Book, stay, enjoy. That's

Thursday 30 April 2020

So you want to know more about Australian wine?

So you want to know more about wine from Australia? Now is the perfect time. 

Wine Australia’s free, comprehensive education program Australian Wine Discovered (AWD) has been refreshed and 25 different topics are now available to study online with additional resources, updated commentary and advanced notes.

Since its inception in 2019, the wine education program has been downloaded over 23,000 times by global wine educators, wineries, retailers, distributors, importers, marketers and wine enthusiasts all over the world. 

Almost a fifth of the downloads have been this year, likely due to people brushing up on their knowledge as they spend more time at home.

Designed as a new approach to wine education, the success of AWD is attributed to its focus on visual storytelling, using illustration, videos and imagery to break down complex information into something students can easily and quickly understand. 

There are downloadable resources available to support the program including tasting mats, videos and certificates of attendance and there are no restrictions on how the program is used. All the assets are editable with global access.

Wine Australia Chief Executive Officer Andreas Clark said: ‘We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback on the quality of the program since it was launched. It’s an invaluable education tool that can be easily adapted to suit the needs of so many people in the wine community and those interested in learning more about Australian wine.

"As an online resource, Australian Wine Discovered is perfect to help sharpen your knowledge and discover what makes Australian wine unique from the comfort of your own home."

Suitable for beginner to advanced levels, the content-rich program covers Australian-grown varieties, regions and topical themes including the most downloaded program, ‘Foundations of Australian Wine’, as well as trending focus areas such as organic and biodynamic wine. 

The modules vary in length and each is a one-stop-shop for learning about Australian wine.

The Australian Wine Discovered education program is supported by the Australian Government’s $50 million Export and Regional Wine Support Package.

To explore and download the free, updated program, tools and resources, visit

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Thailand to remain in lockdown

Thailand, one of the most popular tourism destinations in Asia, has extended its ban on international flights for a further month until May 31.

But Covid-19 relief and repatriation flights are exempt from the ban, Civil Aviation Authority director-general Chula Sukmanop told TravelMole.

"Exempted from the ban are state and military aircraft; aircraft requiring emergency and technical landing without disembarkation; humanitarian aid, medical and relief flights; and repatriation and cargo aircraft," Sukmanop said.

Travellers arriving on any permitted inbound flights will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.
Domestic flights, however, will have a phased restart from May 1 with Thai AirAsia and Thai Lion Air reopening a limited number of routes.

Social distancing measures will be implemented on all flights.

Thailand's emergency decree for the whole nation has also been extended until the end of May. 
It includes a night-time curfew, no mass gatherings, and restrictions on travel between provinces.

During May there may be a phased return to work for "low risk" businesses in the open air such as street food hawkers and leisure facilities in parks.

Are you suffering from bubble tea deprivation during lockdown?

I have never understood the appeal of bubble tea, but a lot of aficionados are apparently suffering from deprivation syndrome during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

To the rescue comes bubble tea pioneer Tealive, which has launched a My Bubble Tea Kit allowing customers to make their drinks at home. 

Bubble tea fans craving their favourite flavours can now fill the pearl-sized void in their bellies at any time of their choosing. 

Tealive’s DIY kits are designed to give customers everything they need to make their milky tea drink in their own kitchens. Each kit comes packed with an assortment of ingredients and is enough to make 25-30 servings. 

The kits were first launched via an online store in Malaysia, prompting the decision to bring the kits to Australia.

“We were immediately overwhelmed by the tremendous response of the DIY kits in Malaysia and as we know Australians are enthusiastic bubble tea drinkers, we wanted to launch the kits here to give more people the chance to make and enjoy their favourite drink at home,” said Bryan Loo, founder of Tealive.

Each My Bubble Tea Kit includes: 1kg Tealive pearls, 500g brown sugar, 100g imported Nishio matcha, 250g premium Tealive cocoa powder, two Tealive Dimula Ceylon Blend (black tea) bags and 25 straws

The My Bubble Tea Kit from Tealive can be easily prepared into a range of bubble tea drinks at home, including Bang Bang Brown Sugar Fresh Milk, Bang Bang Brown Sugar Black Tea, Bang Bang Brown Sugar Nishio Matcha Latte, Pearl Honey Tea Latte, Bang Bang Brown Sugar Coffee and Bang Bang Brown Sugar Avocado Fresh Milk.

Teavlive have also included an additional seven recipes for those who wish to get their creative juices flowing with their My Bubble Tea Kit using additional fresh ingredients at home. 

These include, Strawberry Almond Matcha Latte, Strawberry Chocolate Soy Milk, Pearl Strawberry Tea Latte, Pearl Almond Chocolate, Honey Soy Latte, Choc Shaka Lava and Strawberry Choc Saka Lava.

Shane Francis, CEO of Tealive Australia said: “Whether enjoying all 25 cups yourself or sharing with loved ones, we’re excited for our Australian customers to have fun making their own bubble teas at home and to build a new appreciation for the steps that go into their beloved flavour-filled drink.”

Each kit costs $74.95 including delivery and can be purchased online here:

Tuesday 28 April 2020

UPDATE: Something special for lovers of older red wines

You don't see many new-release wines at eight years of age; but that's not the only thing that makes the Patrick of Coonawarra 2012 Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon special.

The flagship wine of the producer - and only made in stellar vintages - was a joint effort between late winemaker Pat Tocaciu, who had a career spanning more than three decades with Tollana, Penfolds and DiGiorgio among others, and his son Luke, who now now runs the business. 

It is a wine made to cellar with 34 months of maturation in 100% new tightly grained French oak and five years in bottle under cork. It is sold in a distinctive white tube - making it an ideal present for a wine lover. 

"We think this wine reflects the essence of aged Coonawarra cabernet; rich opulent, classic Coonawarra," says Luke Tocaciu. 

Cork may be a controversial choice of closure, but Tocaciu stands by his choice. 

"These corks are Ref 1 hand selects, which was about the best you could buy at the time," he said. "We have now moved to 1 by 1 corks by MA Silva, that are individually tested for cork taint before the go in the bottle. As you can imagine it’s an expensive process, but worth it. 

"I still stand by the love of cork for this product as it is important in the wine’s journey through the cellaring- delayed release process." 

Luke Tocaciu describes the wine as having: "Bold, complex notes of dark chocolate and concentrated fruit lead to a wonderfully rich, structured palate with impeccable length." 

For me, it resembled one of Australia's old-style clarets, or a good Cru Bourgeois from Bordeaux. I enjoyed the restrained and elegant flavours, the slight rusticity and the dusty tannin notes. A stylish gentleman in a Tweed jacket. It retails for $125 a bottle.  

For details see

Enjoy major international film festival programs for free on YouTube

Sydney Film Festival has joined with other major movie festivals from around the globe to help create a free 10-day film festival on YouTube. 

The 10-day digital festival, produced and organized by Tribeca Enterprises, will feature programming from 20 festivals including Berlin International Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film Festival and many more, enabling audiences to experience films from around the world

The festival will benefit the World Health Organization Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. 

The festival will run exclusively on YouTube, bringing together an international community of storytellers to present festival programming free to audiences around the world. 

Set to begin on May 29 on, the festival will feature programming curated by the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Guadalajara International Film Festival, International Film Festival & Awards Macao (IFFAM), Jerusalem Film Festival, Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI), Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival, Marrakech International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, San Sebastian International Film Festival, Sarajevo Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Sydney Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival and Venice Film Festival. 

The new format will enable filmmakers to showcase their works on a global stage and audiences to  get a peek into different cultures. 

"We often talk about film's uniquely powerful role in inspiring and uniting people across borders and differences to help heal the world - and all of the world needs healing right now,” said Tribeca Enterprises and Tribeca Film Festival co-founder and CEO Jane Rosenthal. 

We Are One: A Global Film Festival unites curators, artists and storytellers to entertain and provide relief to audiences worldwide. 

"In working with our extraordinary festival partners and YouTube we hope that everyone gets a taste of what makes each festival so unique and appreciates the art and power of film."

"One of the most unique and inspiring aspects of the world staying home is our ability to come together and experience an event as one, and We Are One: A Global Film Festival is just that," said Robert Kyncl, chief business officer, YouTube. 

"Along with Tribeca Enterprises and our incredible partners, we are bringing fans the opportunity to experience the curated programming each of these festivals provides as part of our 10-day long event. It's an event that's never been done before and we're proud to be the home for this fantastic content that is free to fans around the world."

We Are One: A Global Film Festival will run from May 29-June 7. All programming will be available for free, and will include films, shorts, documentaries, music, comedy, and conversations. A full schedule will be available closer to the festival start date.

Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley said: “From May 29, SFF will be part of an unprecedented event: a global, digital and free film festival.

“The Festival is truly delighted to partner with these great festivals to celebrate our international community of storytellers and audiences.

“Sydney Film Festival looks forward to presenting Australian cinema in this global arena, and to bring joy and entertainment to audiences in need of relief.

“Over the past 67 years, SFF has been a platform for discovery, discussion, shared experiences and the exchange of ideas through film. In this challenging and uncertain climate, film is more vital than ever – bringing people together, online, to collectively explore the world and our times.

“Though we can’t be together in a cinema at the moment, we are excited to bring the festival, and other international film festival selections, to homes around the world.”

Monday 27 April 2020

Armchair travellers invited to share their highlights

Family owned Robertson Lodges operate three of New Zealand's iconic luxury lodges, all of which offer very different experiences - but always with a gourmet focus. 

Over the years I have been lucky enough to stay at Kauri Cliffs, the Farm at Cape Kidnappers (below) and Matakauri Lodge, enjoying walking, golf, spas and copious wine and food options. 

In a smart piece of marketing in these days of lockdowns, all three properties have been sharing lovely images on their Instagram accounts (@kauricliffs, @capekidnappers and @matakaurilodge) and on Facebook, and have invited past guests to share their own favourite memories.

The plan is to spread the word - and images - at a time when potential guests are planning their next trip. 

"While our operations may temporarily be on pause in these uncertain times, our community and love of travel doesn’t have to be," says CEO Julian Robertson. 

"That’s why we take this opportunity to share with you some favourite memories, places and spaces at Robertson Lodges and the special parts of New Zealand that we get to call home.  

"It is our sincere hope that the images we share of stunning landscapes, picturesque interiors and unique scenes will transport, uplift and inspire, and perhaps even evoke happy thoughts of your own past or future Robertson Lodges stay. 

"If you have your own favourite lodge shots and memories, please do share them using the hashtag #RobertsonLodgesMemories, and we will "on-share" your thoughts and dreams on our platforms. 

Discover a new online one-stop-shop for Tasmanian wine

Tasmania is home to over 150 Tasmanian wine producers, but most only offer their wines for sale in Tasmania itself, through their cellar doors and local restaurants/wine bars. Until now.

The umbrella group for wine producers on the Apple Isle, Wine Tasmania, is bringing together producers - large and small - in a new online shop. 

Sam Connew in her Stargazer vineyard
The offering will change each month, meaning interstate wine lovers will get the chance to sample wines from boutique producers in their own homes. 

The CEO of Wine Tasmania, Sheralee Davies, said the new website aimed to bring together some of the “greatest hits of Tassie wine” for the first time, making it easy for consumers to buy mixed wine packs, with all proceeds going back to producers.

“Like so many others, times are tough for our small wine businesses," Davies said. "They have been impacted by reduced tourism traffic, with many cellar doors having to close, as well as restrictions on licensed premises, such as restaurants and wine bars.

"If people are looking to support Tasmanian wine producers, one way is to buy wine directly from them - either buying a mix of wine from different producers via our new website or directly from wine producers. 

“It’s a platform to introduce the people behind the wines and to continue engaging with Tasmanian wine lovers around the country while we can’t visit them and they can’t visit us.”

Davies said the website offered a “Tasmanian taster” with one wine from different producers in each pack, while encouraging consumers to continue purchasing directly from producers and signing up to individual wine clubs.

The first campaign, which runs until May 17, features Delamere Vineyards, Gala Estate, Grey Sands, Handpicked Wines, Home Hill Wines, Josef Chromy Wines, La Villa Wines, Mewstone Wines, Puddleduck, Quiet Mutiny, Spring Vale and Stargazer Wines.

To order mixed cases of wine directly from Wine Tasmania’s new website, visit

Updated details on buying direct from Tasmanian wine producers are also available at or

Sunday 26 April 2020

Explore a beautiful city and taste some English whisky

When life is normal, it is no wonder that England is such a tourism drawcard. From the busy vibe of London, to the rustic idyll of Cornwall or the charm and history of destinations like Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon, England has so much to offer.

There is one city that encapsulates the best of England, is under two hours by train from London and is also a road less travelled.

Let me introduce you the lovely city of Norwich in East Anglia; a delightful fusion of the modern and historic.

Norwich's centre is easy to walk around and it has a river at its heart. As well as being the most complete medieval city in the United Kingdom.

It has a flourishing arts, music and cultural scene, superb independent as well as High Street shopping, lively restaurants, bars and nightlife and a heritage that is a delight to explore. It was also England's first UNESCO City of Literature.

On my last visit, late in 2019, I was fortunate enough to see the local football team, Norwich City, thrash the English Premier League champions Manchester City.

The Industrial Revolution almost completely bypassed Norwich, leaving intact historic cobbled streets, city walls, and a majestic Norman castle and cathedral.

Across the city you'll find fascinating old pubs, modern bars and eating establishments to cater for all tastes and pockets.

Have an afternoon tea or stay at The Maids Head Hotel in Norwich, reputed to be the oldest hotel in the UK.

Norfolk produces the best malting barley in the country and the best is grown in north Norfolk where the salty sea frets, high fields and warm climate make ideal growing conditions

The barley is turned into gorgeous, thirst-quenching real ale. Norfolk, of which Norwich is the county seat, also has the most microbreweries of any county in the country

Just outside the city, St George's Distillery at East Harling was the first whisky distillery in England for 100 years and since 2006 has been producing award-winning whisky that has gained a worldwide reputation! There are daily tours... and tastings.

St George's Distillery is owned by the English Whisky Company who are producers of single malt whiskies and even make a special batch for Marks and Spencer stores.

The barley used by the distillery is sourced in Norfolk and historically would have been exported to Scotland's whisky makers.

Back in town, visit Bullards Distillery - the only one in Norwich and the first for over 150 years.

The city’s historic street layout is wonderfully haphazard, but there’s no need to get lost, just look for the obvious landmarks – the spire of the majestic Norman Cathedral and the dominant castle on its all mound.

The city has the largest permanent undercover market in Europe, cobbled streets such as Elm Hill, Timber Hill and Tombland, ancient buildings such as St Andrew's Hall and half-timbered houses. There is a delightful riverside along the winding Wensum.

The modern Forum is one of the most popular public libraries in the UK and home to the Norfolk Heritage Centre, Children's Library and Second Air Division Memorial Library.

There's always a buzzy atmosphere in The Forum with exhibitions and activities taking place year-round.

Open six days a week, Norwich Market is a lively site that's surrounded by some of the city’s great historic buildings, including the flint 15th-century Guildhall.

Underneath the rainbow-coloured roofs you will find stalls selling local delights including Cromer crabs and fresh killed pheasants.

Norwich is also renowned for its scenic nature reserve – Earlham Park. Take a peek at the river running throughout and immerse yourself in the greenery known for regularly hosting events on the go.

The Norwich Playhouse is a beautiful 19th century building, and hosts a range of theatre performances.

The beaches of North Norfolk and Great Yarmouth and the watery attractions of the Norfolk Broads are all a short train ride away and Norwich Station is only a 1 hour, 50 minute ride away from London's Liverpool Street.

Trains are a delightful way to travel in England. Highly recommended. See

Saturday 25 April 2020

Enjoy a taste of the Bellarine at home

Why not enjoy a lockdown party celebrating the produce of Victoria's Bellarine Peninsula? 

A group of enterprising regional suppliers from Geelong and surrounds are uniting with local producers in the online world.

The team behind the Bellarine Smokehouse - Jason Smith and Sarah Fenton - have recently launched a solution to the non-existent local trade by uniting many of the Bellarine producers and growers to promote Bellarine Boxes.

Tasty treats from Bellarine Taste Trail producers are packaged up into neat box offerings and delivered to your door. They include everything from smoked fish to gin, wine to butter and cheese to chocolate brownies.

There are around 10 different box options to purchase online with prices ranging from $99 to $375.

The big 'kick ass' box is the crème da la crème and includes 20 delights like Teddy and the Fox Gin, Baie rosé wine, Flying Brick Cider, Bellarine Smokehouse pate, Lard Ass Cultured Butter and Manzanillo olive oil.

For a smaller splashout, you can get Smokin' Box with exclusively Bellarine Smokehouse products, or try the Small Bellarine Box with 10 items including Bellarine Brownie Company treats, Fasties's Bellarine Pure Honey and Drysdale cheese.

Purchase online at:

Virgin Australia just one of three airlines in crisis

While debt-ridden Virgin Australia's descent into voluntary administration shocked a lot of Australians, it was one of three major airlines in crisis this week. 

South African Airways (SAA) faces a wind-down or liquidation after specialists appointed to try to save the state-owned airline said this week that they had run out of funds.

Air Mauritius also went into administration as the Covid-19 virus brought international travel to a virtual standstill.

SAA has been fighting for survival since it entered a form of bankruptcy protection in December.

It has offered redundancy packages to its workforce of 5,000 after the Government said it would not provide more funds for rescue efforts.

Business rescue specialists Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana said in a notice to affected parties that a wind-down process depended on staff accepting the termination of their employment.

Otherwise, the specialists “will have to make an urgent application for an order discontinuing the business rescue proceedings and placing SAA into liquidation,” the notice said.

The practitioners do not have sufficient funds available to continue honouring the obligations of SAA to its employees beyond April 30.

South African Airways was founded in 1934 and is headquartered at O.R. Tambo International Airport, east of Johannesburg. It serves over 40 local and international destinations across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America and Australia.

Air Mauritius was established in 1967 and was based at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in the capital Port Louis. The airline serves a network covering Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia.

The airline’s administrators, Grant Thornton, called the aviation shutdown “the worst crisis ever since World War II”.

Air Mauritius has been in a restructuring process since the beginning of the year, notably with the setting up of a Transformation Steering Committee with a view to addressing the financial difficulties of the company, and to reviewing its business model from the strategic and operational points of view.

“As administrators, our mission is above all to save the company," Grant Thornton said in a statement.

"We know that the national airline is a key player in our economy and that it is part and parcel of our history. Air Mauritius is, in addition, a source of pride for the people of Mauritius, and there is no doubt that we are all affected by this news.

"In such difficult times, it is essential that we get down to work without delay, along with all the partners of this industry in Mauritius, to implement the measures deemed necessary to save the national airline.”

Friday 24 April 2020

Is this the most dramatic wine brand revamp of the year?

The brand overhaul from Barossa Valley wine producer St John’s Road is arguably the most dramatic of the year so far. 

St John's Road - part of the WD Wines portfolio - used to be known for its striking monochrome labels (below) celebrating the Barossa lifestyle and days gone by. 

Gone are the football shots and cricket images; replaced in dramatic face-lift that sees bold and colourful new patterned designs for each label. 

Established in 2001, St John’s Road has always celebrated the history of the Barossa region. 

The press release says a new concise range aims to sharpen this focus with the former premium wines being absorbed into four examples. 

Each wine in the range has been produced with minimal intervention techniques and is named to reflect a characteristic of the wine and the region itself. 

The 2019 Peace of Eden is a riesling that comes from the cool climate Eden Valley. The 2018 vintage of The Resilient Grenache is named in honour of the Barossa’s grenache vines which are some of the oldest in the world. 

The 2017 Motley Bunch is a blend of grenache, mataro and shiraz - three of the red grape varieties that are cornerstone to the Barossa’s winemaking pedigree, while the 2018 Blood & Courage is St John’s Road’s interpretation of the quintessential Barossa Valley shiraz. 

Each of these wines features a bold new label, from a purple geometric pattern through to the vibrant blue ripples of a swimming pool. For me, they look a bit generic. But that's just me.

“The way we talk about wine is often like taking your date out for dinner and talking about yourself all night,” says managing director Jonathon Hesketh. 

“We wanted to take the focus off the commonly used vernacular around vineyards and the winemaking process, and communicate stories for each of our wines that are (hopefully) more engaging for the people buying and drinking them. 

"All the winemaking provenance and authenticity is still there, it’s just a layer further down for those who are interested. We think the quality of the range speaks for itself without us having to tell them on the label itself.” 

Cold Fashioned: a perfect cocktail for sipping in isolation

Westward Whiskey is one of the leaders of America’s craft distilling movement.

Based in Portland, Oregon, it is the largest craft distiller on the US West Coast and a leading maker of single malts.

Now Westward Whiskey has partnered with Mr Black Coffee Liqueur to help you take your happy hour online - and perhaps share with some friends over a Zoom call.

The pair has created a modern cocktail that can be made in your home kitchen in under two minutes - a new take on Espresso Martinis or Old Fashioneds.

Meet the Cold Fashioned, which has only four ingredients and three quick steps.

The ingredients are:
  • 30ml Westward American Single Malt Whiskey
  • 30ml Mr Black Coffee Liqueur
  • Ice to taste
  • Orange peel
Mix the Westward Whiskey and Mr Black in a mixing glass. Place an ice cube into a chilled glass, and pour the liquid over the ice and garnish with an orange peel twist. Simples.

I tried it and it was pretty bloody delicious. My wife added a small amount of milk for a girlier version.

You'll find the ingredients you need at Dan Murphy’s or Vintage Cellars stores with Westward Whiskey $130.00 a bottle and Mr Black $55.99.

For more information, visit

Thursday 23 April 2020

Hunter heavyweights join online tasting craze

Winemakers in Australia are adopting different tactics to combat the sales slump caused by the coronavirus. 

Each morning my inbox is full of "special offers" - sometimes from wineries with which I have no previous contact. 

Mike de Iuliis, David Hook and Andrew Thomas; three of the Hunter’s most out-there winemakers, are inviting themselves into wine lovers' lounge rooms as part of their plan to bring a little vinous joy to self-isolators.

The trio are offering a deal featuring 18 bottles of their best wines and an hours-worth of lockdown entertainment. 

Put the trio in front of a camera, says "lights-camera-action", and you have what they are loosely calling a ‘Virtual Wine Tasting’. 

Yep, those are all the rage right now. But these guys like to do things differently.

For $399 (you never know how long you'll be in lockdown!) you’ll receive 18 bottles of wine - six bottles from each of the three winemakers. 

Jump onto any of their websites, go to their shopping cart, choose your libations potion and you’ll receive contactless delivery of wine and entertainment. 

When your wine arrives, you’ll be sent a link. Each winemaker has created a 15-minute light-hearted, but informative tutored tasting of the wines contained in their respective six packs. 

Check out 
and choose between 
Wineflix + Chill with Mike, Hooky & Thommo $399 including delivery
or six-bottle Wineflix + Chill with Mike or Hooky or Thommo for $150 including delivery. 

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Bruny Island's first "virtual" wedding

Free Spirit Pods Bruny Accommodation hosted hosted the first virtual Zoom wedding on Bruny Island (and possibly Tasmania) last weekend. 

Garry Deutsher and Chris Varney Clark, the owners and operators of the waterfront getaway, had planned their wedding for the end of May, but Covid-19 travel bans forced them to put those plans on hold. 

Then, struck by the inspiration of isolation, they decided to go ahead - immediately.

"That was late Wednesday - and it happened on Sunday. " reports Chris "There were three mad days of phoning/emailing guests, explaining ‘zoom’ to people (many of whom had NO idea about social media), confirming the celebrant, organising music, photos, witnesses, confetti, and praying to the weather gods for a break in our much-loved rain. 

"Finally at 2.10pm on Sunday, April 19, I was driven down our driveway by ones of our witnesses in a vintage Alvis and escorted to my waiting groom and a laptop streaming our celebration to many parts of Australia and the world. 

"We couldn’t stop laughing the whole way through. Such a joyous occasion."

How nice to have some positive news to report in these dark days. 

A high-tech solution to wine counterfeiting

Premium wine producers have a new way to prevent counterfeiting with a niche technology business defending sought-after drops from counterfeiters around the world.

eBottli launched late last year in Adelaide, South Australia, with a suite of new tracking and blockchain technologies, geolocating services for bottles or containers, and unique identifier labels for winemakers.

That sounds like complete gobbledygook to me.
"But the technology guarantees the authenticity of the bottle and addresses the problem for Australian exports in places like China where about 50% of the wine is counterfeit,” founder Nathalie Taquet (above) said.

"We can also connect the customer with the vineyard, they can see the story leading to the bottle arriving in a restaurant.”

eBottli is now working with 12 clients across Australia, including vineyards in the quality wine regions of McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley.

Taquet said Covid-19 disruptions halted a project in China earlier in the year connecting a South Australian vineyard to final customers.

The plan was to have wine bottles arrive on the table in a restaurant where diners could then use smartphones to scan the label and read its Australian story of origin.

“We had some different projects not only with wine but also in fish and chemical projects to adjust the business because of Covid-19 and bush fires affecting some of the wine regions,” Taquet said.

“Now we’ve started on this project in China again.

“Our business uses unique identifier bottle labels to trace the history through the supply chain and augmented reality to show consumers where they come from.”

French migrant Taquet said a family owned winery in the Burgundy wine region in France grew her own passion for the industry.
And, after moving to Sydney two years ago with her family, Taquet was drawn to South Australia’s growing international reputation for wine and moved to its capital city of Adelaide to establish eBottli eight months ago.

She began by launching the first layer of the business, Bottli.

This involves delivering a niche selection of wines from smaller, boutique South Australian wineries that do not supply major bottle shops, along with some French wines, to customers once a month.

Tasting notes and classes, along with suggestions of walks to follow for a picnic tasting, are added to the delivery that is seeing increased demand from new customers.

Taquet, who is a member of the Wine Industry Suppliers Australia committee, said the move was made increasingly attractive as the South Australian government continued work to strengthen its ties with France.

Before moving to Adelaide, Taquet who has a PhD in Life Sciences and a background in science research, was working for Nestle Skin Health.


Tuesday 21 April 2020

Why Virgin Australia failed - and what comes next

Virgin Australia went into voluntary administration this morning but CEO Paul Scurrah says the carrier is determined to keep flying and play a key role in getting the Australian economy back on its feet after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Accounting firm Deloitte has taken over the running of the airline with Virgin continuing to operate its Government-backed scheduled international and domestic routes.

Virgin’s directors said they “regret that these events have come to pass and acknowledge all the group’s employees for their hard work and contribution”.

One of the administrators, Vaughan Strawbridge, said his team was “progressing well on some immediate steps” after the Government declined to step in save the airline and its 10,000+ employees.

Administrators are seeking interest from parties for participation in the re-capitalisation of the business and its future, with several expressions of interest so far.

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson said: “This is not the end for Virgin Australia and its unique culture."

He added: “We will work with Virgin Australia’s administrators and management team, with investors and with Government to make this happen and create a stronger business ready to provide even more value to customers, competition to the market, stimulus to the economy, and jobs for our wonderful people.” 

Virgin Australia is owned by Etihad (20.94%), Singapore Airlines (20.09%), Nanshan Group (19.98%) HNA (19.82%) and Branson (10.42%) so any deals will be complicated ones.

Holders of Virgin Velocity frequent flyer points have been told their points are safe as Velocity is a separate business and not in administration. I wouldn't hold my breath.

I, for one, and not surprised by Virgin Australia's demise - and that is not hindsight.

Here is a piece I published on this blog in August last year, well before Covid-19:

Virgin Australia is blaming a "tough economic environment" for its financial woes. I say it should blame its own dishonesty and its lack of support for loyal customers.

I was a Virgin Platinum frequent flyer and always chose Virgin, but now fly with whichever airline has the most convenient schedule or cheaper flights, pushing me down to gold, and soon to silver.

My reason for abandoning Virgin as my first choice came down to several reasons.

1. Former CEO John Borghetti promised a Virgin lounge in Hobart eight years ago. He lied and we are still waiting. That means I lose the value of being a lounge member one flight in two on every return trip I make from my home base.

2. I was unwell and unable to fly for several weeks last year. That cost me my platinum status. I asked Virgin for a dispensation and was refused.

3. Virgin started selling the front-row seats in economy to all-comers. So instead of frequent flyers being in rows 3-4-5 they found themselves pushed further and further back.

4. Lounge quality fell further and further behind Qantas with even basics like newspapers and magazines hard to find in lounges (Melbourne particularly).

5. There is a meanness about the offering. The "snacks" on my two flights today weighed 28 grams and 20 grams respectively. And back when I was platinum it was often impossible to use the allocated upgrades because either I was on the wrong fare type, or business class was full.

I know of at least three regular FFs who no longer choose to automatically fly Virgin. And there are certainly many more.

So there is a reason for Virgin losing money it made from once-loyal customers.

Virgin Australia now says it will review its flights and slash 750 jobs after posting a “disappointing” full-year loss of $349.1 million.

The airline said it would restructure its operations and look at everything from how it uses its planes to individual routes after posting its seventh annual loss.

Wednesday’s figures came despite Virgin’s revenue for the year to June 30 rising 7.5%.

The results are an improvement on the previous year’s $653 million loss, but it is still Virgin Australia’s third-worst performance.

Virgin will cut head office and corporate positions as it tries to save money.

“There is no doubt that we are operating in a tough economic climate with high fuel, a low Australian dollar and subdued trading conditions,” Virgin Australia chief executive Paul Scurrah said.

Maybe you'd fancy a chat, Mr Scurrah. I'm ready and waiting.

I never heard from Mr Scurrah and now have 130,000 Virgin Australia frequent flyer points that I may never get to use. My bad. I knew this was coming. 

Monday 20 April 2020

Cruising will bounce back says travel industry heavyweight

The cruise industry has been among the hardest hit sectors of the travel business during the Covid-19 crisis - and many commentators have cast doubt on its long-term future. 

With the Ruby Princess (below) at the centre of the epidemic in Australia and oodles of poor publicity, cruise lines will need to work hard to regain consumer confidence when life returns to normal. 

It may seem like over-confidence, then, when HelloWorld Chief Executive Officer Andrew Burnes says he’s confident that despite the current negative publicity around cruising, the sector will return stronger than ever. 

Writing to members of Helloworld’s Australian travel agency networks, he warned that the re-emergence of international travel could be 9-12 months off, suggesting destinations such as New Zealand and possibly some South Pacific countries could be among the first to open up to Australians.

“I never thought I’d be looking forward so much to hearing someone say bula to me as I do now,” he joked. 

Asked whether cruise demand will return, Cruise Weekly reported Burnes as saying: “My answer is of course it will. 

"Cruise has proven to be one of the most popular sectors of the leisure travel industry in the world...the product is popular, well-priced and delivers an all-inclusive break that people enjoy”. 

Burnes said cruise companies will have to undertake significantly increased cleaning and disinfecting measures, as well as committing to much better on-board health facilities including immediate isolation capabilities, respirators and other near-ICU facilities, as well as stringent health checks for all embarking and disembarking passengers, and crew.

 “The cruise companies will address these issues over the next 12 months,” he said. “I firmly believe cruise will come back, most likely from mid-2021 and beyond, once the operators have sorted out their safety and health issues.” 

Saturday 18 April 2020

Rapper Snoop Dogg links with Australian wine label

In one of the more bizarre commercial links in recent years, American rapper Snoop Dogg has collaborated with Australian brand 19 Crimes to produce a new wine.

Dogg's visage will decorate the label of a red blend from California, which is due to hit retail shelves late this year.

The wine will be known as Snoop Cali Red and is a blend of 65% durif, 30% zinfandel and 5% merlot.

It will retail in the US for $12 and the label features a monochrome photo of the West Coast rapper in a hooded jacket.

The 19 Crimes brand, which features augmented reality labels, originally featured photos of "convicts turned colonists that built Australia" so the decision to use an American rapper with no links to Australia is a strange switch.

Brand owner Treasury Wine Estates said it felt Snoop Dogg was a good fit for 19 Crimes as he “embodies the same spirit of rule breaking, culture creating and overcoming adversity that inspired 19 Crimes’ original cast of rebellious heroes”.

“I’ve been a fan of this wine and I’m excited to unveil my Snoop Cali Red this summer and share the experience with all my fans," Dogg said.
Snoop Cali Red

That is a surprise as Dogg has been known to smoke cannabis and has several drug convictions and firearms offences on his record but has never before been known as a wine aficionado. The deal is described as a "multi-year" one.

“It’s one of the most successful brands in the market, so I’m more than eager to bring this collaboration to the world,” Snoop Dogg said of the partnership.

John Wardley, TWE’s marketing vice president, Americas, said in true market speak: “An entertainment and California icon, Snoop Dogg is the perfect partner for 19 Crimes. We are truly excited to welcome him to the 19 Crimes family.”

The brand pays homage to the thousands of British men and women who were exiled to Australia in the 18th century for committing one or more of the 19 crimes. Dogg was once refused entry to Australia on character grounds - so maybe the link makes some sense.

Dogg, real name Calvin Broadus, is 48 and has since sold over 23 million albums in the United States and 35 million albums worldwide.

Friday 17 April 2020

Two international hotels for Western Sydney

Western Sydney is to get two brand-new international hotels. 
Marriott International has announced the signing of Courtyard by Marriott Sydney in Auburn (above) and Four Points by Sheraton Sydney, Blacktown in an agreement with Sydney-based property developers, Mr Ning He and Timothy He, Directors of T1 Constructions.

The properties are slated to open in 2023 and 2024 respectively and mark the planned expansion of the Courtyard by Marriott and Four Points by Sheraton brands in Australia.

“These latest signings reflect Marriott International's strong commitment to the travel and tourism industry here in Australia," said Richard Crawford, Senior Director of Hotel Development, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific for Marriott International.

"During these unprecedented times, our ongoing goal remains to grow our business and to strengthen our offering in this region. With these signings in Auburn and Blacktown, we are doing just that, and strategically expanding our footprint into growth corridors outside Australia's metropolitan areas.

"Auburn and Blacktown are rapidly growing communities, with a range of demand drivers for visitor accommodation. Marriott International is therefore pleased to collaborate with T1 Constructions to deliver what will be outstanding developments as we move into this exciting new phase of our expansion.”

Courtyard by Marriott Sydney, Auburn will be located at St Hilliers Road, Auburn, close to the Parramatta River and Sydney Olympic Park. There will be 203 guest rooms, an outdoor pool with a sun deck, and a modern fitness centre complete with sauna and steam rooms.

It will also feature several of the Courtyard by Marriott brand's signature amenities: The Bistro, an all-day, fast-casual restaurant featuring live stations, a collaborative lobby lounge space, for guests to unwind, relax and socialise as they please and the 24/7 Market – a grab and go café serving bakery items and pastries.

Four Points by Sheraton Sydney, Blacktown will be at 17-21 First Avenue, Blacktown, providing easy access to downtown Blacktown.

There will be 206 guest rooms, an all-day dining venue, a grab and go café featuring coffee and pastries and a lobby lounge space. There will also be an outdoor pool and spa and a fitness centre.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Leading tour company refusing refunds

One of Australia's biggest travel companies has retrospectively changed its refund policy to deny refunds to customers whose trips were cancelled due to Covid-19.

Topdeck, which is one of Australia’s biggest youth travel operators, altered its refund policy and has applied it retrospectively to deny refunds to customers for trips that were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Like most operators, Topdeck has been forced to cancel all tours until mid-2020 at the earliest.

It promised travellers refunds for cancellations but last week told customers it had “updated” the refund policy, and would now only be giving credit for future travel, plus an additional $100. The credit expires in December 2021.

Some customers previously promised a refund were denied one, The Guardian reported.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website says: "If you had a right to a refund under these terms and conditions at the time you purchased your ticket, businesses are not permitted to change the terms at a later time to deny you a refund."

Founded in 1973, Topdeck is a tour operator providing trips for people aged 18 to 39 throughout Europe, North America, Africa and the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Topdeck offers 330 different tours in 65 countries.

It looks as if Topdeck is being tricky here - and this could get messy.

Positive news for the Australian wine industry, but.....

The value of Australian wine exports continued to grow in the 12 months to March 31, 2020, but Wine Australia reports that the full impact of Covid-19 on exports is still to be felt.

Wine Australia Chief Executive Officer Andreas Clark said total export value increased by 3% over the previous 12 months to $2.87 billion with a record average value for bottled exports of $7.12 per litre free on board (FOB).

Over the same period, total export volume declined by 11% to 728 million litres (81 million case equivalents) as there is now less wine available due to lower vintages in 2018 and 2019.

Although not yet complete, it is clear that vintage 2020 is delivering exceptional quality fruit but yields are down so it is anticipated that inventories will continue to be depleted.

"Pleasingly, the average value of Australia’s unpackaged wine exports increased by 5% to $1.26 per litre – levels not seen since late 2005," Clark said.

"This reflects the continued demand for Australian wine even in a more competitive bulk wine market and this is flowing through to increased returns for grape growers in the critically important inland regions of the Riverland, Murray Valley and Riverina."

Clark warned that the Covid-19 pandemic would take a toll on exports, but due to the patterns traditionally seen in wine exports and with the situation evolving on a daily basis in major markets such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America it was too early to get an accurate picture.

"Sales data from the UK and USA suggests that while cafes and restaurants have closed and sales have been lost, it’s been offset by people buying more wine for at home consumption," he said.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

New wine range with a very different look

Meet a new range of wines named after gangsters like Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel.

Calabria Family Wines has launched Kings of Prohibition, featuring distinctive rum-style bottles aimed at Millennial drinkers.

Prohibition, the banning of liquor sales in the US, lasted from 1920 to 1933 and led to the rise of bootleggers like Al Capone and Luciano.

“Kings of Prohibition is a new brand and reflects our aim to be a little bit different,” said Calabria sales and marketing manager Andrew Calabria.

“Research showed us that millennials are happy to spend higher dollar value per bottle, so it is not about the cheapest wine they can find.

"We decided to take some very good wine that we are already producing and put it into a less traditional format of bottle that is not your typical Bordeaux or Burgundy bottle.”

The range includes a Barossa shiraz, Hilltops tempranillo and a Riverina chardonnay and has an RRP of $24.

West Winds gin team produces a pair of vodkas

The team behind cult favourite the West Winds Gin has introduced two vodkas to its range.

The AVOSH Vodkas are produced at the home of The West Winds Gin in Margaret River and comprise two expressions, the original premium wheat-based spirit, and the Australian Bottlebrush Honey vodka.

AVOSH vodka is distilled a total of six times, the last of which occurs slowly in a copper pot still, before being charcoal filtered for a clean taste.

The West Winds range has picked up a swag of awards since being launched in 2010.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Tahbilk finds positives in difficult times

This was supposed to be a year of celebration for Victorian icon winery Tahbilk, which is celebrating its 160th birthday in 2020.

The team behind Victoria’s oldest family-owned winery are looking on the bright side in difficult times with owner Alister Purbrick saying: "Tahbilk has seen many a struggle in its 160 year history and has lived to tell the tale. We are determined that this hiccup will be no different.

"While we have had to postpone some celebrations, we’re planning for the party to end all parties later in the year."

With the wine industry suffering the age of Covid-19, fourth-generation CEO Purbrick said: “We’ve got some different news to share. We’re nearing the end of a good vintage which has run reasonably smoothly all things considered.

"We welcomed some European backpackers to our vintage team and they will remain in Australia for the time being. They’re now part of the wider Tahbilk family and we’re delighted they’re here.

“Clearly the pandemic has affected Tahbilk from a travel and tourism perspective with our restaurant closed for meals and the cellar door, although open, can’t conduct tastings, however, online wine sales continue and our cellar door is open to locals for retail purchases – essential at this tricky time.

"Of course we are observing strict hygiene and social distancing guidelines, but we’re still here to serve.”
The Tahbilk team is confident that these unforeseeable circumstances will see Tahbilk come back stronger than ever. And from a positive point of view, the good news is:

# There are no predicted long-term effects from the Covid-19 pandemic for the winery
# No infections among the staff and broader Tahbilk community
# The wine industry is considered "essential" enabling business to continue

#Mother Nature has been kind with no smoke taint affected grapes in the vineyards

Interestingly, export sales to China are also picking up after a complete shutdown during the height of their coronavirus outbreak. For Tahbilk, February and March sales into the mainland have been strong and there has been a shift in the mix of the wines being ordered.

“China is coming back strongly and quickly for us and it’s great to see given the many years and resources we’ve spent building our brand in that market." Purbrick says.

"What we have noticed is a shift towards the purchase of our premium portfolio, with our iconic 1860 Vines Shiraz and Old Vines Cabernet Shiraz being particularly popular, showing that Chinese consumers are keen for quality drops after a lull in their quality of life. They’re back in a big way which is great for premium Australian wine."

For details see