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Tuesday 31 March 2020

Criminally good? Wine brand launches its own beer.

The 19 Crimes brand has been Australia’s leading wine growth brand over the past 12 months.

It has been so successful that it has now spawned a younger brother - a 19 Crimes beer.

Currently a limited edition, targeted at millennial craft beer drinkers who are on the lookout for something new, the 19 Crimes Pale Ale features similar packaging, complete with the brand's "mug shot" experience.

Named after 18th and 19th-century British rogues sentenced to live in Australia as punishment because they were found guilty of at least one of 19 Crimes, the brand celebrates the rules they broke.

The 19 Crimes Pale Ale will be on sale through Cellarbrations, The Bottle-O, IGA Liquor and Ritchies liquor outlets, along with select on-premise and independent retailers.

“Creating a Pale Ale felt like a natural, obvious next step for the brand as we know that our wine consumers equally enjoy discovering craft beer," said brand manager Laura Wenn.

“We are confident that the 19 Crimes Pale Ale will prove successful with millennials thanks to its crisp taste, distinctive packaging and our ‘talking’ augmented reality label.”

19 Crimes was launched in Canada in 2011, was launched in the USA in 2012, followed by Australia in 2014. Sales exceed 1.6 million cases annually. The beer launch follows successful beer releases in other markets.

The 2020 Olympics will be held in 2021 but ...

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have been rescheduled to run from July 23 to August 8, 2021.

Despite being switched from June to 2021, the Games will retain the name Tokyo 2020 for marketing and branding purposes - a piece of bizarre logic of which the Monty Python.troupe would be proud.

The 16th Summer Paralympic Games are now scheduled to take place in Tokyo from August 24 to September 5, 2021.

Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said, with trademark Olympic hyperbole, that the Games could provide a 'light at the end of a dark tunnel of humanity' for the world.

He said the new dates "exactly one year after those originally planned for 2020 also have the added benefit that any disruption that the postponement will cause to the international sports calendar can be kept to a minimum, in the interests of the athletes and the IFS."

Bach added: "This is a huge challenge. It is unprecedented. We don't have a blueprint. We have no experts to refer to.

"Now, we have to work and we're working already with the international federations.

"We have to take the qualification into consideration — what it means for the athletes.

"We have to see, and in particular the organising committee will have to see, whether the sports venues are still available. What is happening with all the installations which have already been accomplished for the games in 2020."

So, thanks to the coronavirus, we have sporting chaos all round - with several Olympic sports having world championships scheduled for 2021 that will have to be rescheduled.

And what of the hotel rooms that have already been booked for conventions in 2021 but will now be needed by the Olympics?

For now there are more questions than answers.

Monday 30 March 2020

Party central Phuket goes into lockdown

The Thai island of Phuket has long been known as party central with its many pubs, bars and nightclubs catering to all tastes, as well as hundreds of beach resorts.

But now the lights are going out in Phuket with governor Phakaphong Tavipatana issuing a directive for residents and the few remaining tourists to stay off the streets after dark.

The governor called for the "collaboration" of local residents and tourists across Phuket to comply and stay indoors between 8pm to 3am each night, local media reported.

The only exception is for 'urgent errands.'

The majority of the Phuket economy, over 56%, is based on tourism with bar workers, dancers and massage parlour workers all without incomes at this time.

Phuket says strict measures are also in force to prevent people planning to travel to other provinces in Thailand.

"Inspection will be strictly applied in the case of traveling to other provinces," the governor's order said.

The Thai Government has imposed a state of emergency which halts most international travel and restricts overland travel between provinces.

The Phuket Communicable Disease Committee announced another six Covid-19 cases today, bringing the total number to 47.

A total of 52 hotels in Phuket have announced their plans to close due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, Thai Hotels Association (THA) chairman Kalin Sarasin announced over the weekend. Thai authorities are also reducing flights. 

Qatar Airways hits rough financial skies

Qatar Airways has been one of the aviation industry's major success stories over the past decade; building a formidable reputation.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker says the airline will continue flying during the coronavirus crisis, but is fast running out of cash.

It will need a state bailout soon, Travel Mole reported.

The airline flies from its base in Doha to Europe, Asia and Australia, and has 1,800 flights scheduled over the next two weeks.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker 
"We have received many requests from governments all over the world, embassies in certain countries, requesting Qatar Airways not to stop flying," Baker said.

"However, without state support, the airline can only continue for a 'very short period of time.'

"We will surely go to our government eventually for equity."

Employees of the OneWorld alliance flyer have taken voluntary unpaid leave and Baker has said he will take no salary until the airline resumes full operations.

Although regional rivals Emirates and Etihad Airways have grounded their planes, Qatar Airways hasn't benefited from rising airfares.

"We are not taking advantage," Baker said. "This is a time to serve people who want to be with their loved ones in a very trying time."

Founded in 1993, Qatar Airways has a fleet of over 200 aircraft and employs over 43,000 people. As of May 2014, the company is fully owned by the Qatari Government.

Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup soccer finals in 2022.

Sunday 29 March 2020

Designed to please: three stylish Asian travel destinations

There are cities have that have style - and plenty that don’t.

For when we get back to normal, here are three Asian destinations you might want to have in mind to visit. 

All three are global cities that have design down to a fine art – with a nod to what is hip, a sensuous swagger, a certain insouciance.


Straddling both sides of the Huangpu River, Shanghai is China’s glitziest city: a global financial hub with a constantly changing landscape of soaring skyscrapers.

Design pioneers like Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu (the architects behind the new Shanghai Edition complex) and Liu Heung Shing (photographer and founder of the Shanghai Center of Photography) are helping craft the city’s emerging creative culture.

Cult brands like Spin Ceramics and Dong Liang are proving that "made in China" can mean crafted rather than ubiquitous, says Architectural Digest magazine.

New culinary openings, like Polux by leading French chef Paul Pairet, underline that Shanghai is at the forefront with both cuisine and cutting-edge design.

The Pompidou Centre Shanghai, which opened in November in the West Bund Art Museum, is an outpost of the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Under the direction of David Chipperfield Architects, the gallery is located in a wing of the glass museum, with its lease renewable for a five-year period.

Founded by Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer Liu Heung Shing, SCoP showcases a diverse body of photography, with topics that range from journalism to fashion and art.

The Pudong skyscape, on the opposite side of the river to the old city centre, is a futuristic wonderland of architecture and lights.

Kuala Lumpur

The Malaysian capital is home to a wide mix of cultures and architectural styles, including Chinese and Art Deco influences.

Attractions include the 19th-century Sri Mahamariamman Temple, built by Tamil migrants coming to work in the tin mines of Kuala Lumpur in 1873. In later years it has been adorned with Spanish and Italian tiles.

The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia is the largest in south-east Asia, displaying models, dioramas, and artefacts from all over the world.

Kuala Lumpur’s iconic modern landmark is the Petronas Twin Towers, home to designer stores, food outlets and more. The eight-point star base of the soaring towers is influenced by Islamic themes. 

Visit the Petronas Gallery for fine art and the Petrosains Discovery Centre for child-friendly science museum fun.

Designed by Cesar Pelli, the 88-storey towers were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004, until they were surpassed by Taipei 101. The Petronas Towers remain the tallest twin towers in the world.


The ultra-modern capital of South Korea was the World Design Capital in 2010 and remains a global leader in urban design.

Built for Seoul’s stint as global design capital was the Zaha Hadid-designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), now a major urban development landmark that is South Korea’s fashion hub and a popular tourist destination. It is venue for Seoul Fashion Week.

Korean design buzzwords include solidity, innovation, aesthetics and use of the latest technology. Local designer brands include LG, Hyundai and Samsung. Over the past decade Seoul has been updating its skyline with more architecturally advanced and taller buildings that often double as commercial and residential spaces

The 63 Building – once the tallest building in South Korea - is located on Yeouido Island in the Han River, and houses the headquarters of several business organisations as well as the world’s highest art gallery on the 60th floor, an observation deck on the top floor and an aquarium.

Dramatically striking is the Seocho Garak Tower East with a design inspired by Korean pottery. The facades were designed to reflect the light differently from every angle. Visit at night and you’ll get to enjoy a beautiful dance of changing colours forming various patterns.

Samsung Town is the headquarters of the company and consists of three buildings. Each building was designed for a specific division of the business conglomerate. The three towers of different heights are made up of cubes of different sizes to form one unit.

One of the newest additions to the skyline is Lotte World Premium Tower, which was completed in 2017. Described as “sticking out of the ground like a sharp knife”, the tower features shopping facilities and offices. The observation deck and rooftop café offer dramatic city views.

# This is an edited version of a story that appeared in Quest Kudos magazine. 

Saturday 28 March 2020

Australian Government cracks down on cruise ships

The Ruby Princess scandal, which saw coronavirus-infected hordes disembarking to spread Covid-19 to Sydney and further afield - allegedly at the urging of a politician with a vested interest - has seen further action taken against cruise lines visiting Australia. 

The Australian Government has extended its ban on cruise operations in Australia until June 15, 2020, as a further measure aiming to slow the spread of coronavirus. Many would say too little, too late.

Stuart Allison of Princess Cruises said the line was evaluating all of its previously planned departures, which had already been suspended for 60 days from March 12 through to May 11, industry newsletter Cruise Weekly reported online.

Carnival Cruise Line and P&O Cruises earlier this week announced a planned resumption of local cruising from May 15, while Royal Caribbean Cruises had said it envisaged a worldwide resumption of cruising across its various brands on May 12.

The New Zealand Government, smarter and more proactive than its Australian counterpart, has already imposed a ban on passenger cruise ships through to June 30, 2020.

Friday 27 March 2020

Fresh fruit delivered to your doorstep

Those of us living in Tasmania are fortunate when it comes to fruit. We can forage the hedgerows for fresh berries, or pluck apples and quinces from suburban trees.

For those living in the big cities, however, sourcing high-quality fruit in the time of coronavirus is not quite as easy.

In fact, I just encountered a serious bogan, accompanied by four children, coughing and hoiking wildly in a supermarket.

An easier solution might be the new offering from Fresh Venture Group, home of Snowgoose and Fruit at Work, which has launched its Fruit at Home Box, what is says brings "a vibrant mix of beautiful quality and safe, fresh fruit to Australian homes".

Fresh Venture Group is Australia’s No.1 workplace fruit delivery company.

“As the number of virus cases exponentially increases, we know you and your family want to completely avoid touching and eating fruit that has been handled and touched by hundreds or possibly thousands of people,” says Wendy Visontay, founder of Fruit at Work.

“With 20 years of experience in the hygienic handling of fruit, we have the strictest health and safety measures in place from grower to delivery.

“While you’re self-isolating, sick or recovering, it’s so important to maintain a healthy diet."

And local farmers need all the support they can get.

“Fruit at Home is packed with essential vitamins and minerals as well as health-boosting flavonoids and antioxidants," Visontay says. "We want everyone to stay safe and healthy by staying at home. And to help you eat well, we’re waiving our home delivery fee as we appreciate these are challenging times.”

Fruit at Home is delivered free to doorsteps in two sizes: regular $49 and large $69. Deliveries are available to homes in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney metro locations.

Fruit lovers can order their Fruit at Home boxes for themselves, loved ones or employees by visiting

Thursday 26 March 2020

And then there were none: more Tasmanian festivals cancelled

First it was Dark Mofo, then the Festival of Voices.

They were followed by the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest, ECHO - East Coast Harvest Odyssey and now the inaugural Vintage:Tamar Festival as Tasmanian winter events to fall victim to the coronavirus.

The Tamar Valley
"I regret to inform you that the inaugural Vintage: Tamar Festival - set to feature 22 wine
businesses in the greater Tamar Valley of Northern Tasmania - has been postponed to a date to be advised," event chairman Annette Ferrero of Brook Eden Vineyard announced today.

"I am sure this decision is the right one in the current uncertain times."

All ticket holders will be offered a refund for the May 29-31 event and it is thought unlikely that a re-staging will occur before 2021.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Keep away from our tourist attractions!

Residents in some of Britain's most beautiful tourism regions have urged would-be visitors to stay away. 

Members of the UK tourism industry hit out at "selfish" people who visited parks and seaside resorts last weekend - defying Government advice to practice social distancing.

There are also concerns that second-home owners are choosing to self-isolate at their countryside properties.

The outcry led Health Secretary Matt Hancock to say people should not go to holiday and caravan parks to self-isolate, amid warnings that local services would be put under extra pressure, Travel Mole reported.

Penny Jones, of Crabpot Cottages in Sheringham (above), in Norfolk, told the Eastern Daily Press that strangers had not been heeding the Government’s advice on social distancing. 

“The coastal towns were absolutely packed, like a summer bank holiday." she said. “Normally this would have filled my heart with joy, but not today. We live near Hunstanton - and that was just packed.

“The coast road was bumper to bumper. I don’t believe it was holiday makers but locals out for Mothers’ Day.”

In Skegness, Lincolnshire, dentist Dr Mitchell Clark warned of a "disaster waiting to happen" as thousands flocked to the resort at the weekend. 

He described Skegness as "looking like it does on a busy summer day".

"I view these actions as massively, massively socially irresponsible. I personally think that those involved should be ashamed of themselves." 

West Wittering beach in Sussex has shut, while police in Cumbria warned tourists not to travel to the Lake District. Cornwall has also told visitors to stay away until the coronavirus crisis is over.

Visit Cornwall said: "Visitors should not come to Cornwall at this time, in order to slow the spread of the virus, to protect themselves, as well as the communities of Cornwall."

Huge hotel discounts if you want to hide away for a couple of weeks

Do you feel like locking yourself away from the world for a couple of weeks until the coronavirus crisis has passed?  

Metro Hotels Australia-wide are offering big discounts for long-stay bookings - perfect for would-be cocooners. 

Prices start from $75 per night for those booking 14-night-minimum long stay packages at its network of hotels and apartments. 

Whether you are looking for a safe haven to self-isolate, separate from a flat mate or family
member who needs to isolate, or simply want to unwind and enjoy a break from the world, Metro’s hotels and apartments offer a ‘home away from home’ in the heart of most major cities in Australia.

Metro Hotels offers either apartment-style accommodation with cooking and laundry facilities; or large hotel rooms. 

Guests can book by calling 1800 00 4321 or visit for information on participating hotels and their rates. The rates are valid between now and the end of April. 

Five top tips for making the best of working from home

Many of us are having to spend more time working from home. Here is a guest post from Susan Moore, who writes the HuonView blog, on some of the best paths to follow.

I have worked from home full time for almost 10 years now and in that time I've learned a lot about how to do it successfully. But for many people currently in self-isolation or working remotely due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it may be the first time they've worked from home or at least the first long-term remote work stint for them, so I thought I'd share my top tips.

1. Get used to being on video. Not all of us are comfortable being on camera. I confess it's not my favourite thing, but I am a convert. In almost 14 years with my current employer, I have had regular video calls with my manager and my team, who are all based in other countries. Until the last year or so, it was mostly optional. Now, almost every meeting I am involved in is a conference call using video, often with 10 or more people on the call. Being able to see people helps to build relationships and reduces the temptation to multitask or tune out during a meeting. You can see reactions, smiles and gestures which can make a big difference. If you're a small business and don't have fancy collaboration tools, Skype or WhatsApp work just fine.

2. Do not work in your pyjamas. It's the cliché about working from home that I hate the most. Apart from during a few 6am conference calls, I can honestly say I have never worked in my pyjamas. I get up, shower, wear proper clothes and make up. It's a job, and you will not feel professional or motivated in your PJs. And related to the first tip above: you may be invited to a video call at short notice and sleep or leisure wear is not a good look. I usually go for the 'newsreader approach': hair brushed, makeup on and a professional top/jacket paired with comfy jeans and ugg boots.

3. Take breaks and move. It's very easy to sit at your desk for hours and then realise you haven't moved. I sometimes even forget to eat, especially seeing as I often have meetings during normal lunch hours due to time differences with the US and Asia. Set a reminder on your PC, smartwatch or Fitbit and make sure you get up and stretch regularly. Book exercise into your calendar. Having a dog means I walk for 20 minutes twice a day even if nothing else. I also love my standing desk.

4. Set up a work space. Where possible, find a dedicated space for your PC and other work equipment, ideally one that's not shared with your partner or kids. Recently I've taken to moving to different locations in the house during the day, just to mix it up and get a different outlook - or to get the best background and lighting for that important video call!

5. Stop at the end of the day. I am much better at this than I used to be, but it can still be a problem during peak periods. However, one of the top benefits of remote work is the flexibility in hours. As long as you get the work done and deliver results (agreeing what those are is a key to successful management of remote workers), it's up to you to determine when and how. Especially in winter, I usually stop work at 4pm to walk the dog before it gets dark, then go back to work afterwards. I might go out for a haircut or medical appointment during the day and make up the time later. As long as I am meeting expectations, that is fine. I get much more done working from home than I do in the office, so I don't feel guilty about taking time out.Remote work isn't new. The technology is available and not hard or expensive to set up anymore. It's not possible for all jobs of course, and even for work that can be done remotely, I understand it's not for everyone. However, I hope this current crisis serves as a wake-up call to organisations large and small who still do not allow employees to work from home or other locations largely for cultural reasons or a lack of management maturity.

I'm not unusual in the company I work for. In a crisis, our leadership team can tell all staff to take their laptops home and work from there indefinitely. It's been useful more than once, even as far back as during Japan's earthquake and tsunami disasters in 2001. And it's proving critical in the extended and constantly shifting COVID-19 crisis.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Meet the politician who believes alcohol helps spread coronavirus

Carrie Lam says BYOB from Club 7-11 (scmp)
Meet the politician who believes you are more likely to get coronavirus if you are drinking alcohol.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has announced that the city is moving to ban alcohol sales at restaurants and bars as part of more drastic measures to curb the spread of highly contagious COVID-19 virus.

Lam said she is putting forward a raft of policies including banning all visitors from entering Hong Kong and on-premise alcohol sales at eateries, invoking the powers given to her by the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance.

The alcohol ban will affect some 8,600 restaurants, bars and clubs with liquor license in the city.

Arguing for the ban, Lam says when inside a bar, people might have higher risks as "they will take off their masks and chat"; and they might have “more intimate contacts” when they get drunk.

But eating out together is apparently fine.
Hong Kong

“People who want to drink in a bar will just BYOB from Club 7-11 (referring to convenience store 711), decreasing bars’ income and increasing that of 7-11," said one bemused Hong Kong resident on Twitter.

Measures introduced by Lam include banning all non-Hong Kong residents from entering the city for two weeks starting from March 25. Visitors from mainland China Macau and Taiwan will also be denied entry if they have any recent travel history as well.

Threat to 2020 wine vintage in Australia

Australian winemakers are fearful moves to reduce the health impact of the coronavirus could damage the 2020 vintage.

Umbrella group Australian Grape & Wine said it welcomes the approach taken by the Victorian and New South Wales Governments to allow businesses to continue working through the 2020 vintage, and encouraged other governments to follow suit.

Australian Grape & Wine chief executive Tony Battaglene said: “We understand the potentially devastating ramifications of COVID-19 on the health and welfare of Australians, and recognise that governments have to make difficult decisions that impact businesses, the economy, and our normal way of life.

“However, the next 4-6 weeks is a critical period for grape and wine businesses in Australia. They have just one chance per year to grow grapes and make wine, and many are nervous about whether heightened COVID-19 responses will require them to shut down vintage 2020.”

2020 has seen hundreds of wine businesses facing a future without tourists visiting their cellar doors, or suffering the impacts of fire and smoke damage. Cancelling the 2020 vintage could spell the end for many – possibly hundreds – of Australian grape and wine businesses, with significant flow-on impacts in rural and regional communities.

“It is imperative that we get these grapes picked, crushed, fermented and locked away for maturation,” said Battaglene.

“About 30% of the national crop is still to be picked, with many growers and wineries currently working around the clock to get the job done. A shut-down of the sector now would destroy the vast majority of the 2020 vintage, which would have ramifications for many years to come.

“Wine businesses are putting unprecedented measures in place to ensure the safety of their people and their customers, and to comply with government directives. These measures are allowing the grape and wine sector to complete vintage under tight conditions that will help halt the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

“We hope all governments across Australia can implement arrangements that protect human health and ensure vintage 2020 can be completed.”

The entire 2020 crop has been lost to smoke taint n some parts of Hunter Valley and Adelaide Hills wine regions, as well as the Hilltops and Canberra.

Couple caught out breaking self-isolation rule

No one is expected to enjoy self-isolation in the age of the coronavirus - but neither can travellers just ignore it.
Well, one Hong Kong couple visiting New Zealand thought the rule did not apply to them. Only to get caught out.

The ever-reliable Travel Mole reported that a Hong Kong couple wase removed from a tour in New Zealand and handed over to police for flouting self-quarantine rules.

After just a few days of self-isolation the pair rented a campervan and took a heli-hiking tour of the Fox Glacier alongside 10 other people.

Fox Glacier Guiding CEO Rob Jewell said the couple was told about the self-isolation rules several times during their trip.

He said the company only realised they were breaking their quarantine while they were on the glacier.

Another helicopter was sent up to take them off the mountain and were handed over to police.

"We found out that these people had been told on their arrival to Christchurch Airport about the self-isolation rules," Jewell said.

"They had then picked up a Maui campervan and on collecting that van Maui had told them about self-isolating and it was in their documentation..

"These people had agreed to it yet they decided to basically flout the rules."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said random checks by police are taking place and any violations could result in fines and deportation for foreign visitors.

Monday 23 March 2020

Iconic Australian winery restaurant shuts up shop

The d’Arenberg Cube Restaurant has closed permanently with immediate effect.

The McLaren Vale icon has shut due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Facing the challenges of the current economic environment since the global pandemic and with much regret, we have made the very hard decision to close The d'Arenberg Cube Restaurant,” the operators said. 

“Since its inception [chefs] Brendan, Lindsay and their incredible team have delivered a dining experience that is truly extraordinary. 

"We are eternally proud and grateful for what has been achieved by the restaurant team and thankful to the many thousands of diners who have trusted us with their patronage. We truly hope that trust has been rewarded with long lasting memories of surprise, adventure, and most importantly delicious food.”

The five-storey d’Arenberg Cube and its fine dining restaurant opened in late 2017 headed by husband-and-wife duo Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Dürr. 

A new restaurant will eventually fill the level three space, but no commitments have been made. 

The Cube, brainchild of d'Arenberg co-owner Chester Osborn, is a five-storey multi-function building set among mataro vines.

The building has the optical illusion of floating in a vineyard, each level with spectacular views overlooking the rolling hills of Willunga. 

April 2 was originally scheduled as the closing date, but Government legislation brought the closure forward.  

Memphis leads the way with a virtual music festival

With major music events and festivals cancelled around the world due to the coronavirus, the US city of Memphis is banding together to bring the music of Memphis to people who can’t travel.

The virtual music festival is aimed to allow those self isolating to party, but will also raise funds for musicians who among the many severely affected by the COVID-19 crisis and the ongoing cancellation of events, gatherings, and travel.

The free event will be streamed as a live Facebook event, hosted from the Memphis Tourism website and will run from March 26-28. 

The event will include a donation button to encourage those who are able, to support the musicians giving their time to provide entertainment and brief stress relief for people around the world – all from a very safe distance.

Headliners already signed on include blues-soul band and recent Grammy nominees Southern Avenue, Ben Nichols of Southern rock band Lucero - both of whom have recently toured Australia, and Memphis-bred experimental funk bassist MonoNeo.

Memphis is known for its vibrant music scene, one which has historical ties to almost every musical genre, so Memphis Tourism’s Australian Director, Chris Ingram, said that the organisation’s decision to get on board was an easy one.

“The musicians of Memphis play an integral part in the city’s identity – as they have throughout history," he said.

"The destination’s live music scene is one of the world’s most vibrant and this festival provides a great opportunity to help lift people up during what is an incredibly challenging time, whilst still celebrating the music that our great city is famous for.”

The event link is: 

Memphis appears to be leading the world in virtual experiences. Other options include:

# Live streaming story times from the Memphis Library

# Behind the scenes and virtual animal encounters at Memphis Zoo

# A temporary art installation from Urban Art Commission

# Streaming of iconic Thursday and Saturday night drag shows from Dru’s Place

# Opera Memphis' virtual opera festival, 30 Days of Opera, from April 1

For a full list of virtual events and experiences available in Memphis, please visit: 

Sunday 22 March 2020

UPDATE: Anxious wine drinkers stock up on their favourite drops

UPDATE: Sydney liquor stores reported a rush on wines on Monday morning as panic buying notched up a ramp. 

With pubs, bars and restaurants closing in Britain to prevent the spread the spread of coronavirus, there has been a toilet-paper style rush on wine shops. 

It appears Britons are terrified at the thought of being left without a bottle or two at home.

Leading UK wine retailer Majestic saw its website crash on Saturday afternoon on the back of “unprecedented demand”, despite reassuring customers it had enough stock, The Drinks Business reported.

In a note on its website posted early on Saturday afternoon, the retailer said it was experiencing exceptional demand across its website and as a result its site was unavailable.

Demand in stores was also very high and the retailer had introduced some restrictions to its usual trading in some locations – although it did not specify what these were.

It reassured consumers that it had “large volumes of stock and extra resources arriving in stores in the coming days”.

Specialist wine retailers have reported huge spiked in demand online, as panic stockpiling due to the Covid-19 pandemic is predicted.

Naked Wines last week announced that it would not be taking any orders “for the time being” due to a spike in demand, while several specialist wine retailers reported surges in transactions online. 

It will be interesting to see if similar buying patterns emerge in Australia when businesses open after the weekend. 

Several small Australian producers are already ahead of the retail curve. I have seen dozens of special email offers to wine club members over the past few days.  

Saturday 21 March 2020

Is another European airline teetering on the brink?

Norwegian Air has received a $464 million financial lifeline from the Norwegian government, which has also provided funds to struggling regional carriers SAS and Wideroe. 

Norwegian has grounded all its flights due to the coronavirus pandemic and laid off 90% of its staff. 

More money will be made available if creditors agree to forego interest rates and installments as part of strict loan guarantees. 

"We are very grateful that we are now being offered this," said Norwegian chief executive Jacob Schram, adding that the company would do 'all it can' to meet the government's criteria. 

The Norwegian Government move is one of the first of what is expected to be a wave of packages from governments confronted with airlines whose fleets are grounded and revenues have all but evaporated. 

Norwegian Air was founded in 1993 and offers a schedule within Scandinavia and Finland, and to business destinations such as London, as well as to holiday destinations in the Mediterranean and Canary Islands.

Closer to home, the New Zealand Government agreed to bail out the nation’s main airline, Air New Zealand, by providing a $900 million standby loan. 

Shares in Air New Zealand dived 43% on Friday after a suspension in trading was lifted. 

Friday 20 March 2020

Light at the end of the tunnel for Australian wine producers?

The news is not all bad for Australian wineries, many of which have been hit by a triple whammy of bush fires/smoke taint and the global impact of the coronavirus.

Many producers are ramping up online sales to combat dwindling cellar door revenues - which means there are some bargains around for canny wine buyers.

With domestic sales down and parts of China and Europe under lockdown, wineries are having to be leaner and smarter.

The timing of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in China just days before Lunar New Year celebrations means there are still large amounts of unsold Australian wine in warehouses and with distributors in China.

This means it could be several months after things return to normal.

China is the biggest market for McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills company Wines by Geoff Hardy.

CEO Richard Dolan, pictured above with wife Bec Hardy and Geoff Hardy, said sales this year were down 60 to 70% on the same time last year but “green shoots” were starting to appear in China including a “six-figure dollar value order” this week.

“We’ve had seven or eight smaller orders from China over the last four to six weeks and this latest one adds up to about the same as the previous ones combined,” he said.

“There are some encouraging signs of positivity in China and we’re lucky to have some great distributors over there who are just starting to get back into it.

“We don’t have a lot of exposure in Europe or the US, but I’d imagine those markets are a bit like our own domestic market at the moment.”

The company’s second-biggest market is Australia for its brands including Pertaringa and K1. Dolan said cellar door sales had been down in recent weeks despite the introduction of additional measures such as cashless sales, increased cleaning and safe social distancing.

“We did an email campaign earlier this week and within a day we were sending out a few hundred dozen so we’ll keep going with that as long as we possibly can,” Dolan said.

“People are probably starting to look beyond toilet paper, rice and pasta now and thinking that if they get locked down, they might need a good bottle of McLaren Vale red to go with all the pasta meals they’re rustling up.

“People are trying to do the right thing and reduce social contact and rather than going into a liquor store, they’re ordering online and allowing the delivery driver to drop it at their door.

“I’d also like to think that people are looking to small and local family producers in an effort to keep them going through the downturn.”

Wines by Geoff Hardy’s volumes have grown 10-fold since 2012, largely thanks to success in China, which has also helped it secure several export awards.

Vintage is in full swing across many of South Australia’s key wine region including the Barossa and McLaren Vale. A tough season has yields down by up to 25% and Dolan said that rather than buying in additional grapes to make up the shortfall this year, his company would reduce the amount it produced in the hope that a softening of supply would go close to matching the reduced demand.

He said wine companies with solid brands that were well-capitalised with low debt-levels would be well positioned to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

“It’s a twofold challenge, it’s coping with the here and now, while preparing for what’s ahead and the bounce back,” he said.

“It’s about re-forecasting the business for the rest of this financial year, monitoring cashflows, checking our debtor and creditor statuses, and looking to remodel our FY21 forecasts.”

Adelaide-based Vinternational is a global sales, marketing and wine distribution business specialising in South Australian wines.

CEO Hamish Baldwinson said a number of large Chinese orders that were put on hold during the lockdown had begun moving again.

“China is gradually opening up," he said. "The orders we had before the outbreak will be going out this month and next month so that’s encouraging.

“I believe we’ve got some green shoots but it’s not going to be an overnight turnaround back to where we were, it could take 12 months to get there.

“As an industry we’ve been talking about our reliance on China for a while but no one predicted a virus would bring it undone.”

SA Wine Industry Association chief executive Brian Smedley said local wine companies were starting to become concerned about reduced sales with some considering closing cellar doors.

But he said the current vintage was provide a welcome distraction, allowing wineries to focus on production.

“The issue that we’ll see is a time lag of when they’ll be able to get back on a plane to get back into market,” Smedley said.

“If it’s six months as the Prime Minister has suggested then that will have a huge impact because it will rely on established relationships and people remembering what they look like so that’s going to have unknown consequences from our end.

“It’s very important that wine companies keep informed, get some facts, recognise what it means for their business and act accordingly.”

Former football star shows a social conscience

Sometimes it is nice to report some good news. 

Former Manchester United and England football player Gary Neville hit the headlines in Britain this week - for all the right reasons. 

Neville pledged not to make any staff redundant at the two hotels that he owns, which he will open to health workers free of charge during the coronavirus crisis.

Neville will close his two hotels to the public this weekend, freeing up 176 beds for National Health Service workers and other medical staff.

Neville, who co-owns the Stock Exchange Hotel in Manchester city centre and Hotel Football at Old Trafford with former team-mate Ryan Giggs, said staff will all be retained and none will be asked to take unpaid leave.

In a public message, Neville said: "It is something we are delighted to have been able to come to an agreement with.

"It is at this moment in time that the whole of our industry needs to show solidarity, not just for our staff in these uncertain times, but for the people who need the accommodation most in the coming months.

"Our staff will operate the hotel as normal when health workers are allowed to stay there without any cost whatsoever when they need isolation away from family members who might be affected." 

Just as an aside, Neville's late father was the brilliantly named Neville Neville. 

Best Western Great Britain is also offering 15,000 hotel bedrooms and over 1,000 meeting rooms to help the NHS and local authorities through the coronavirus crisis. 

Thursday 19 March 2020

Coronavirus message failing to get through

Most of us are doing the right thing. Self-isolating if we feel unwell, washing our hands several times a day, leaving space between ourselves and the other folk ordering coffee and sitting in the back seat if we catch a taxi, or Uber. 

For others, however, living in their own idiotic bubble, life goes on as usual. 

Take the trio I saw last night, crouching down close to each other to share the joys of a joint. What better way to spread disease. Roll and smoke your own joints people. 

Then there was the group of old people who wanted to book a room this week for a wake. To honour the recently departed they wanted to smallest room available "for a better atmosphere". 

What is it about "social distancing" they don't get? 

None of them, apparently, had read a newspaper, watched the TV or listened to the radio recently. Or perhaps they are just so selfish they feel they immune to the norms the rest of us are following. 

Like the dopes who frequenting high-roller rooms at casinos, the footballers who are slavishly sharing tiny dressing rooms because their AFL and NRL masters - eyes on the TV money - assure them they will be safe. 

Local open-air markets have been cancelled, museums are closed, major events cancelled, nightclubs and swimming pools shut. 

Restaurants are moving their tables further apart and banning re-use cups and Catholics have no masses to attend. 

Yet I hear reports of visitors ignoring warning signs at Hobart Airport and refusing to fill in forms that would allow them to be contacted if necessary, and see locals carrying on shaking hands as normal. It's all just too hard to fathom. 

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Bizarre timing: a new hotel brand unveiled in a time of crisis

There is unfortunate timing; bad timing and shocking timing. 

At a time when the travel industry is in crisis across the region, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts decided to go ahead with an announcement on the launch of a new hotel brand in New Zealand. That's either crazy timing - or tone deafness.

Wyndham, the world's largest hotel franchising company with approximately 9,300 properties located across 90 countries, announced La Quinta by Wyndham's inaugural launch into the South East Asia and Pacific Rim (SEAPR), unveiling two hotels in New Zealand.

Wyndham acquired La Quinta's hotel franchise and management businesses in 2018 - but why it would use a Spanish name in a market where very few people speak Spanish, or can even pronounce Spanish names, is beyond me.

The announcement follows the brand's recent European debut in Istanbul (where they also speak very little Spanish). It was the first La Quinta to open outside the Americas (where many people do speak Spanish).

The first hotels set to fly the brand's flag in New Zealand will be located in Auckland and Queenstown under a franchise agreement with Safari Group, Wyndham's long-standing partner in the region.

“We are delighted to deepen our relationship with the Safari Group and to introduce another sought-after and growing brand to New Zealand, and the SEAPR region," said Joon Aun Ooi, Wyndham's president and managing director for the region.

"Despite the current situation, we are confident of the tourism momentum in New Zealand and that international travellers will return to seek out the country's natural attractions and stunning scenery.

“With hundreds of properties already operating in the Americas and a global expansion strategy also underway, La Quinta by Wyndham is a proven favourite among guests and hotel developers alike." I must say I had never heard of the brand until today.

Wyndham describes the La Quinta brand as "upper-midscale" (whatever that means).

Close to Queenstown Airport, the 87-key LQ by Wyndham Remarkables Park (quite a mouthful compared to the Hilton, or the Hyatt) is pictured above and is set to open its doors in late 2020.

The 246-room LQ by Wyndham Greenlane Auckland (these people love long names) will be in the Ellerslie district between Auckland Airport and Auckland CBD and open in mid 2022.

Both properties will feature a mix of accommodation for short and extended stays, and facilities including fitness centres and “grab & go” cafés.

# I looked up La Quinta for you. It apparently means "the Fifth" and is an old-fashioned term referring to a hacienda or rest-stop reached every five days on a long journey or pilgrimage. So not very New Zealandy at all. 

Tuesday 17 March 2020

The new name in the world of wine with decades of experience

Alan Varney of Varney Wines is a genuine garagiste producer, making some of his wines  in volumes of under 100 cases per vintage.

He made contact before Christmas, asking if I would like to try a couple of his wines - which I have done over the past few weeks.

Each and every one of his entry level wines under the Entrada label was impressive. While the range is designed to show off young, approachable, drink-now wines, all three showed an Iberian swagger and style. Varney has a deft touch

There are a 2019 verdelho, a 2019 grenache rosé and a 2018 grenache, mourvedre, touriga blend. All are fruit-driven and full of the joys of life. 

Excellent value for $25. 

The styles were inspired by Varney's time doing 2017 vintage in a small town called Entradas in Portugal.

While Varney Wines is a newcomer, the creator has a long history in the wine business.

"It all started as a ‘tonne for fun’, an opportunity to make my own style of wines from some of my favourite vineyards in McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills," Varney says.

He caught the wine bug early. After meeting his wife Kathrin while backpacking around the
world, followed her to her home town of Berlin and began tasting his way around the world.

He took an Oenology degree at Melbourne University and worked vintages in regional Victoria before working for Orlando-Wyndham in the Barossa and Longview Wines in the Adelaide Hills.

A casual vintage job at d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale turned into an 11-year stint.

"During the many long vintage hours in the winery at d’Arenberg I had the opportunity to build strong relationships with local growers," Varney says. "I now count many of them as close friends who I source fruit from for Varney Wines. 

"I feel fortunate to be able to have access to grenache, mourvèdre, touriga, cabernet, nebbiolo, fiano, semillon, chardonnay, and shiraz from some very special sites in various sub-regions in the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, and a small parcel at Langhorne Creek.

Varney, who has also worked vintages in California and New York State, says he is not "afraid to step out of the box" and go with his intuition.

"I utilise whole bunch and/or whole berry addition, extended cold soaks, indigenous yeast,
submerged cap, foot treading as well as carbonic maceration – whatever the fruit calls for really," he said. 

"I only use old seasoned oak with no fining or filtration. I make my wines out of a new, environmentally sensitive winery I built alongside my wife Kathrin’s restaurant at Victor’s Place, located at the gateway to McLaren Vale overlooking the beautiful rolling hills of the Onkaparinga Gorge."

This transformed former derelict shearing shed is also the home of the Varney Wines tasting room.

Varney's upper end wines under the Essentials range include a 2018 semillon fiano ($28), a 2018 chardonnay ($32), a 2017 GSM and a 2017 shiraz (both $42). I have yet to taste these - but am keen. This is a name to watch. 

Varney Wines, 62 Victor Harbour Road, Old Noarlunga, SA.

Monday 16 March 2020

Meet the black lager from Japan being launched in Australia

The Australian beer market is a competitive space but importer Coopers is confident a new-release import - Sapporo Black - will grab a share of the market. 

Sapporo was founded in Japan in 1876 and is Japan's oldest beer brand. Sapporo Black, a smooth dark lager is being introduced into Australian markets in cans this month. 

It is brewed using roasted dark malts that provide distinct coffee and chocolate notes. 

Coopers Premium Beverages brand manager Andrew Brooks said Sapporo Black was brewed with the attention to detail and precision that is a feature of Japanese beers. 

“Sapporo is recognised world-wide for the quality of its brewing and its lager is regarded as an exemplar Japanese beer,” he said. 

“Sapporo Black is designed to challenge consumers’ perspective of Japanese beer styles while diversifying the portfolio and reaching a broader audience. 

“It is bold and flavourful, yet smooth and crisp in the classic Sapporo fashion, with a refined hop bitterness complemented by sweet, round fullness. 

“It pairs well with hearty and spicy dishes such as traditional Asian, Cajun and Latin cuisines. It also works well with crème brulee or stands by itself at barbecues, parties and celebrations.” 

Sapporo Black is 5% ABV and will be available in the traditional Sapporo 650ml “silver bullet” style can. Brooks said cans would be available from most liquor outlets at around $8 each. 

I'll be doing a taste test tonight - but the packaging is mightily impressive. Stay tuned. 

Sunday 15 March 2020

Vivid Sydney bites the dust

As several cruise lines - including Royal Caribbean and Viking - said they were suspending operations globally, the New South Wales state government announced this morning that the Vivid Sydney 2020 festival has been cancelled.

The decision followed recommendations by the Federal Government and health authorities to limit non-essential organised gatherings to fewer than 500 people to control the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19). 

Destination NSW said that while the cancellation of the event was disappointing and another major setback for the tourism industry, it was the right thing to do to control the spread of infection and keep people safe.

“Vivid Sydney is a bright star of Sydney’s event calendar so the decision to cancel was not taken lightly," Destination NSW said. "As the event owner, we must follow the advice of health officials to ensure the health and safety of our citizens and everyone involved with Vivid Sydney. 

“We have taken the decision early in consideration of those planning to travel to Sydney for the festival, our commercial partners, artists, and volunteers so as to minimise the disruption and impact on them.

“We are currently working through the full implications of the cancellation and will provide further information and advice as soon as it’s available.

“It’s been an incredibly tough time for the tourism industry and this is yet another body blow, but NSW will bounce back and Vivid Sydney will shine brighter than ever in 2021.”

Vivid Sydney, the largest festival of light, music and ideas in the Southern Hemisphere, was scheduled to run from May 22-June 13. 

The event debuted in 2009 was attended by 2.4 million people last year. 

Friday 13 March 2020

Tasting Australia festival called off

The Tasting Australia gourmet festival has been postponed in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The South Australian Tourism Commission has made the decision to push back the annual event, scheduled to comprise more than 140 events, which was set to be held from March 27-April 5.

Organisers of the wine and food celebration have announced they are working towards a revised date in October or November.

The decision follows Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement that non-essential mass gatherings of more than 500 people would be cancelled from Monday.

“The decision also follows concerns that a number of our international and national talent were assessing their ability to participate in the festival at this time, and some had already indicated they were unable to travel,” festival director Simon Bryant and Events South Australia executive director Hitaf Rasheed said in a statement.

“We are planning to reschedule Tasting Australia for spring 2020. We will look to finalise those plans within the next week and share them publicly as well as directly to all ticket holders and event stakeholders.”

All ticket holders will have the opportunity to transfer the date of their tickets or receive a refund.