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Sunday 31 May 2020

Spinning around: Kylie's wine release hits a bum note

It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. Pint-sized Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue has released a southern French rosé, which made its UK debut to coincide with her 52nd birthday.

With Kylie having an avid gay following, pink proved a perfect choice - and initial sales were apparently excellent. The question is whether buyers will come back for a second bottle.

Sunday Times wine critic Jane MacQuitty doesn't think so, describing the £9 ($17) a bottle rosé as “sweet yet a bitter disappointment”. 

"Coarse" and "surly" were among MacQuity's other descriptors.

Made from a blend of 80% carignan and 20% cabernet sauvignon, the Vin de France rosé was kept on its lees for three months in stainless steel for added complexity.

Minogue’s 2019 Vin de France Rosé will be sold in over 450 Tesco stores nationwide. A Us release is also planned, but no news yet on Australia. 

A Côtes de Provence rosé, a lees-aged sauvignon blanc from Gascony and a Pays d’Oc merlot are also in the pipeline, says Drinks Business. As, apparently,  is a chardonnay from Margaret River.

Saturday 30 May 2020

Help save the environment and drink from a pouch

How would you feel about having your gin or whisky delivered straight to your door in a recyclable plastic pouch; saving on delivery costs and helping the environment? 

Two English firms, Whisky Me and Bullards Distillers, are distributing their spirits in pouches made from PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) that is inert and does not affect the quality of the spirits.

Whisky Me sends samples in a pouch that has "the same dimensions as 90s mix tape and will fit through your letterbox and in your pocket", saying: "It’s a whole lot more exciting than your average flat-pack delivery.

Bullards Distillers in Norwich is using larger pouches to enable customers to completely refill a bottle.

As well as being environmentally-friendly, they say the service is budget friendly.

And with the pouch arriving in a robust brown cardboard box, the firm says buyers can be assured there's no danger of their dog getting a taste of their Old Tom or London Dry if it lands on the doormat while they're out.

Once customers have bought a bottle they won't need to throw it away. With the new service, they order online a refill of gin which arrives in a neat 700ml pouch with an easy-to use spout for pouring straight into the bottle.

At no extra charge, customers post back the pouch so it can be recycled by a specialist firm.

Russell Evans, chairman of Bullards, said: "To order a bottle of our gin to be delivered costs £40 plus £4.50 for postage and packing but the pouches will cost £35 and this includes the cost of returning it for recycling.

"We as a firm are trying to cut down our carbon footprint and there is also a lot of plastic packaging around the glass bottles which we want to reduce. We would like to offer the service to our bar and restaurant clients, too, so they can save on the amount it costs them to get rid of all the bottles."

Friday 29 May 2020

A Tasmanian wine release that will cause excitement

The release of new vintage Domaine A reds is much-awaited by aficionados.

Made in tiny quantities from a very special vineyard in the Coal River Valley, north of Hobart, the Domaine A wines are only released when ready - between seven and 10 years of age. 

They are also only released in very good years. 

From vine to bottle the wines have been treated with rare attention to detail by both former owner Peter Althaus and the new guardians from Moorilla.

The first new release is the Domaine A 2013 Pinot Noir: The first impression is the restraint and elegance of a village Burgundy, perhaps a Volnay. Briary red and black fruits with immense length withe fruit allied to black olive savoury notes and just a hint of black coffee. French oak is impressively integrated on a seamless palate. A wine that whispers “look how serious I am”. Many seven year old wines are on their way out. This is very much at its peak right now. One for supping and sipping; admiring rather than sculling. There are the merest hints of barnyard on the nose, but the finish is clean and dry. Pair with stewed, braised or simply roasted game meats or poultry.

The second release is the Domaine A 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. But that isn't out for a couple of weeks, so I am sworn to secrecy. For now. 

Two special deals to one very special destination

Fancy a holiday where you can ride a horse along a deserted beach, swim with turtles, surf great breaks or be pampered in a beachfront spa?

Dreams will be reality in the near future and Nihi Sumba resort in Indonesia is offering a double deal to entice back Australian guests.

Nihi Sumba has just announced a special “One to One” rate, exclusive to Australian residents, matching Australian dollars to US dollars and valid from July 1, 2020 until December 2021.

Nihi’s entry level accommodation rate, normally USD $895.00 per villa per night, will be adjusted for Australian guests to AUS $895.00.

In addition, all Australian bookings will be given a USD $200.00 resort credit per room per night to be applied to a range of unique Nihi experiences, from spa safaris to fishing expeditions and more.

Even better, anyone booking as a result of reading this blog will get a bonus couples massage for each stay of three nights or more. 

Nihi Sumba was voted No.1 hotel in the world two years running by US magazine Travel + Leisure and is located on the remote Indonesian island of Sumba, just a 50-minute flight from Bali.

With 28 villas set over 576 acres, Nihi Sumba appeals to adventurers and wanderers looking to enjoy unspoiled natural beauty.

Gourmets can enjoy sunset cocktails at the iconic Boathouse and dine in al fresco restaurants.

The special Australian residents offer includes: three daily meals - breakfast, lunch, dinner and all non-alcoholic drinks; a minibar re-stocked daily including beer and spirits; a tour of the Sumba Foundation projects; stand-up paddle boarding and snorkeling around Nihiwatu beach and participation in the group yoga and meditation classes at the Yoga Pavilion.

The special deal is valid until December 2021, is not available for group bookings and cannot be combined with other promotions. Rates are exclusive of 11% government tax and 10% service charge and Australian residents must provide proof of their address.

# Nihi Sumba was born out of a vision to protect and preserve the unique culture of Sumba and empower the local community to support themselves and their families. The resort employs over 90% local Sumbanese. Guests are encouraged to visit the local villages and the many Sumba Foundation clinics, schools, and communal farms that have resulted through the support of The Sumba Foundation, founded by the resort in 2001.

For details and bookings visit and use the code #winsorsentme to claim your bonus massage for two with bookings for three nights or more. I'm tempted. 

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Discover Madeira: a destination and a drink

The Portuguese island of Madeira will reopen to tourists on July 1 and will provide a free coronavirus test on arrival.

Alternatively, visitors have the option of presenting the results of a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before departure.

Having registered just 90 cases of coronavirus, the Portuguese islands are positioning themselves as a Covid-19-safe destination.

I've been lucky enough to visit Madeira twice - and the British have been in on the charm of the destination since the late 17th century.

Much more than just an island in the sun, Madeira is politically Portuguese but geographically African, lying some 550km off the north African coast.
It is south of Casablanca and is also probably the only holiday island in the world without a single sandy beach.
Madeira's beaches are, to put it bluntly, small, pebbled and disappointing particularly to Australians used to expanses of golden sand.
Fortunately, the island has a lot more to offer, including its year-round mild climate and slow pace. 
It may be just 58km long and 23km wide, but Madeira has been described as a floating garden.
Its rich, volcanic soil and sub-tropical climate produce wildly colourful displays of flowers all year round and sprawling plantations of bananas and grapes, many of which are used to make the famous local fortified wines.
The entire island is a walker's heaven, from a plethora of beautiful gardens to the cobblestones and cafes of the Old Town in the capital, Funchal. 
Inland, there are inaccessible valleys and waterfalls that tumble from cliffs over roads and pathways and the entire island is criss-crossed by levadas (irrigation channels) which can lead you from barren mountain tops to semi-tropical jungle in just a few hours.
I'd advise travellers to take a coach tour to get a taste of the real Madeira, rather than hiring a car. The roads are tiny and twisting and local road rules are less than rigorously enforced.
One must-do trip is the short journey to the delightful village of Monte, in the hills above Funchal, from where you can take a toboggan trip (guided by two sturdy locals in costume) over the cobbles and back down into town.
Funchal, founded in 1451, is a terrific town for taking leisurely strolls. There is always something to discover among the Gothic and Baroque buildings. 

A tiny laneway may lead to a wine lodge (make time to visit at least one or two of the producers of the famous local fortified wine). Names to look out for include Henriques & Henriques, Justino's, Blandy's and Barbeito.

Madeira is produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry wines which can be consumed on their own as an aperitif to sweet wines usually consumed with dessert.  One of the grapes used is verdelho, which has subsequently found a happy home in the Hunter Valley. 
Also check out workshops producing handmade boots and leather shoes and the island's famous embroidery.
Among its major attractions is the Marcado dos Lavaradores, a lively bustling market featuring local fruits and vegetables you will never have seen before, flower sellers dressed in traditional costume and, naturally, a huge and noisy fish market.
Also make sure to try the local alternative to a hamburger; a prego, a thin slice of steak inside a bun, served with salad and a hot piri-piri sauce. Cheap and delicious.
For more details visit

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Bad news for cruise industry in Australia

The news just gets worse and worse for the cruise industry in Australia, which has been blamed for inflating Covid-19 numbers.

The Australian Border Force has extended the ban on international cruise ship visits to Australia to until at least mid-September.

Australia first announced a cruise ban in March - until June - but that deadline has now been extended until September 17.

It affects any cruise ship accommodating 100 or more passengers arriving from a foreign port.

"The minister for health extended the determination to prohibit the arrival at an Australian port of any international cruise ship that has left a foreign port. The restrictions included direct arrivals and round trip cruises," a statement said.

The Australian Border Force says it has been in constant contact with the cruise industry which has been co-operating and understands the reasoning behind the extension.

The decision is in line with Australia's human biosecurity emergency period, which was extended to the same September date by Australian Governor-General David Hurley, Travel Mole reported.

Clusters linked to cruise ship visits have been responsible for a large number of Covid-19 cases in Australia.

The US has a cruise ship ban in effect until July, while the Seychelles has banned all cruise ship calls until 2022.

Meet the Australian wine brand better known in the US than at home

Penfolds, Yellow Tail, Henschke, Two Hands and Mollydooker are among the biggest Australian wine brands in the US - with Mollydooker much better known to Americans than Australians. That is by design.

Mollydooker has its own importing company in the US and two permanent staff members as well as owner and CEO Sarah Marquis' son Luke, who heads up the winery’s US distribution. 

About 70% of its US distribution is through retail outlets including Costco and Trader Joe’s while the remainder is to restaurants and other on-premise customers. Its wines are sold in 48 states with California and Texas the biggest buyers.

Sarah Marquis (above) said the recent surge of online sales in the US had been a “saving grace” and pointed to further opportunities to grow direct-to-consumer sales in the future.

She said the import business was the key to Mollydooker’s long run of success in the US as it allowed the company to increase its margins and maintain control of its wine for longer.

“A lot of Australian wineries were in the US and then when the GFC hit and the exchange rate was bad many pulled out because they weren’t making any money but we stayed in there because we owned the import business, which allowed us to make a little bit more margin than most other wineries and that means our product also ends up at a really good price point.

“When the exchange rate was at $1.10 in 2011 and 2012 that did hurt us but we stayed in the market along with only a few others such as Penfolds, Yellow Tail, Henschke and Two Hands and right now with the exchange rate we’re making almost double.”

The name Mollydooker is an old Australian slang word for left-hander, or southpaw, and the wines are made to appeal to US consumers: with plenty of flavour and sweetness. 

“When Covid-19 hit, the US just stopped ordering and our sales slumped 60% there last month - but the increase in online sales [domestically] has helped,” Marquis said

“We’ve still got the wine in bottle and we can still sell it once we get through Covid, so I’m not too worried – it’s not like it’s perishable and we’ve got to sell it now."

Back home, Mollydooker has 50 staff and Marquis is thinking about how to reinvent the cellar door experience with a possible re-opening next month.

“I like the time to reflect at the moment and reinvent the business and a lot of people should be doing it because things will change and we just need to be flexible," she said.

“I’m really looking at the business including the profit and loss and the operating costs of the cellar door and I want to re-open with a new offering that’s not just a free-for-all tasting.

“We want to do proper cellar door packages from a full velvet experience including a winery tour and private tasting through to a fun $10 tasting where you taste nine wines and get to keep your glass.

“Maybe next month if we do open we might do it by appointment only on the weekends so we will limit our numbers and keep it safe and then when everything goes back to normal we’ll offer a couple of different experiences.”

Mollydooker Wines was started by Marquis and her former husband Sparky in 2005. 

The company produced 90,000 cases in 2019 and now sells about 50% in the US, 25% in Australia and 25% in other countries including South Korea, Denmark, Germany and Canada.

About 98% of Mollydooker’s wine is red with shiraz and shiraz blends making up about 80% of production. 

Dry conditions and a cool spring led to a much smaller than average vintage across South Australia this year with Mollydooker on track to produce just 55,000 cases from the 2020 crop. 

About a third of the winery’s grapes are estate grown while the remainder are sourced from McLaren Vale and nearby Langhorne Creek.

# Copy provided by The Lead. 

Monday 25 May 2020

Green credentials important for Redheads wines

Former Nepenthe winemaker Alex Trescowthick is the man leading the Redheads wine movement in the Barossa for an English entrepeneur.

Redheads began in McLaren Vale in 2002, then shared facilities at Tanunda in the Barossa among other places before building its own its own sustainably focused winemaking facility in Angaston. 

The operation - started by British wine businessman Tony Laithwaite of industry powerhouse Direct Wines - aims at making wines with maximum flavour and minimal imprint. There are four ranges: IconNightmareStudio and Winemaker. 

The new winery complex has already picked up several awards. 

"Building the new winery from scratch gave us the opportunity to focus on small-batch premium winemaking, as well as to reduce our carbon footprint, waste and environmental impact." Trescowthick says.

"We also wanted to inspire other wineries and industries to improve how they manage their waste and energy requirements."

The winery - first used for the 2019 vintage - won a "green" award for its water management at the 2019 UK Drinks Business awards. 

New new releases from Redheads include  the 2018 Blue Belle Graciano ($27), made from a relatively rare Italian red grape grown at One Tree Hill. The fruit was originally going to be blended away but its juiciness stood out and it became a varietal.        

The current star in the studio portfolio is the impressively energetic 2019 Rusty Roof Barbera ($27), sourced from Kersbrook in the northern Adelaide Hills. Soft and silky, rich and spicy, this is a serious bargain and has already impressed show judges. 

You can taste through the Redheads pop-up bar at Musque in Tanunda, the Studio Bar cellar door at Angaston (Friday-Sunday) or buy through   

Saturday 23 May 2020

British travel businesses fall victim to Covid-19

A leading British travel group has gone out of business, blaming the impact of Covid-19.

Specialist Leisure Group had over 2,500 employees and held over 64,000 bookings, the vast majority of which were coach package holidays, Travel Mole reported.

The group had five companies, including Shearings Holidays which has been operating for 100 years and was 
Europe’s largest coach tour operator.

It also had Wallace Arnold Travel, National Holidays trading as Caledonian Travel and Travel Style, UK Breakaways, Shearings Hotels trading as Bay Hotels and Coach and Country Hotels.

Wallace Arnold Travel acted as an agent for other suppliers and the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) said these bookings will go ahead as normal, except where the bookings have been made with other companies within the Specialist Leisure Group.

John de Vial, ABTA director of membership and financial services, said: "The Specialist Leisure Group included two of the UK's best known coach holiday brands, Shearings and National Holidays, two much loved holiday companies who for many years have provided holidays both at home and overseas to a very loyal group of customers.

"Today is a very sad day for these customers and the thousands of staff who will have lost their jobs.

"The fact that two such well-known brands with a loyal customer base have had to call in administrators is a stark indication of the pressure that the holiday industry is under as a result of the coronavirus pandemic."

All package holiday bookings are financially protected so customers with bookings will receive a full refund, with coach packages protected by the Confederation of Passenger Transport.

A little slice of the best of Tasmania

For well over a decade Stillwater on the Launceston waterfront has been one of Tasmania's finest restaurants. 

With Tasmania reopening its doors to locals on June 15, Stillwater has unveiled dine and sleep specials to encourage Tasmanians to get away for a night. 

Stillwater Restaurant and SEVEN Rooms, a boutique hotel that is part of the same building, are offering a menu of Tasmanian seasonal indulgence (choose from two or three courses from $80 per person) in your own private space. 

For an extra $330 you'll get a night in one of the delightfully luxurious SEVEN rooms, a full Stillwater breakfast for two the next morning delivered to your door and also on-site parking.

The elegantly transformed 1830s flour mill has water views and city vistas from every room and the package is available until October 31. 

A second offer includes a welcome bottle of Tasmanian bubbles from sparkling wine royalty Nat Fryar's Bellebonne. 

This deal costs $395 per night (room only including full Stillwater breakfast for two and parking) and is also valid until the end of October. 

# To ensure maximum safety, Stillwater SEVEN now has its own sanitiser developed by the local Abel Gin Company. Abel Hands add notes of local citrus and the Tasmanian rainforest to every room

All bookings for these offers should be directed to or by calling 
0491 148 155. 

Thursday 21 May 2020

Sad farewell to a rising star on the Tasmanian wine scene

Vaughn Dell did things his way. 

As an Australian Rules footballer and a winemaker, Dell was happy to break the mould.

Tasmanian-born and bred, he founded Sinapius Wines, along with his partner Linda Morice. He died this week at the age of 39. 

He was one of the most innovative members of the Tasmanian wine industry - and one of the nicest people you could hope to meet.

Injuries prevented the former Burnie Docker and Tassie Mariner from making the grade as an AFL footballer, but he and Morice built a formidable reputation for the quality of wines from their Sinapius vineyard at Pipers River in the north of the state.

Their close-planted vines produce wines of intensity and the big guy with a big smile also built long-time friendships.

Dell passed away on the morning of May 19 from what appears to be an undiagnosed heart-related medical condition. He left Linda, and two young daughters, Clem and Esme.

"At just 39 years old, Vaughn was already regarded as one of the Tasmanian wine sector’s leaders, with he and Linda having an impressive 16 years of experience at Sinapius following their purchase of the Pipers River vineyard when they were both just 23 years old," said Wine Tasmania CEO Sheralee Davies.

"Together with Linda, Vaughn’s relentless desire to learn and excel is reflected in the meticulous Sinapius vineyard and wines. Never one to do things the easy way or follow others, Vaughn constantly investigated, learnt, experimented and applied techniques to grow and craft wines that expressed their unique site, and for which he and Linda have gained a cult following and much respect from their peers.

"We'll all miss Vaughn for his curiosity, generosity, positive attitude, determination, big smile, infectious laugh and obsession with gamay, clones and the latest machinery for high-density plantings. 

"We've not only lost a friend, but the whole Tasmanian wine community has lost a very bright light far too soon.

"Vaughn will be sorely missed but not forgotten. Our thoughts are with Linda, the girls and their families."

Linda and Vaughn's families have arranged to have Vaughn's funeral live broadcast on Tuesday, May 
26 at 2.30pm. 

The link for the service is via Finneys Funerals.

Raise a glass to Vaughn - and, If inclined, you might like to jump on to the Sinapius website to buy some wine. A devastated young family could do with all the help it can get right now.

Emu, kangaroo and camel: bringing a taste of the outback to the city

Outback watering hole the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna is packing its gourmet basket with feral antipasto and kangaroo burgers and heading for the city. 

The new enterprise featuring kangaroo steaks and bush tomato chilli jam along with the hotel’s famed Fargher Lager will operate over winter as Covid-19 restrictions keep the Parachilna business closed.

“Our wintertime presence in Adelaide will bringing a taste of the Prairie to the city,” said Jane Fargher, who owns the hotel with her husband Ross.

New chef Nick Hawkins and his partner Katherine Pascoe are leading the team after they recently moved from Victoria to head the Prairie Hotel kitchen.

It was only one week after they arrived in Parachilna (population 16) that Covid-19 restrictions closed the hotel restaurant and bar along with its unusual Australian produce menu and heritage accommodation.

The Farghers had sold their lease on The Collins in North Adelaide in June last year, but knew there was a new café and kitchen in the building suitable for their venture.

A lease was rapidly organised and now the team is putting the final touches on bringing the tastes of their Parachilna hotel on the edge of the rugged Flinders Ranges to city dwellers.

Fargher said migrating to Adelaide for winter would help maintain a presence with the pub’s broader audience.

“We have a new website being set up as well, with a gallery," she said. "We have a really beautiful art gallery but the paintings on the wall aren’t being seen by anybody at the moment. 

“We’re also discussing some other new ideas to see how we think our business should look beyond the lifting of restrictions, out of adversity we’ve been able to see some new opportunities.”

The new eatery will sell the signature Prairie menu from O’Connell Street, with hot delivery or a cold cook-at-home menu. 

The menu will feature the hotel’s famed feral antipasto with kangaroo mettwurst, emu pate, goat cheese and bush tomato chilli jam.

“To begin with we are going to do burgers on delivery but then will be adding to the menu each week," chef Hawkins said. "The first on the menu will be six different burgers: beef or chicken, camel, goat, kangaroo or emu.” 

Four generations of the Fargher family have run sheep and cattle in the Flinders Ranges - and Jane and Ross bought their local hotel in 1991, the hotel having been first licensed in 1876.

# Copy from The Lead, South Australia 
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Key Contacts

Jane Fargher

OwnerPraire Hotel1800 331 473

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Experience makes the difference for Yarra winemaker Dolan

Rob Dolan is one of the sages of the Australian wine industry. A big man with a big personality, Dolan has seen it all and done it all over 35 vintages as a winemaker.

Known as “Sticks” during his days as an Australian Football ruckman for Port Adelaide, where he was a two-time SANFL champion, Dolan is today a leading light in the Yarra Valley with a focus on pinot noir across four different price points from $25 to the first of his Signature release pinots at $80.

He's also a dab hand with a range of impressive chardonnays. 

In the decade since he launched Ron Dolan Wines (in 2011), he’s had numerous successes, including the launch of the Signature series last year. The Rob Dolan 2017 Signature Series Pinot Noir was recently named Winestate’s Pinot of the Year.

“The majority of fruit for the 2017 Rob Dolan Signature Series wine is from the same grower I have worked with since 1991,” he says. “Winemaking is not an overnight success story - it takes time and persistence.    

“Our aim has always been to craft wines that reflect the magic of the Yarra Valley.

“The Signature Series range is a culmination of 35 years in the wine industry and is a result of utilising carefully selected vineyard sites and soils that have been lovingly tended to by our top grape growers and is made only in the finest vintages.”

In 2011, Dolan purchased the Hardy’s Yarra Burn winery located in South Warrandyte, just 30 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD.

The winery came well equipped and runs as a fully functioning state-of-the-art winemaking facility capable of processing more than 1,000 tonnes each vintage.

Dolan’s first experience in the Yarra Valley was as senior winemaker at Yarra Ridge Winery, a period during which he managed the entire Victorian winemaking operation for industry giant Mildara Blass (Fosters).

He went on to build two more contract winemaking ventures and launched two highly successful Yarra Valley brands – Sticks and Punt Road.  

Nowadays, he’s surrounded by a highly experienced team, along with two sons, Max and Ben and daughter Tess.

“Extreme drinkability has always been our goal,” Dolan says. “Our team of diversely skilled
winemakers ensures we balance purity of fruit expression, sophisticated balance and depth of flavour. We learn from each other on a very experienced team; and we learn from each season.”

Dolan says time has taught him to be patient when it comes to quality.

“Try to be flexible, patient and listen to others’ opinions,” he says. “Then you back your experience and judgement and don't always follow the crowd.

“Rob Dolan Wines is a multi-faceted wine-making business with fruit sourced from 30 vineyards across the Yarra Valley. We make wines for fifteen other wine companies and have supply arrangements with other wine companies.

“Making wine is a team effort, it's not a ‘one-man band. 

"It’s a relationship business with everyone working together and contributing - grape growers, contractors, winemakers, cellar staff, sales, marketing , logistics, distributors."

Dolan sources fruit from all over the Yarra – a region he has grown to love and respect.

“The Yarra is unique,” he says. “The grape-growing region is more than 80 square kilometres - soils vary and sites are diverse. It’s the grape growers who are the key – we source quality grapes from passionate and dedicated growers."

Rob Dolan Wines, 21-23 Delaneys Road, Warrandyte South, 3134. (03) 9876 5885.

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in Winestate Magazine 

Thai Airways rescued from the brink

Thai Airways International, once one of the most successful airlines in Asia, is to "go through rehabilitation via the bankruptcy courts" - a decision that ushers in complex, make-or-break steps for the national carrier, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says.

General Prayut said the national cabinet had opted against throwing a financial lifeline to the airline because it must save the money for relief schemes needed to alleviate the Covid-19 crisis and reinvigorate the economy.

"I had to make a very difficult decision regarding Thai - but it is one that I know is in the best interests of the public and of our country," he said.

The government had three choices; find more money to keep the airline flying, let it go bankrupt, or let Thai be the subject of a bankruptcy court-approved rehab plan. 

"We've decided on the third option," the PM said. The Thailand government will give up its controlling stake in Thai Airways as it has approved a financial restructuring for the cash-strapped airline through bankruptcy protection.

The airline has made a loss in six of the last seven years and its financial health has become more perilous since the global coronavirus pandemic.

"We have decided to petition for restructuring and not let Thai Airways go bankrupt. The airline will continue to operate," the PM said. 

The restructure will be handled through the Central Bankruptcy Court, allowing the airline to operate as usual and retain staff for the time being.
Part of the restructure plan will see a shrinking of its fleet over time which may lead to a future downsizing of the workforce.

For now its few assets are protected from creditor demands although it is mulling whether it will need to seek bankruptcy protection overseas.

Limited domestic flights have restarted in Thailand but international services are still grounded until the end of June due to the pandemic.

According to the Transport Ministry, the bankruptcy petition to trigger a rehab will be filed with courts both in Thailand and the US. Some 35% of the airline's creditors are based in the US.

Tuesday 19 May 2020

QT plows ahead with new luxury hotel in Auckland

QT Hotels & Resorts has announced that its new QT Auckland property will launch in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Construction of QT Auckland has resumed, with the former Viaduct Harbour office building being converted to a 150-room hotel. 

The transformation will result in a new hub of quirky luxury, with a signature dining concept by renowned chef Sean Connolly, a rooftop bar with sweeping water views and high-tech conferencing and event spaces.

“QT Auckland is on track to open its doors later this year, despite the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19," said Simon White, General Manager Operations New Zealand for Event Hotels & Resorts. 

"While we took a brief pause in construction, development is now well underway to bring QT’s bold and creatively-charged hospitality to Viaduct Harbour in 2020 as planned.” 

QT Auckland is being developed in partnership with Russell Property Group and Lockwood Property Group.
While the details of designer Nic Graham’s plans are still under wraps, QT Auckland promises an escape that reflects its harbourside locale. Its design and signature service will be intrinsically connected to the creative fabric of the local community, with partnerships with the arts, music and fashion industry. 

Located at 4 Viaduct Harbour Avenue, QT Auckland will be the 10th QT Hotel and the third in New Zealand, joining QT Wellington and QT Queenstown.

QT Parramatta, QT Newcastle and QT Adelaide are scheduled to open in 2021. 

Monday 18 May 2020

A unique taste of Mexico from the fields of Narrabri

It was pure chance that farming couple Stephen Beale and Rosemary Smith got into the distilling business. 

In 2016, one of their daughters, Phillipa, returned from a trip to Mexico enthused after having sampled mezcal. 

She thought the climate of the family farm, outside of Narrabri, was suitable for the growing of agave and the production of spirits made from agave plants; like tequila and mezcal.

With agave plants growing wild in the area, it seemed like a good bet.

“It had probably been imported for use as a decorative plant but had started to grow wild,” says Stephen Beale.

"The plant found locally turned out to be Agave Americana, one of 40 species used in Mexico to produce mezcal.”

So began the family’s journey to establish a sustainable craft distillery.

They had no previous distilling experience and when they looked around could not find anyone else making agave-based spirits on a commercial basis.

“As far we know we are the only paddock to commercial producers in the country,” said Stephen, who has an agricultural sciences background.

“The guiding principles were to have a minimal environmental impact while producing a quality product,” he said. “With this in mind we modified a 200-litre stainless steel food grade drum to produce the basis of the still.

“Since enjoying some success we’ve been able to upgrade the still and to power the still we obtained second-hand solar panels.”

The first test product from Black Snake Distillery was Pure Gin, which was followed by ASp, a smoky agave spirit made in the Mexican style.

An ASp is also a snake, which fits in with the distillery’s name.

Most of the ASp is made in a joven, or youthful style, but there will also be reposado (aged for at least two months, but perhaps as long as a full year, in oak barrels) and anejo (aged for 1-3 years in oak) lines available in the future.

Rosemary is also developing a pechuga mezcal (made when a finished mezcal is redistilled with local fruits, grains, and nuts).

Tasting notes to follow. To find out more or order online, visit

# This is a version of a story that first appeared in Ciao Magazine

Sunday 17 May 2020

Tear gas ice cream? When a marketing idea becomes a brain fart

It is marketing 101: Have a point of difference and a story to tell.

A Hong Kong ice cream shop came up with what it thought was a brilliant marketing idea, adding tear gas to its range of flavours.

The main ingredient of this particular ice cream is black peppercorns, a reminder of the pungent, peppery rounds fired by pro-Chinese police on the streets of Hong Kong fairly recently in face of democracy protests. 

“It tastes like tear gas. It feels difficult to breathe at first, and it’s really pungent and irritating. It makes me want to drink a lot of water immediately,” customer Anita Wong, who experienced tear gas at a protest, told the Associated Press wire service. 

“I think it’s a flashback that reminds me of how painful I felt in the movement, and that I shouldn’t forget.”

First of all, who wants to taste or smell anything like tear gas other than as a one-off novelty? 

And secondly it is hard to image Hong Kong Tourism operatives, desperate to restore the region's image, find anything favourable about this type of publicity. 

Thirdly, the shops owner asked that his name - and that of his store - not be revealed for fear of reprisals. Which makes it pointless. Fail.   

Friday 15 May 2020

Head west for a choice of gourmet stays

With travel restrictions being eased, the Great Southern wine region in West Australia has a lot to recommend it - in addition to some of Australia's best small wine producers.

First up, there are fewer crowds than in Margaret River or the Swan Valley - and several discoveries to be made.The prices, too, are reasonable.

Third-generation family business, Alkoomi Wines in Frankland River, 330 kilometres from Perth, has a two-bedroom chalet on site that sleeps up to seven people. Suitable for families, rates start from $120 per night or $650 per week.

CEO and owner Sandy Hallett was born and raised on the property and has been involved in the family business since 1994 and took over management of it with her husband Rod in 2010, continuing to build on the legacy of her grandparents.

“We are looking forward to seeing visitors explore the beautiful Great Southern, once again,” she said.

The original 1,220-hectare property was purchased by Vic and Netta Lange in 1946, and they named their rugged property Alkoomi after the local Aboriginal word that means “a place we choose”.

The first vines were planted in 1971 by their son Merv and his wife Judy, Sandy’s parents, who decided to stop selling their grapes and start making wine themselves in 1979. The sustainable operation has grown from one hectare under vine to 105 hectares at the estate vineyard. Alkoomi also has a 14-hectare olive grove.

Just three kilometres from the town centre of Denmark is rising star Castelli Estate (above), situated on 60 hectares with a Tudor-style building perched upon the hill top.

The working winery has been in operation for 35 years and offers bed and breakfast accommodation in five modern guest rooms with luxurious linens, mini bar and superb views.

Ana Fiore from Castelli Estate is currently offering a 10% discount on all accommodation bookings.

The estate restaurant, Castelli In Cucina, is open for lunch Wednesday to Monday and dinner on Friday and Saturday. Think hearty Italian food with pasta, gnocchi and bread all made in-house and ingredients sourced from their garden or local suppliers.

Monkey Rock Merlot
Also situated in pretty Denmark is Monkey Rock Winery, which has the Turicum Chalets accommodation, a winery and farm stay with rates starting from $120 per night. There are three chalets that each have two-bedrooms and one of those chalets also has an attached studio.

Owner and winemaker Stephanie Watts said that guests who stay three nights or more receive a complimentary bottle of Monkey Rock wine.

“Our combined farm and winery accommodation has lots for kids to do but also the cellar door for adults and we also have a cidery on site. We’re pet friendly too,” Watts said.

The 100-hectare property backs onto the Williams Bay National Park. Guests can hike to the beach, stroll or a local winery or sit back and watch the visiting kangaroos from their patio.

The fully self-contained Gamekeeper’s Cottage at Poacher's Ridge winery (below) offers sweeping views of the Porongurup Ranges and comes with a cosy stone fireplace.

Owner Janet Taylor said that the location of Poacher’s Ridge in the middle of the triangle of Porongurup, Albany and Denmark makes it easy for visitors to access many of the region’s attractions.

“The Gamekeeper’s Cottage is our old house and is fully equipped with everything for a comfortable stay,” she said.

A coffee machine, breakfast provisions and Poacher’s Ridge preservative-free olive oil are included in the rates that start at $190 per night.

The Great Southern is the largest mainland wine region in Australia with five sub-regions: Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker, and Porongurup.

About 12,000 tonnes of wine grapes produced annually which is about 25% of Western Australia’s annual wine grape crush. The main varieties are riesling, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir.

For more information on the region visit