, so that they can make and market their own products.

The company’s managing director, Orren says Alcarelle isn’t aiming to replicate fine wines or single malt whisky.
“We think, once we’re approved, and on the market,” he said, “we are going to see an amazing and wonderful explosion of creativity. The drinks industry employs really creative people.”

Orren recently told the Irish Examiner that it might be able to wrap up all the necessary safety testing and regulatory requirements within five years.

The Alcarelle website says Orren “brings 20 years international experience of enabling disruptive technologies to secure market engagement”.

The website says: The work is not finished and questions remain to be answered. But we believe the end result is worth the investment in time, effort and money that this project requires. The long-term benefits to people and society will be enormous.

“There is obviously great potential for Alcarelle to become a successful business. If we succeed, Alcarelle will provide a percentage of its income to research initiatives to develop a wider range of products that offer enjoyable alternatives to drinking ethanol.

"Some will be used to influence government and we will use our success to build a viable long-term business ensuring the future availability of choice for those who prefer to drink a safer and more responsible alternative to alcohol."

Thursday 28 March 2019

Behind the scenes in some of Europe's most intriguing destinations

Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova are three of the least frequented and least well-known countries in Europe.

These three beautiful nations are now opening up to mass tourism and MIR Corporation is offering a taster trip featuring highlights of all three.

Guests will visit an artist in Kiev, share a meal with a family in Chisinau, and take a day trip to the Transdniester region, a narrow strip of Moldovan land where separatists have declared a disputed independence.

Other highlights include visiting the Gallery of Russian and Modern Belarussian Art, touring the Caves Monastery and the Chernobyl Museum, exploring Odessa on the Black Sea Coast, experiencing a private demonstration of egg painting, and sampling Moldova's deep red wines.

Cities in the line-up include Minsk, Brest, Lviv, Kiev, Odessa and Chisinau.

The two-week trip is scheduled for May 19-June 1, 2019, and starts at $7,395 for land content only. For more information, visit

Sorry about the weather; here's a free cruise on us

There really isn't much cruise ships, or airlines for that matter, can do about the weather.

All those of us who saw the horrific TV footage of the Viking Sky in trouble recently - and watched as passengers were rescued by helicopter after the ship's engines failed, must have felt sympathy for those on board.

Now Torstein Hagen, the chairman of Viking Ocean Cruises, has invited passengers involved in the Viking Sky incident, to try another of the company's cruises.

Some 479 of the 915 passengers, many of whom were elderly, were rescued from the ship by helicopter after a wave smashed through the windows of the ship, knocking them off their feet and leaving them soaked and freezing.

The others were still on the Viking Sky (above) when she limped into Molde in Norway, from where the majority have been flown home.

Around 20 passengers were treated in hospital for injuries after the two-week voyage from Tilbury in Essex.
Rather than making excuses, Viking Cruises is going on a PR charm offensive.

A cruise line spokeswoman said guests had already been informed that all 915 will receive a refund. She added: "In addition, the chairman will extend a personal invitation for another cruise."

Viking Sky is still docked in Molde where repairs are being carried out. She is expected to be back in service in April, said the cruise line.

"The past few days have been stressful and hectic for both guests and crew alike," Hagen said.

"I would like to personally apologise for what our guests experienced. I would also like to say how impressed and grateful I am for the efforts of the national rescue services, rescue personnel and local authorities."

The cruise marked the end of Viking Ocean Cruises' first winter season sailing in Norway.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Another budget airline goes out of business


Another European budget airline has gone out of business, underlining just how important it is that flyers make sure they have proper travel insurance.

Cash-strapped Wow Air earlier this week cancelled flights amid fears for the future of the carrier after a potential rescue deal with rival Icelandair collapsed.

On Thursday came an official announcement: Wow Air has ceased operation. All Wow Air flights have been cancelled. Passengers midway through their trips were told they will need to find alternative ways home.

Wow Air was an Icelandic low-cost carrier operating services between Iceland, Europe and North America. The airline was headquartered in Reykjavík.

Icelandair had reopened talks with Wow after the low-cost carrier lost the support of a potential US financial backer last week, but discussions subsequently stopped.

Wow Air had been given until March 29 to present a rescue plan to its lenders. It had hoped US private equity fund Indigo Partners would stump up $75 million in exchange for a 49% stake in the airline, but that deal fell through last week.

The airline, which operated low-cost flights from the UK to Reykjavik and onwards to the US and Canada, had been shedding unprofitable routes since late last year. 

New riverside walkway planned for Tasmania's south

The beautiful Huon River in the deep south of Tasmania is much under-utilised for leisure. 

There are jet boat tours from Huonville, a rowing course at Franklin and the 17-metre wooden ketch Yukon makes occasional tourist sailings from Franklin. 

The Huon River: Image Winsor Dobbin 
Now a shared pathway from Huonville to Franklin along the Huon River Foreshore is a priority project for the local Huon Valley Council and could become a tourism drawcard for the Huon Valley.

"The walking, cycling and kayaking trail would make our beautiful river more accessible and could attract a large number of visitors to the area," says Mayor Bec Enders. 

Enders said Council had appointed environment engineering consultancy Pitt and Sherry to carry out a feasibility study into the project. 

“There is a boat on the river surveying the foreshore already trying to work out the best path for the pathway to take,” Enders said. “This could be an exciting development and we are looking forward to seeing what the consultants have to say when they finish their study. 

“While the prospect of a direct pathway between Huonville and Franklin is attractive, we need to make sure it’s a worthwhile project. That’s what this study is for. “Pitt and Sherry will identify where the pathway should go, consult with key stakeholders and report back with their estimated costs for design and construction.” 

Pitt and Sherry have considerable experience in similar projects having worked on the Northwest Coastal Pathway, the Snug to Margate shared cycle path, Glenorchy’s inner-city cycleway extension and a number of others. The study is currently underway and is expected to take 12 weeks in total.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Stage a monthly whisky tasting in your own home

Spirits drinkers are more discerning and adventurous than ever before. 

Entrepreneur Joel Hauer is gambling that Australian whisky drinkers are willing to splash out $59 a month to sample three different whiskies delivered to their door free of shipping costs. 

While Australians are drinking less there is a very obvious trend towards quality. 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports an increase in premium spirit consumption  particularly in relation to whisky, vodka and gin. 

Enter Whisky Loot, aimed at meeting the needs of Australian spirit lovers and their increasingly refined approach. 

Whisky drinkers subscribe for a monthly fee and are provided with an opportunity to taste three different whiskies from premium award-winning distilleries from around the world. 

The concept aims to equip consumers with more knowledge by acting as a alternative method of alcohol discovery. 

Members also have the option to buy full bottles at discounted rates. 

"Whisky distilleries are where the craft beer market was in the early 90s; we're probably at 10% of where we could be in just a few short years," says Hauer. 

"With more and more choice coming onto the market every day, consumers are demanding more than their traditional bottle shop can provide.” 

The three 60-millilitre tasters are presented in a stylish gift box set complete with expert tasting notes, making it a popular corporate gift. Whisky Loot also plans to launch into additional liquor verticals including gin and vodka in the near future. 

Subscriptions are also available in pre-paid subscriptions. Three months for $169, six months for $329 and 12 months for $639 all shipped nationally for free. See

Monday 25 March 2019

New hotel for Melbourne's northern suburbs

Mantra Epping, a new-build $80 million hotel development in Melbourne’s booming northern suburbs, is on track to open in May.

Designed by leading architects Peddle Thorp and Bruce Henderson Interiors, the two-wing 214-room hotel will feature a selection of rooms, one-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom interconnecting apartments.

All hotel rooms and one-bedroom apartments feature modern décor, air-conditioning, tea and coffee making facilities, in-room wifi and Foxtel, including iQ Chromecast for a personalised entertainment experience.

The one-bedroom apartments feature kitchen facilities, laundry and private balconies. 

On-site amenities and services include the Trader Café, Restaurant and Bar, Beer Republic brewhouse, state-of-the-art conference and meeting facilities, fully-equipped gymnasium, 24-hour reception and open-air secure car parking.

Mantra Epping general manager Mike Blank said the site has been a hive of activity over the past few months. 

“Once open, Mantra Epping will address North Melbourne’s real need for greater and more contemporary hotel accommodation,” he said. I think he means northern Melbourne, rather than North Melbourne.

“It will provide a market-leading hotel offering, well positioned to become the region’s premier corporate, meetings and leisure hotel.”

Mantra Epping is currently offering an opening special from $179 per night in a hotel room. The rate includes breakfast for two, car parking and in-room wifi.

Mantra Eppping is 18km north of the CBD, and 15 minutes from Melbourne Airport.

For further information visit or call 1300 987 603.

Off-season river cruises offer major savings

I love travelling in south-east Asia in what used to be called "wet season' and is now known as "green season". 

There are fewer tourists, prices are lower and the afternoon storms can be wonderfully refreshing.

Now boutique luxury cruise line Aqua Expeditions has announced an off-season offer aboard award-winning Aqua Mekong expedition river cruises on the Mekong in 2019 and 2020, taking travellers on a grand journey of Cambodia and Vietnam on one of the world’s legendary waterways. 

The offer features a 30% discount on regular rates for chosen departures from May 3 to August 13, 2019, and May 1 to August 6, 2020. 

Prices start from $US2,268 for a three-night Discovery Cruise, $US3,024 for a four-night Explorer Cruise and $US5,292 for a seven-night Expedition Cruise. All rates are per person twin-share and all-inclusive.

During the "green season", Cambodia’s and Vietnam’s abundant rice fields turn a rich green colour. 

This occurs when sunshine and blue skies are accompanied by sporadic but intense 30-minute showers that nourish and cool off the land. 

Cycling and kayaking activities that are part of Aqua Mekong’s varied itineraries are not affected.

The cruises feature culinary creations by Michelin-starred chef David Thompson (below), who uses local produce to create dishes exclusive to Aqua Mekong, such as lamb curry with Khmer spices, pepper, cumin and cassia, and chicken salad with Asian pennywort and green mango.

“The new menu is designed to suit the flow of the journey along the Mekong river,” said Thompson.

Bookings for Aqua Mekong cruises are available through travel agents or Aqua Expeditions Australia on 1300 124 204 or

Sunday 24 March 2019

Highly recommended. A very chic new place to stay in Tasmania

One of Launceston’s culinary landmarks, the 1830s flour mill that has housed award-winning eatery Stillwater for almost two decades, is now also a mini luxury hotel. 

Farewell to Stillwater's providore and art gallery and hello to Stillwater Seven, which is billed as "a uniquely indulgent accommodation experience". 

The seven striking rooms all have waterfront views and their own style. 

Each room features locally designed and produced furniture, a luxury Tasmanian pantry and even locally sourced toiletries, as well as access to the private guest bar. 

Early in the morning guests are welcome to wander down into the restaurant to chat with the chef and see what is coming out of the oven. 

Stillwater developer and mill owner Rod Ascui said: “This exciting project, two years in the planning and building, has allowed the Mill to become whole again rather than three disparate businesses. 

"It was crying out for this integration and now as a boutique style inn all about the Tasmanian food experience it has come together beautifully…it really is a ‘restaurant with rooms’.”

In-room features include king beds and king pillows, well-stocked pantries, Netflix and  Spotify, Lentara Olive Grove toiletry products and spa quality 100% cotton towelling, as well as free wifi and USB bedside charging ports. 

An indulgent Stillwater breakfast is included in the tariff, as is parking and access to a guest lounge. 

Stillwater Seven is a short walk from both Cataract Gorge and the city centre. For bookings/info for Stillwater Restaurant and Seven rooms go to

#UPDATE I stayed at Stillwater Seven this weekend - and it sets a new standard for boutique accommodation in Tasmania.

There was a very well made G+T at check-in. 

Aromas of a fresh, warm sourdough loaf and local butter greeted me on arrival in my room, which I slathered with local chicken liver pate from the fridge for supper, partnered by a half bottle of Spring Vale Pinot Noir from the impressive mini bar.

The wifi worked well, the bed was super comfy and the TV was high-tech enough to briefly baffle my brain. Staff were impeccable; this is Stillwater, after all. Highly recommended. 

# The writer was a guest of Stillwater Seven 

Saturday 23 March 2019

Whatever you do, please don't catch our train

Eurostar has advised passengers not to travel from London to Paris unless absolutely necessary, for the rest of the month of March.

The rail company issued a statement saying: "Due to industrial action by French customs, we are experiencing lengthy queues at Paris Gare du Nord station and expect this to continue until the end of March.

"We strongly recommend that you do not travel during this period unless necessary.

"Please, also note that we are unable to offer our priority check-in service."

Passengers have reported queues of up to six hours over recent days and several services a day between Paris and London have been cancelled, the Travel Mole news service reports.

A work-to-rule protest began on March 4 and was originally scheduled to finish on March 20. It has now been extended.

Up to three services a day continue to be cancelled for next week.

Eurostar reminded passengers: "Please be aware that availability is currently limited so your first choice of train may not be available."

Friday 22 March 2019

Lounge access for those on the cheapest of economy fares

Travelling on a cheap economy ticket but left with several hours to kill at Sydney or Melbourne international airports?

International luxury airport lounge brand No.1 Lounges has announced that travellers from Sydney and Melbourne airports without frequent flyer status or lounge access will be able to book access to its flagship brand The House.

A one-off payment, with no membership rules, will ensure lounge access regardless of the airline they are travelling with or class of ticket held.

Starting from $80 person (which is a fair whack, it must be said), the new concept will allow travellers to relax in first-class comfort for up to three hours prior to departure, with the option to buy additional hours online in-advance or during their visit.

The lounges offer a choice of seating areas, airport views, showers, and unlimited wifi, as well as television, newspapers, glossy magazines and charging points as standard.

Guests will enjoy white-linen a la carte dining, a fully tended bar (offering premium wines, beers and spirits, Champagne and classic cocktails) and barista coffees.

No.1 Lounge’s founder Phil Cameron said: “Australia is one of the world’s great travel destinations, and both Sydney and Melbourne airports are two of the very best international gateways. I am delighted we are able to offer a premium international departure to everyone.

“Whether travelling for a special occasion, holiday or work, we look forward to welcoming all passengers into our beautifully designed lounges.”

The House at Sydney Airport is located in the heart of Sydney Airport’s international Terminal 1 and has 120 seats with immediate views of Gate 51 and the runways beyond

The House at Melbourne Airport (below) is located in Terminal 2, has 140 seats and offers runway views.

No.1 Lounges created The House concept in conjunction with Etihad Airways as part of an international collaboration, which has also rolled-out at London’s Heathrow Airport.

No.1 has also partnered with Virgin Australia, which offers The House to all its eligible international passengers.

Travellers can book online at or visit The House in person to purchase access on the day. Access costs $80 online and $90 on the door.

Thursday 21 March 2019

What the Tasmanian tourism industry doesn't tell you

Bus services are good in Hobart
Tasmania is a hugely popular tourism destination for both domestic and international visitors. 

It has beautiful scenery, a thriving wine and food culture and amazing wilderness experiences.  

But if you want to explore any more of Tasmania than downtown Hobart and Launceston then you'll either need to bring your own vehicle over on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry, or rent a car on arrival. 

The bad news is that car rentals can be expensive in Tasmania, as it petrol, and that cars can be in short supply in peak periods. 

But you are quite happy to use public transport, you say. That would be fine, except Tasmania has hardly any public transport infrastructure. 

Trains? No commercial services at all. None. Nada. 

Trams: Not a sausage. Zero. 

Light rail: There have been years of debate about whether to build light rail between the Hobart waterfront and North Hobart. So far, nothing has happened. 

Buses: A few in the two major cities and surrounds, but very few to regional areas or between cities. 

The state government is putting a lot of effort into promoting the Huon Valley region south of Hobart after recent fires. 

Should you wish to visit the town of Cygnet, with its art galleries, cafes and waterfront bird reserve, there are three buses a day from Hobart. Three. That's it. Miss a bus and you have a four-hour wait. 

Travelling from Cygnet back to Hobart? Your choices are the 10.25am, or the 2.31pm, which doesn't go all the way to Hobart. That's it. 

Thinking about taking a bus from Hobart to the much-promoted seaside town of Strahan, on the West Coast? 

A West Coast to Hobart trip goes via the north coast and is a minimum 23-hour trip, involving an overnight stay en route. 

Even a trip between the two biggest cities is a chore. There are two, or a maximum of three, coach journeys each day between Hobart and Launceston. 

The message to tourists visiting clean and green Tasmania is clear. Hire a car - and book well in advance.


Wednesday 20 March 2019

Now add tea to Tasmania's list of gourmet beverages

Tasmania is known for its fine cool-climate wines, ciders and artisan spirits.

The Apple Isle is also well known for its apples, berries and cheeses, as well as more recent gourmet additions including avocado, wasabi and saffron.

Tasmania’s innovative producers are finding great success with unexpected crops, now including tea.

In the hills south of Hobart at Allens Rivulet, there’s a sight you would expect to see in Sri Lanka, or Darjeeling – a tea plantation, Brand Tasmania reports.

Not only is it the only tea plantation in Tasmania, but it’s also the most southerly one in the world.

What’s more, Tasmania’s pioneering tea farmers, scientists Jane and Dr Gordon Brown, are convinced there is great potential for tea to join the list of our valuable crops.

“Tasmania is an ideal place to grow tea,” Gordon says. “Currently there is a world shortage of tea and huge demand for the product. So yes, tea could become one of our important crops.”

After water, tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world, worth a staggering $US 50 billion each year.

China is the powerhouse producer, followed by India, where much of the  crop is grown around Darjeeling in the Himalayan foothills.

“Most of the tea comes from high altitude areas in the tropics, where they get the same temperatures as Tasmania,” Gordon explains.

“If you look at Darjeeling for example, our temperature range is almost identical.

“But the biggest difference is rainfall, which is an advantage for us. Darjeeling can get up to 20ml of rain a day during their summer monsoons - which reduces the quality.”

The Browns planted their first tea crop in the mid 1990s using plants sourced from Japan.

They grow camellia sinensis, which is turned into both green and black tea, with all production on-site at their small farm.

Around 4,000 bushes now cover half a hectare, which produces 200 kilos every year.

The Browns’ tea adventure dates back to 1990 when Gordon – who has a master’s degree in agriculture and PhD in horticulture – was asked to research potential new Tasmanian crops, including tea, for the state Department of Agriculture.

“I fell in love with tea as a crop. It’s incredibly low risk, and extremely resilient,” he said.

“For example, if you grow cherries and it rains, you lose the crop and you have to wait another 12 months for your next one.

"With tea, the biggest risk is frost in the spring, but if you lose the crop, you have another one four weeks later.”

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Marketing goes mad. Meet the Game of Thrones whisky collection

Game of Thrones is an immensely popular fantasy television series. It is not something I have ever watched, or have any interest in watching, but its audience reach obviously makes it a hot branding property. 

Hence, to celebrate the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, spirits house Diageo and HBO have combined to release the limited-edition Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection in Australia.

The Collection features seven Scotch whiskies paired with six of the iconic Houses of Westeros, as well as the Night’s Watch, giving fans an authentic taste of the Seven Kingdoms.

I have absolutely no idea what that means, but some of you might.

The Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection is joined by the return of White Walker by Johnnie Walker, another limited-edition whisky in celebration of series, inspired by "the most enigmatic and feared characters" on Game of Thrones; the White Walkers.

Diageo says its unparalleled and diverse range of distilleries in Scotland, much like in Westeros, each have their own unique characteristics and produce a distinctive whisky representative of local terroir. 

These similarities (so the press release says) were the inspiration behind the collection, drawing an "authentic storyline" between each House and single malt pairing. 

“We are always trying to find fun and interesting ways to introduce our Scotch portfolio and what better way than partnering with Game of Thrones, one of the most successful TV series ever created," says Pedro Mendonca, who goes by the impressive title of Global Reserve Marketing & Malts Director

"We are thrilled to be celebrating the final season of the show by toasting with whiskies that authentically pay homage to some of the greatest characters and houses.” 

For more information visit 

Sorry. Your flight is delayed; the pilot is pie-eyed

Passengers on a recent Air Japan flight were delayed after the pilot failed a pre-flight breathalyser test.

The co-pilot, in his 40s, admitted he had consumed more than 10 cans of beer, two glasses of white wine and a bottle of red wine, although the drinking had ceased before the prescribed 12 hours before a flight under the rules of parent company ANA.

He was due to fly from Tokyo's Haneda airport to Hong Kong but was replaced. His punishment was not revealed.

After a spate of recent incidents of failed breath tests, Japan's ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism had warned airlines to tighten up rules and administer more stringent alcohol tests to pilots, the Travel Mole news website reported.
Several over-the-limit pilots have caused flight delays and damaged Japan's aviation image that included one pilot being jailed in the UK for being nine times over the alcohol limit.

That pilot, Katsutoshi Jitsukawa, 42, failed a breathalyser 50 minutes before he was due to fly a Boeing 777 from Heathrow Airport to Japan Airlines (JAL). He was jailed for 10 months.

Another Air Japan pilot failed a breath test in February prior to a flight from Narita International Airport to Yangon, Myanmar.

"We were not able to prevent a similar incident from occurring and we take it very seriously," ANA said in a statement.

Not reassuring. 

Monday 18 March 2019

Imagine flying from Sydney to London for the weekend

Flying from Sydney to London in four hours may sound the stuff of science fiction, but one British tech company believes it may soon be a reality.

The makers of a new hypersonic rocket engine say it could whisk flights from London to Sydney in just a fifth of the time it takes now; travelling at five times the speed of sound.

Such a flight would revolutionise global travel.

The BBC quotes Reaction Engines as saying it is gearing up to test the futuristic craft in Colorado.

The company, which has backing from the Rolls-Royce and Boeing, calls the new rocket engine the Sabre. It inhales air at lower altitudes but works more like a rocket when it gets higher up.

There are several press releases about the project - and dozens of news stories that are far too complex for my little brain to understand. Go to to learn more about the Sabre.

Has Australia fallen out of love with Champagne?

Is Australia's decade-long love affair with Champagne cooling off? 

After volume growth of 134% over the past decade, Australian sales of Champagne fell last year by 1.8% to 8.4 million bottles, according to figures revealed at the annual press conference of the Comité Champagne, which took place at ProWein in Düsseldorf, Germany.

But much of the reduction can be put down, in part, to a less favourable exchange rate. 

Globally, Champagne volumes were also down last year (-1.8% to 301.9 million bottles), with France and the UK, which account for 60% of total sales, responsible for most of the decline. 

Overall exports are on an upward trajectory (+0.6% in volume and +1.8% in revenue) and despite total volume falling, last year’s total turnover for Champagne set a new record of close to €4.9 billion (+0.3% compared with 2017).

Demand is most dynamic beyond the European Union, particularly in markets further afield such as the USA, Japan, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. 

The Comité, the trade body that represents the interests of Champagne producers, said the 2018 results validated the value-creation strategy of the Champagne region “based on a continual pursuit of exceptional quality and rigorous environmental targets.”

With Australian Champagne sales down 6.4% in value, Comité co-president Jean-Marie Barillère told The Shout  industry newsletter he has not confident that 2019 would see a return to the incredible growth of recent years.

“I don’t know because the increase in volume of Champagne in Australia has been tremendous over the last 10 years,” he told The Shout. “Now maybe we’ll have some consolidation. But when you consider the population of Australia, we’re not doing too badly.”

Australia remains Champagne’s sixth-largest export market by volume.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Kyoto calls to sports fans

Late least year I had the good fortune to spend some time in Kyoto, the ancient capital and cultural heart of Japan. 

My time in the City of Shrines was fleeting, but I was hugely impressed with the vibrancy of the city and way both new and old had combined. 

The Rugby World Cup 2019 will be held in Japan for the first time and while no matches are planned in Kyoto, the city is still a must-visit, luring travellers with a deep-rooted history and connection with rugby.

Several World Cup games will be played in Kobe City, just a short train ride away. 
First introduced by an English educator, Edward Bramwell Clarke, who taught the game to students of Keio University in Tokyo in 1899, rugby quickly gained popularity and, in 1969, the commemorative stone monument, Dai-isshuu-no-chi(“The location of the First Kick”) was donated to Kyoto's Shimogamo-jinja Shrine near the Tadasu-no-mori Forest, where the Kyoto rugby team used to practice. 

Since then, the shrine has become a place of worship associated with rugby.
Kyoto's connection with the sport on the international scene was further deepened when it played host to the Rugby World Cup 2019 pool draw in May 2017. This was the first time a pool draw for the Rugby World Cup took place outside of the UK and Ireland.

Other sporting highlights in Kyoto include:the wooden Budo Center (above), which is the historical home for judo, kendo (Japanese fencing), karate, sumo, kyudo (Japanese archery) and naginata (long-handled sword). 

Originally called Butoku-den, and established in 1899, the oldest martial arts building in Japan, the Budo Center is not only used for competitions but also as a daily sports training site by Kyoto citizens.

Kyoto also hosts an annual international marathon and is home to a J2 League team, the magnificently named Kyoto Purple Sanga.  
For more information, visit

Qantas flies direct between Sydney and Osaka Kansai three times a week with economy return fares starting from $1156 per person. Kyoto is a short train ride from Kansai Osaka Airport.

The writer was a guest of Kansai Gastronomy Tourism Promotion Council and associated companies, including Keihan Holdings and JR West. Pick up the Osaka-Kansai Gourmet Food Map when you arrive for some helpful regional itineraries.

Solo seniors get an adventurous travel opportunity

Over 50s are being invited to travel and meet some new friends.

Individual Traveller has announced an exclusive Sri Lanka Solo Tour for men and women 55+ inviting participants to ‘"travel where you’ve never been with friends you’ve never met!".

The fully-escorted 12-night/13-day tour for 50s and over will showcase Sri Lanka and visit Colombo, Sigiriya, Kandy and Galle from September 9-21.

As with all Individual Traveller-operated itineraries, the Sri Lankan tour will focus on providing solo travellers with the opportunity to share their holiday experience with like-minded people in a safe and welcoming environment.

Individual Traveller was created for people who travel on their own for whatever reason.

This particular tour costs $9799 per person including 12 nights in a double room for single use in 4-star quality hotels, breakfast daily, three dinners, English-speaking guides throughout, transfers, all entrance fees, an open hotel bar each night from 5.30-6.30pm each evening to mingle with other travellers, porterage and 24-hour assistance.

I particularly commend the porterage (older folk often have back issues and don't want to be lugging heavy suitcases around), and the news that guests will be in their hotel by 5.30pm each night.

Too many tours of this style aim to pack too much in, leaving guests tired and irritable when they should be relaxing.

SriLankan Airlines is currently offering return airfares from Melbourne to Sri Lanka from $982 in economy class and $3580 in business class (including taxes).

Individual Traveller managing director and creator Liz Young has welcomed Sri Lanka to the product range, saying: “We’ve had a lot of interest from our clients about Sri Lanka and we’re very proud of this particular tour.

“Not only will people get to see the magic of this wonderful country in style but they’ll be able to share their experience with others. The response we’ve had to our other solo tours has been enormous and Sri Lanka is just as popular,” Young said.

Saturday 16 March 2019

Brown Brothers releases latest tribute to family matriarch

The flagship Patricia range from Brown Brothers pays tribute to the late family matriarch who died in 2004 - and the 16th release hit the market on Sunday, March 17.

There are four new wines in the release, the Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut ($48), the Patricia 2017 Chardonnay ($45), the Patricia 2015 Shiraz ($62) and Patricia 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon ($62). 

The Patricia 2014 Noble Riesling ($37) was released last year and completes the quintet. 

The chardonnay reflects the family-owned company's gradual migration from its Victorian roots to cooler Tasmania, with a blend of fruit from the Tamar Valley and East Coast of the Apple Isle alongside Yarra Valley fruit. 

I though the chardonnay had lovely balance and the length to cellar well in the mid-term, while the cabernet sauvignon is already accessible and has impressive depth. 

"Patricia's commitment to her family and the business was nothing but inspirational and the Patricia range is an expression of our commitment to winemaking excellence," says her grand-daughter Caroline Brown. 

"The Patricia range is the result of the very best work carried out by our viticulture and winemaking team with the best parcels from the best sites carefully selected."

Why March 17? It was the family matriarch's birthday. 


Friday 15 March 2019

Down-to-earth permaculture dinner at Oakridge

Time is tight for anyone wanting to attend a special permaculture dinner at Oakridge in the Yarra Valley on Saturday, March 30. 

Oakridge Restaurant and Winery in the Yarra Valley will host permaculture experts Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar of Milkwood for a special one-off dinner. 

Oakridge’s co-executive chefs Jo Barrett and Matt Stone (below) will join the Milkwood team for an event celebrating a joint passion for wild foods, fermentation and farming.

Guests will enjoy a one-off menu crafted from ingredients foraged and sourced locally and grown on the Oakridge estate.

Selected Oakridge wine vintages will be featured, reinforcing the connection of local flavour and the taste of the Yarra Valley. 

During dinner, the Milkwood duo will lead a lively discussion of the evolution of wild foods in Australia, sustainable farming and how we can all find a little piece of wilderness wherever we are.

As self-proclaimed ‘avant gardeners’, Oakridge’s chefs and winemakers have a deep respect for the principles of permaculture. During this special dinner, guests will be given an opportunity to understand the interconnectedness of each ingredient on their plate and wine in their glass.

Chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett took over the Oakridge kitchen in 2015. They lovingly refer to the food at Oakridge as ‘Yarra Valley Cuisine’, as they use only what they can grow, source and forage from the local area.

Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar (left) quit the city 10 years ago with a dream of living simply and within their means. They started a small permaculture farm called Milkwood. Since then, they’ve been growing food and sharing skills wherever they lived or travelled, from building biochar stoves to creating rooftop community gardens and teaching permaculture design. 

They currently live, grow, forage and keep bees on their two-acre permaculture farm near Daylesford.

Oakridge Wines is at 864 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Victoria. The dinner cost is $140 per person (or $180 per person including a signed copy of Milkwood: Real skills for down-to-earth living.

Bookings: or (03) 9738 9900. Photos: Katie Wilton, Kate Berry.

Thursday 14 March 2019

A year of milestones for Leeuwin Estate

This is a year of milestones for the Horgan family, who have built Leeuwin Estate into one of Australia's premium family-owned wine brands. 

It is 50 years since the Horgans acquired the land that is now Leeuwin Estate and it is also the 35th consecutive year that the family has staged the Leeuwin Concert Series in Margaret River.

A lot has happened since the late 1960s, when Denis Horgan, then a Perth-based chartered accountant specialising in mergers and acquisitions, purchased a plumbing business which also held farmland in Margaret River, close to his favourite surf beach. 

He sold the plumbing division but retained the farm, with the property becoming used for family trips south. 

In 1972, Napa Valley legend Robert Mondavi was searching for the next great new world site to produce premium wines. 

Identifying the land that is now the Leeuwin vineyard, he provided early mentorship to Denis and Tricia as they transformed their cattle farm into the fifth founding winery of the now famous Margaret River region. 

"As a family we remain passionate about everything we do at Leeuwin and today siblings Simone and Justin, are Co-CEO’s working alongside a dedicated team of super talented people," the family says in a press release. 

"Located in one of the world’s most spectacularly beautiful and isolated wine regions, we celebrate the combination of fine wine, food, art and music, welcoming visitors to the winery and exporting our wines across 30 markets. 

"It has been a wonderful journey, with four generations of our family now leaving their footprints on this special place that is still known as 'the farm' to us."

The new Leeuwin Estate Art Series wines will be released later this month. 

Wednesday 13 March 2019

Would you risk flying on a Boeing 737 Max 8 right now?

UPDATE: Boeing grounds its Max aircraft worldwide

It's midnight in Manhattan, this is no time to get cute - Bruce Springsteen

Two fatal crashes in quick succession but the Boeing aircraft company cannot resist the opportunity to get cute in its press releases.

In October 2018, a Lion Air Boeing Max 7 plane crashed in the Java Sea off Indonesia, killing 189 people.

This week, an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing Max 7 crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board. 

And today it was revealed that pilots on two US flights previously reported that an automated system seemed to cause their Boeing 737 Max planes to tilt down suddenly.

The pilots said that soon after engaging the autopilot on Boeing 737 Max 8 planes, the nose tilted down sharply. In both cases, they recovered quickly after disconnecting the autopilot.
Aircraft manufacturers Boeing, who made a $10.6 billion profit last financial year, and the civil aviation authorities in the US and Canada, have failed to follow authorities around the world in banning the aircraft until safety checks have been completed.

US Federal Aviation Authority administrator Daniel Elwell said the FAA was "monitoring data" and the performance of the 737s, and saw no basis yet to stop them from flying in the US.

Boeing, too, is happy for its planes to continue to fly.

"Safety is Boeing's number one priority and we have full confidence in the safety of the MAX," Boeing said in a statement.

"We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets. It is also important to note that the Federal Aviation Administration is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators." 

Two US airlines flying the 737 Max 8 - American Airlines and Southwest - say they will continue to fly the planes. In my opinion no sensible flyer would opt to fly on one of these aircraft until copious checks have been taken.

But when it comes to money, self-interest wins out over safety every time.

Australia's Virgin Airlines, which has 30 of the planes on order, says it is taking a "wait and see" approach.

It said it would not fly any new Boeing 737 Max 8s until it was completely satisfied with the plane’s safety.

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Expedition to rescue lost World War I wine treasures

In 1918, just two months before the end of World War I, a German U-boat torpedoed and sank a merchant vessel sailing from Bordeaux to Britain carrying a cargo of Champagne, rare wines, brandy and Benedictine.

The ship - which has been code-named Mercury - has laid undisturbed on the seabed off the Cornish coast for a century. 

Now Cookson Adventures, an adventure travel group, is offering divers and wine lovers the opportunity to join a team who discovered the ship's secret location and help them to retrieve a potential treasure trove of cargo.

At around 100 metres below sea level, the darkness and constant cool temperatures should have done an exceptional job in preserving the bottles’ contents. Estimates from archival research and initial dives put the number of bottles on board in their thousands.

The base of the salvage operation will be Falmouth in Cornwall. Should you wish to join the mission your stay will be a luxurious one. Your base for the week will be a private Cornish mansion with its own beach, stunning sea views and a dedicated personal chef.

The bottles remaining on board are potentially worth several million pounds, UK magazine Drinks Business reported. 

Phase Two of the project will see several days of further mapping and surveying before the salvage work begins.
Several bottles will be sent to the University of Dijon for further testing and the National Maritime Museum of Cornwall in Falmouth has apparently expressed an interest in housing some in its collection.

Adam Sebba, CEO of Cookson Adventures, said: “We don’t consider ourselves a luxury travel company or an adventure travel company – we like to do things differently. That’s why this is precisely the type of unique experience we like to build for our clients. It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to be a part of one of the most significant historical discoveries of the century.

“The rarity of such a cargo is unprecedented and we’re waiting with bated breath to dive and see if we can recover the wine. The dive will be challenging but, by working with a team of leading experts in a number of specialist fields, we are confident that we can extract the prized artefacts intact.”

# The press released actually says "baited breath" - but that sounds unlikely.