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Monday 31 August 2020

Stylish new member joins the House of Arras wine family

Ed Carr has been making wine for 43 years - but he's never encountered a vintage like 2020. 

While the House of Arras vines in Tasmania were ready to be picked, Carr was stuck across the water in South Australia due to Covid-19 lockdowns 

It took some nifty work by Penny Jones and the team at Bay of Fires winery - a sister operation to the House of Arras - to ensure the vintage went without a hitch. 

"It was a totally bizarre time," Carr says. "We were comfortable with the quality of the fruit, but I was doing a lot of work by remote control. There was no other option."

This week, Carr has something to celebrate in 2020 with House of Arras celebrating the release of its annual vintage collection of world-class sparkling wines on on Thursday - September 3. 

The portfolio includes four new vintages; House of Arras Rosé 2008, House of Arras Grand Vintage 2009, House of Arras Museum Release Blanc de Blancs 2004 and House of Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged Magnum 2004. 

In addition, House of Arras is unveiling the first new wine to its portfolio in over six years – House of Arras Blanc de Blancs NV  (below).

Having had a sneak peek and a Zoom tasting with Ed, I'm pleased to be able to report it is a ripper. 

“It has been a long-term aim to create a NV Blanc de Blancs that complements the House of Arras range and offer an alternative style to the existing multi-vintage labels which predominantly exhibit the red grape characters of pinot noir and pinot meunier," Carr said. 

"This new release is a full expression of the elegance and sophistication of Tasmanian chardonnay meticulously crafted in the House of Arras style.”

The blend is 90% chardonnay, 9% pinot noir and 1% pinot meunier with fruit sourced from Pipers River, the Derwent Valley, Coal River Valley, East Coast and Tamar Valley. 

My notes say it is steely and quite intense; an accessible style with grapefruit and lemon notes; nicely balanced after 30 months on lees.      

With an RRP of just $35, it is well worth seeking out a bottle or two for your next celebration. It is available at Vintage Cellars and selected on-premise venues nationally

# House of Arras was born in 1995 as a project to create an Australian sparkling wine on parity with the world’s finest Champagnes and sparkling wines. Now, 25 years later, House of Arras holds the title of Australia’s most awarded sparkling wine brand. See

Sunday 30 August 2020

Take the bus: from London to Delhi

It sounds like a hippy adventure from the 1960s - a 70-day overland bus trip from India to Europe.

Expedition company Adventures Overland is hoping the trip will appeal to a new generation and is touting a "hop-on/hop-off" service allowing passengers to stay onboard for the long haul, or travel just part of the journey.

The first trip is set to run in mid-2021 subject to Covid-19 travel restrictions costing around $20,000 for the entire journey, CNN reports. It is being bllled as the longest bus journey in the world.

The image above is an illustration only depicting what the bus might look like.

Bus to London will ferry 20 passengers on a modified luxury bus, inspired in part by the Hippy Trail buses that crisscrossed the world in the 1950s and 1960s.

The bus will cross 18 countries over a period of 70 days, with passengers hopping off to marvel at the pagodas of Myanmar, hike the Great Wall of China or wander historic cities including Moscow and Prague.

Adventures Overland was founded by entrepreneurs and enthusiastic travelers Tushar Agarwal and Sanjay Madan, who have organised previous India-to-London expeditions, in which travelers brought own cars and traveled in a convoy.

"There are a lot of travelers, who want to experience these overland journeys, but they don't want to drive," says Agarwal.

"So, we came up with the idea of putting together a bus in which people can sit comfortably and go on long distance journeys. And that's how the idea of the Bus to London was born."

The trip will be divided into four legs and passengers can choose whether to in Britain or India.


Saturday 29 August 2020

Passenger asked to move seats because of her gender

Did you hear about the airline passenger who was asked to move seats because of her gender?

Surely not, you might think - but you'd be wrong. Being a woman is not acceptable for low-cost airline easyJet.

A British-Israeli passenger has filed a lawsuit against the airline after she had to move seats at the request of an ultra-Orthodox man and his son. The Jewish duo refused to sit beside the woman because of her gender.

Melanie Wolfson has sued the London-based airline on the grounds of discrimination.

Haaretz reported that Wolfson paid an extra fee to opt for the aisle seat. The ultra-Orthodox man and his son were already seated at the window and middle seat, respectively.

When Wolfson settled in, the man’s son removed himself from his seat and started looking for a man who would be able to change places with her. Once his son returned, the father, without making eye contact with Wolfson, asked her to switch seats with another man seated a few rows in front.

At this point, Wolfson refused to move. A flight attendant had purportedly offered the woman a free beverage if she complied with the man’s request.

Eventually, Wolfson adhered so as not to delay the flight. She told leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz that it was the first time she was discriminated against based on her gender.

She encountered a similar incident two months later, which was after her first official complaint to the airline. In the second incident, she was travelling to London once more. This time, two ultra-Orthodox men requested for Wolfson to move. Wolfson stood her ground, which resulted in two women switching seats with the men instead.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews practice Haredi Judaism, which is more conservative compared to Modern Orthodox Judaism - and apparently considers women not worthy of being seated next to males.

After submitting multiple complaints, she reportedly did not hear back from the airline.

EasyJet is being sued for violating Israeli’s anti-discrimination law. The law prohibits discriminating customers based on race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or political views.

The Israeli flag carrier El Al has in the past also asked passengers to move because of their gender.

Tourism leaders want state borders opened

Members of the Australian tourism industry have called on the nation's state premiers and chief ministers to reopen state borders as part of a grassroots campaign. 
In what seems to me to be desperate self interest rather than the national interest, the campaign is using the slogan #SaveAussieTourism.
An open online letter has been endorsed by tourism leaders as well as smaller independent operators and appeals to the states' leaders to demonstrate a way forward to restore interstate travel and protect the domestic tourism market. 
The letter, with an open invitation to join in support, is available here:

Signatories to date include Flight Centre Travel Group CEO Graham Turner, Spicers Retreats owner and founder Jude Turner, Helloworld Travel Executive Director and CEO Cinzia and Andrew Burnes and Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton. 
A press releases says the list of signed supporters includes accommodation and tour operators to travel agents, vehicle hire companies, industry bodies and regional destination offices.
That said, I don't know anyone in Tasmania, where I live, who wants to allow tourists from other states to visit until it is deemed safe. Another lockdown would end many small businesses who are holding on thanks to instrastate right now. 
The Australian tourism industry has been hard hit by the Coronavirus pandemic and is an industry that directly employs around 660,000 Australians. 
That said, surely lives are more important than jobs? 
Craig Bradbery, Chief Operating Officer of Baillie Lodges who penned the open letter, said the industry's opportunity to benefit by reaching a whole new market of domestic travellers created by restrictions to overseas travel during Covid-19 had been dashed by the ongoing changes to state border restrictions.
“There's been so much support and pent-up demand to date from domestic travellers, but now as we've been forced to ask our guests to once again postpone their trips and re-arrange flights," Bradbery said. "People are fed up and losing confidence in the whole idea of planning and booking a holiday.” 
“For the tourism industry, this should have been our moment - a chance for Aussie travellers to discover the many wonders of our own remarkable country. But as state borders like Queensland and the Northern Territory now look to remain closed, tourism businesses can't survive for an extended period solely on the support from intrastate travellers.” 
Your thoughts? 

Friday 28 August 2020

From New York to Brisbane: major arts coup for Queensland

In a major arts coup for Queensland, Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) has been named as the exclusive Australian venue for the major exhibition European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York to run from from June 12 to October 17, 2021.

State Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said the exhibition would offer local and visiting audiences a remarkable array of 500 years of European art from The Met’s collection.

"This incredibly exciting exhibition for Queensland, curated by The Met in New York in consultation with QAGOMA, will feature works by some of the greatest painters of all time, including Rembrandt, Turner, van Gogh, Monet and many more," Enoch said.

"The Palaszczuk Government is delivering Queensland’s plan for economic recovery and by bringing this exhibition exclusively to our state, we are boosting our economy and enhancing our reputation as a centre for visual arts events of the highest calibre."

European Masterpieces features 65 paintings charting Western art history’s most iconic movements and will also include works by Titian, Raphael, Goya, Vermeer, Cézanne and others.
QAGOMA director Chris Saines said European Masterpieces would begin in the 1420s, with a drama-filled panel painting, The Crucifixion by Fra Angelico, and end in 1919 with one of Monet’s late Water Lilies, a precursor to abstraction.

"The exhibition traces the development of art and artists from a time when creativity was closely controlled through the patronage of church and state, to a period in which our contemporary idea of the independent artist was born," Saines said.

"It’s a major coup for Brisbane and an extraordinary opportunity for our audiences to experience these important works from one of the finest collections of European painting in the world, the majority of which rarely leave permanent display in New York."
Tickets to the exhibition are now on sale at

Thursday 27 August 2020

A new look for one of Auckland's best addresses

One of the best addresses in Auckland - the Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour - will reopen in spring after an extensive makeover.

Overlooking Waitemata Harbour, the hotel is a preferred destination for celebrities, politicians and businessmen since 2012. 
The refurbishment includes all facets of Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour, including the lobby, reception, bar, café, restaurant and Sofitel Spa. 
A streetscape café will give a nod to French influence in the heart of Lighter Quay. 
New to the hotel will be the addition of Sofitel's Club Millésime, comprising an elevated range of privileges, services and rituals for the discerning traveller, including a lounge retreat. 
Accor NZ Senior Vice President Operations Gillian Millar said: “We're excited to be offering locals and travellers a luxurious boutique hotel that brings the essence of French flair back to life in Auckland Viaduct. 
"Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour will epitomise sophisticated charm for well-travelled connoisseurs seeking stunningly designed boutique spaces, with privacy and sense of discovery. We're also looking forward to re-grouping and welcoming back members of our committed team”

Hobart's new hotel dining hot spot

Dining in a hotel is often a hit and miss affair; dependent on whether the executive chef is on duty or not. 

At Core restaurant and bar, the main eatery at the new Crowne Plaza Hobart, executive chef John Churchill (above) has done his best to ensure consistency by putting together a top-notch team, keeping the menu relatively tight and concentrating on local sustainable produce. 

Churchill comes from a fine dining background and was previously at Frogmore Creek but his Core menu has something for everyone with choices ranging from small plates to a $75 "trust the chef" option. 

"Our policy is local and organic with zero waste," Churchill says. "We try to invest in the local community. Why buy from Spain when you can source food from down the road?"

I was invited to a chef's table dinner at Core this week; and dishes that shone included a delicious grilled octopus with fermented chilli; and olive-glazed beetroot with whipped ricotta, nut butter and za'atar. 

A real local flavour was added by the cured and lightly-cooked Huon ocean trout with puffed skin, preserved lemon and smoked fish vinegar. 

Pictures speak louder than words, so please find some images of the dinner. Now please stop drooling.

Core restaurant and bar, Crowne Plaza Hobart, 110 Liverpool St, Hobart. Open daily until 10pm. 
(03) 6213 4200.   

Wednesday 26 August 2020

A new destination resort in Krabi

It might not be the ideal time to unveil a new resort hotel in Thailand - but Avani Hotels & Resorts has officially opened its latest resort - and the first in Thailand’s southern beach town of Krabi. 

Krabi is one of my favourite destinations in Thailand and Avani Ao Nang Cliff Krabi Resort boasts stunning views of limestone formations rising up from the Andaman Sea. 

It is just steps away from local cafes and bars, as well as the Ao Nang Night Market. 

There are 178 guest rooms and villas with the private villas boasting sunset views. 

The resort has an elevated swimming pool along with an indoor gym, and there are indoor and outdoor children's playgrounds. 

There are four new dining and drinking venues on site; Orchid Bar, by the pool; Pano Café; The Cliff and The Peak, a rooftop bar. 

Krabi is a beach lovers’ paradise and an island-hopping mecca. Its clear waters are dotted with around 200 islands of all shapes and sizes. 

Avani welcomes guests to over 30 properties in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Seychelles, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, the United Arab Emirates and Portugal. 

The quirkiest Father's Day gift idea: a salt or two

Looking for something different as a Father's Day gift? 

How about a set of salts for something quirky and different. 

Australia-owned The Salt Box has a huge range of 100% sustainably sourced salt from locations around the world. 

Whether Dad would like some relaxing bath salts, or some fiery gourmet salts, there is plenty of choice. 

“Not all salt is created equal,” says founder Rowena Frith. 

“I created The Salt Box when I realised that good quality food salts were very hard to find in Australia, and we’ve grown from there. 

"We don’t use any nasties at The Salt Box. Our products are free from anti-caking, free flowing additives, conditioners, allergens or genetically modified organisms. 

"We are obsessed with supplying our customers with the best natural products available!” 

For the sporty Dad, the magnesium range includes Sports Soak ($29.95 for 1kg), which contains magnesium flakes infused with eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils to help soothe sore muscles. The Magnesium Gym Pack ($39.95) includes a Magnesium Oil Spray and Magnesium Gel, which are perfect to aid fast recovery after a tough workout. 

For the Foodie Dad who likes to get experimental in the kitchen there is a range of Himalayan Rock Salt Blocks (starting at $39.95). 

They come in a range of sizes and are recommended for barbecuing and curing. 

A gift set of Gourmet Spicy Food Salts (starting at $42.95) includes ass-kicking flavours like Ghost Pepper, Scorpion and Sriracha.  

Link here to those picks: the Sports Soak, the Magnesium Gym Pack, the Himalayan Salt Blocks and a gift set of Gourmet Spicy Food Salts.

For details see

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Phuket to open its doors to travellers

Thai officials will allow foreign tourists to visit Phuket for long stays from October - but would-be visitors must be prepared to commit to spending at least a month in paradise.

The Thai government is desperate to revive a key economic sector that has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, but is not willing to take chances.

From October 1, tourists will have to stay for at least 30 days, with the first 14 days in quarantine within a limited vicinity of their hotel, before they can visit other areas, Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn said.

Tourists will have to take two coronavirus tests during quarantine before they are able to travel to the rest of the island.

Thailand has gone nearly three months without a confirmed case of a local Covid-19 transmission. It has recorded over 3,300 cases.

The Thai economy contracted 12.2% in the second quarter.

Monday 24 August 2020

A chic new accommodation option on the Sunshine Coast

What was once a standard motel has been reborn as a chic boutique hotel on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. 

Loea Boutique Hotel - located opposite the Maroochy River - has undergone a major renovation. 
Loea is owned by Andrew and Lucy Pink, who noticed a gap in the market for boutique hotel-style accommodation.
Features of the property include a luxe outdoor pool surrounded by a communal al fresco lounge area and garden, local organic skincare products in the rooms, a private outdoor deck for each suite and a vintage food van on site offering coffee, alcoholic beverages and brunch, grazing and dessert platters available to be pre-ordered.
The property has free wifi throughout, king-sized beds with luxury linen, quality toiletries, free on-site parking, tea- and coffee-making facilities and air conditioning. There is a choice of  double, twin and family rooms. 

The vintage food truck van doubles at the reception desk. 
Visit Sunshine Coast Interim CEO Craig Davidson said: "New products and experiences are an important part of keeping up with consumer demand. 
“They provide fresh incentive for visitors to stay longer and spend more, entice new visitors to the region and encourage return travellers to try something new.”
Prices start from $170 per night for a double room and can be booked direct at

Americans swoop to snap up leading Yarra Valley wine producer

Jackson Family Wines, the family-owned American wine company founded by the late Jess Jackson in 1982, has announced the purchase of Giant Steps in Victoria’s Yarra Valley. 

Recognised as a world-class producer of single-vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir, Giant Steps joins Yangarra Estate Vineyard and Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard in McLaren Vale, as part of Jackson Family Wines in Australia.

“This is a remarkable new chapter for Giant Steps,” said founder and former owner Phil Sexton. “The Jackson family has demonstrated an invaluable commitment to the Australian wine community over the last two decades, and we feel confident in our shared vision for the winery’s future. 

"The recognition of the diversity of the Yarra Valley, and the development of ‘great dirt as vineyards’ is what brought the Jackson family and Giant Steps initially together and will continue to be our key goal.”

The acquisition includes the purchase of Giant Steps’ Sexton and Applejack vineyards (75 hectares in total), while Giant Steps will continue to source fruit from Tarraford, Wombat Creek, Primavera, and Gruyere Farm vineyards. 

Sexton will continue his role as founder and general manager and Steve Flamsteed will remain chief winemaker. Giant Steps will continue to work closely with its national distributor: red+white. 

Jackson Family Wines owns brands across the globe including Kendall-Jackson and Lokoya in California and wineries in France, Chile, Italy and South Africa. 

Fat Bastard is an attention seeker

When you call your wine range Fat Bastard you are making a definite statement. 

If you use an obese wombat as your logo - and proclaim your range to be "remarkably full bodied" then you are doubling down. 

The Fat Bastard range is aimed firmly at wine drinkers who know what they want - plenty of grunt and flavour without spending over $20. 

The press material hails the range of 2019 South Australian Shiraz, 2019 Mendoza Malbec, 2017 Californian Chardonnay and 2018 pinot noir from the Pays d'Oc as "big, bold, beautiful juice". 

And the name is certainly a talking point. While they are all full-flavoured the wines are not all as big as proclaimed - although the shiraz packs a serious wallop. 

The pinot noir is rustically charming but tastes more like cinsaut/carignan than pinot, while the chardonnay comes with lashings of buttery/nutty characters but surprisingly little oak for a Californian offering. The malbec is juicy and chocolatey.

Fat Bastard is an in-house range for one of Australia's leading wholesale distributors and "sources fruit from the best regions around the world, renowned for the fullest flavour of each variety".

The blurb says: "You know exactly what you’re getting in every bottle; world-class wine at an affordable price, without the pretension."

When that is your mission statement you can get away with describing the shiraz as "ballsy".

The Fat Bastard range is available online at for $18 a bottle, or in-store at Liquorland and First Choice stores Australia-wide.

Sunday 23 August 2020

The public toilet that will live forever

In English city of Norwich they call it a culturinal icon.

Meet the historic public toilet block - over 100 years old - that is under a protection order and should, theoretically, stand forever.

While many old buildings in the city have been demolished, the 10-sided toilet at the St Crispins roundabout still stands proud - even though it is locked and no longer in use after being bogged down by red tape.

Back in In 1998, the Department of Culture officially declared that Britain’s oldest 10-sided concrete, gents’ lavatory, would be granted Grade II listed status.

This “decagon” is believed to be the oldest of its type in Europe, the Eastern Daily Press reported..

It is one of several constructed in the 1880s and placed on its present site in 1919. The rest were all demolished.

Designed by A E Collins, the city engineer, - the toilet's two-storey roof is fitted with glazed panels and its sides are decorated with a repeating floral pattern.

It was renovated in 2002 and still stands tall as a reminder of the city's history.

Saturday 22 August 2020

Brave timing: new hotel brand launched

The timing seems a little odd, but Thailand-based Onyx Hospitality has just launched new hotel brand: the Saffron Collection.

The collection will comprise a portfolio of individual boutique hotels and resorts in Bangkok, Hanoi, Penang, Sa Kaeo and Nanjing.

Further expansion is expected across Asia.

The Oriental Residence Bangkok (above) will be re-badged as a Saffron Collection property, and the new build Five Residences Hanoi is scheduled to open in October.

"Saffron Collection is driven by our quest to create a distinctive portfolio of boutique hotels and resorts," said Douglas Martell, President and CEO of Onyx.

"Each Saffron Collection property aims to create memorable experiences through locally-relevant design and sensitive integration into the past and present of a destination."

The Oriental Residence Bangkok features 145 suites and first opened in 2012, while The Five Residences Hanoi will offer 116 rooms and suites, a spa and dining.

So you want more than just a wine tasting experience?

Howard Park Winery's Wine Chapel private wine and culinary experiences are back on the gourmet menu. 

Launched earlier this year but put on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions, the experiences enable guests to sip and sup their way through four tasting options in winery's private tasting facility.

The Sparkling Wine Lounge Experience sees guests sample a range of award-winning bubblies, exploring the flavours of Margaret River, Great Southern and French vineyards. A cheese and local farm-sourced charcuterie selection complements the tasting. ($120 per person, minimum two guests)

Marron is one of the region's most sought-after local delicacies and Howard Park has paired the freshwater crustacean with other native foods, matched wines, for a special feast. The Private Marron & Native Foods Experience is a four-hour treat for $295 per person.

Howard Park also celebrates local produce with an indulgent Seafood Experience. Wild-caught Indian Ocean seafood is paired with Howard Park wines for a long-table grazing lunch prepared by a private chef. $295 per person.

The Private Group Tasting and Regional Tasting Platter sees guests will enjoy a showcase of both the Howard Park and Marchand & Burch ranges, sampling a wide range of varietals. A local gourmet cheese and charcuterie selection is served following the wine tasting. Guests can then retire to the Chapel's private lounge or outdoor terrace with a glass or two of wine. $120 per person.

Howard Park's wine chapel was architecturally-designed and features natural timbers and polished concrete, along with chandeliers made from 45-year-old vines. 

All Wine Chapel events can be individually tailored to create an unforgettable occasion. Wine Chapel Experiences are available to book daily but must be pre-booked and cancellation terms apply. 

The Wine Chapel at Howard Park is located at its Leston Vineyard property, 543 Miamup Road, Margaret River. To book call (08) 9756 5200 or visit 

Friday 21 August 2020

Change of venue for a Barossa favourite

One of the Barossa’s most loved food and wine offerings has just unveiled its new premises.

El Estanco owners and chefs Abby Osborne and Julian Velasquez have spent the past nine months renovating an 1890s property opposite their current restaurant and the new multi-purpose El Estanco will open early September.

Located in the heart of Greenock in the north-west of the Barossa, El Estanco quickly became a favourite after opening in 2016 - specialising in wholesome and seasonal food with a South American accent. 

El Estanco aims to focus on ethically sourced, environmentally sustainable dishes and practices.

The couple said they realised not long after opening in Murray Street premises that there was scope for El Estanco to diversify and grow.

“After exceptional support from the Greenock and wider Barossa communities, we sought out an opportunity to grow our business into something more,” Abby said.

“When a property became available across the road in Greenock, it was the perfect opportunity to think about El Estanco Mark II.

“The new site will offer the same intimate settings and unique style that our customers know and love, but we’re also able to include an artisan bakery, coffee roaster, market garden, kids’ nature play area, wood-fired pizza oven and an area for larger events and gatherings.

”We were always planning on staying in Greenock, we were just fortunate enough to secure the land opposite the previous El Estanco venue.” 

The new El Estanco is located at 18-22 Murray Street, Greenock, and will be open seven days per week, from 8am-4:30pm with extended hours on Friday and Saturday nights for dinner. 

For more information visit or phone 0438 006 552.

# IMAGES: Melisssa Brown 

Cullen Wines is now "carbon positive"

Cullen Wines in Margaret River has been officially recognised as “carbon negative” - meaning it sequesters more carbon than it produces. 

After 16 years of hard work, the target has been achieved thanks to the efforts of managing director Vanya Cullen, vineyard manager Matt Dermody and team. 

Cullen Wines’ carbon offset program was initially set up and managed internally by production manager Trevor Kent, who handed the task over to his successor Andy Barrett-Lennard in 2018. 

Cullen has measured its gross carbon footprint annually through the Carbon Neutral organisation - and the level of carbon in the soils on the Cullen vineyards has been trending up over the last five years.

The carbon increase that has been witnessed in the vineyard soils combined with the carbon offsetting has essentially taken Cullen Wines from being carbon neutral, to "carbon negative". 

The biodynamic soil and plant health program that is being implemented at Cullen Wines has been increasing the carbon content of the soil. 

For details see

Thursday 20 August 2020

Accor unveils Australian staycation deals

The Accor group, which includes hotel brands like Sofitel, Mercure, Novotel and Ibis, has just unveiled a range of staycation offers for travellers looking to escape cabin fever and embark on a holiday closer to home. 

Accor’s fully flexible rates are available at the full range of brands, including SO/, Sofitel, MGallery, Art Series, Pullman, Swissôtel, Grand Mercure, Peppers, The Sebel, Mantra, Novotel, Mercure, Tribe, BreakFree, ibis, ibis Styles and ibis Budget.

With no international visitation at all, the deals are keen. 

 Novotel Brisbane South Bank has a ‘Holiday Saver’ package from $197 per night in a king or twin room including breakfast for two at Spice Central Kitchen & Bar, a 2pm late check-out, car parking, wifi and either a picnic hamper for two, a $50 Myer shopping voucher, a $60 dine-in credit at Spice Central Kitchen & Bar, or 50% off a second room. Valid until December 31. 

Gold Coast: Mantra Sun City at Surfers Paradise (above) is offering a three-nights stay in a one-bedroom apartment from $345 for two people on sale until September 30. 


Sydney: Novotel Sydney Darling Square has a ‘Holiday Saver" deal from $194 per night with overnight accommodation in a superior room with a bottle of wine on arrival, a $50 food and beverage credit per stay, car parking at Wilson Parking,  in-room wifi and noon check-out. Valid for sale and travel until December 30. 

 Novotel Canberra boasts an unrivalled location in the heart of the city. Stay two nights and save up to 25% off. Prices start from $123* per night.

 Mantra One Sandy Bay Road has one-bedroom apartments from $161.10 per night (two-night minimum stay – total spend $322.20) on an ‘Experience Tasmania’ package, which also includes a bottle of handcrafted local ginger, Tasmanian Devilicious Fudge, complimentary wifi and noon check-out.

 Mantra Hindmarsh Square is ideal for a weekend city escape. Plus, guests staying for two nights will receive 15% off. Rates start from $178 per night.

Barossa Valley: The delightful Novotel Barossa Valley Resort has rooms from $186 per night (two-night minimum stay – total spend $372). Less mobile guests should ask for a room close to reception. 

Located 50 minutes south of Perth and overlooking the Mandurah Estuary, The Sebel Mandurah has rooms from $155 per night (two-night minimum stay – total spend $310). 

To book any of these deals visit Plus, members of Accor Asia Pacific’s travel, dining and lifestyle programme, Accor Plus, will receive an additional 10% per cent off these rates.

Middle-aged with a paunch, wife and kids, Harry Potter is back

Isn't Harry Potter yesterday's news? A phenomenon that has had its time, been and gone?

The most recent of the series of seven fantasy novels written by British author JK Rowling was published 13 years ago. 

The last movie was almost a decade ago; quidditch has died out as a sport because of concerns about how dangerous it is. 

But apparently not.

A new Harry Potter-themed tour (imagined above) is to be built in Japan by 2023.

It is hoped the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Tokyo will help to boost tourism in a country which suffered the double blow of being forced to postpone the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer.

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour Tokyo - The Making of Harry Potter will be the second such attraction following on from the original tour in the UK.

Harry Potter-themed rides and attractions apparently remain popular.

“The franchise is an enduring and much-loved one by multiple generations, as adults who grew up with Harry Potter now take their own families to the theatres,” said a spokesman for Japan’s Itochu Corporation, which is helping to develop the park.

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Butter producer spreads an important message

Leading Australian butter producer Pepe Saya is the driving force behind Aussie Artisan Week, which is running until Sunday and encouraging Australians to consciously choose to support and purchase Australian-made products, buying direct from artisans where they can.

The campaign aims to raise awareness regarding the benefits of shopping locally. 

Aussie Artisan Week hopes to introduce Australian consumers to a range of quality products and the pluses of choosing local products: because of taste and quality, but also because they are, in turn, supporting farmers and small businesses. 

Over the past four months Pepe Saya have had to transform their business after both their on-premise and direct to consumer sales dropped dramatically with the forced closure of restaurants and growers markets in line with Covid-19 restrictions. 

Through that time they have seen an increase in Australians coming to their website directly to purchase their range, which include Australian cultured butter, buttermilk and ghee, as well as specialty butters ranging from maple butter - the perfect pancake-topper, to their newest addition - a nduja butter. 

Saya created these newer products to be able to continue to grow their direct-to-consumer sales throughout the pandemic, alongside gift packs that saw the brand partner with and support other Aussie artisans such as Crumpets by Merna, Olsson’s sea salt, Yarra Valley caviar, LouiseM Studio Ceramics, Block 11 Organics and Ovvio Organics tea.

“We’ve been incredibly appreciative of all our customers who have supported us by buying Pepe Saya through our online store over the past four months.” says butter maker and co-founder Pierre Issa. 

“We’ve realised that Australians do value Australian-made, and we want to continue to share how many amazing options there are out there from dairy to meat, fresh veg and even homewares. 

"Plus, why it’s better all-around when you buy small and buy local. The product comes to you fresh, the process is more sustainable, and the money you spend goes directly back into the Australian economy.

“I hope we see this change in behaviour not just for the week, but ongoing," says Pepe Saya CEO and co-founder Melissa Altman. 

During this week Pepe Saya asks Australians to shop locally and share their artisan-made purchases using the hashtag #AussieArtisanWeek.

Tough times in Champagne; grape yields reduced

Champagne, the traditional wine of celebration, has been particularly affected by global economic conditions linked to the Covid-19 crisis and is suffering a historic drop in its shipments.

During a meeting today in Epernay, the winegrowers and houses of Champagne agreed on a low yield of 8,000 kilos per hectare (equivalent to 230 million bottles) for the 2020 harvest.

The limit was taken considering the uncertainties weighing on the entire sector, said the regional wine council, the Comité Champagne.

It is one of the lowest limits in recent times, with yields set at 10,200kg/ha in 2019 and 10,800kg/ha in 2018.

It will allow vendors of grapes to maintain an acceptable income and the Champagne industry to meet the demands of their customers and preserve their cash flow, the Comité said in a statement.

The harvest commenced on August 17, which is two weeks ahead of the 10-year average and promises to be of good quality, but a relatively small quantity due to the drought.

It is compulsory that grapes are harvested by hand in Champagne and the harvest involves around 100,000 seasonal workers. The challenge is to organise the harvest under conditions adapted to the ongoing health crisis.

Meet the public toilets that are a tourist attraction

Two recently installed public toilets in Tokyo are proving a major drawcard for tourists and locals alike.

The colorful toilets have been installed in parks and are completely see-through when idle, but become frosted and opaque when in use, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.

The ultramodern installations are part of a design project that sees artists and architects creating bespoke, innovative and interesting toilets - a uniquely Japanese fascination. 

The outer walls have been built from a special glass that instantly becomes opaque when the key is turned, granting privacy to the user. 

As well as being public facilities, the toilets serve a secondary function of creating ambiance as the sun goes down.

The toilets are the work of award-winning architect Shigeru Ban and attracted a lot of attention when opened this week in Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park. 

The toilets are part of the Nippon Foundation’s project “The Tokyo Toilet” to make public restrooms reborn as a comfortable convenience.

Ban is one of the 16 creators who are supporting the project to remake the image of public toilets and not be thought of as “dark, dirty, stinky and scary”.

Locals have expressed concerned that the walls, which operate through electricity, could become transparent due to malfunctions. But such anal concerns have been dismissed.

During a blackout, the walls will be clouded. 

Tuesday 18 August 2020

So you want to start a wine cellar?

So you want to start a wine cellar but don't have the patience or expertise to enter the auction market? 

St Hugo has done the cellaring work for you with the release of their Fine and Rare Collection, a collection of back vintage wines showcasing the quality of one of Australia’s leading red wines.

Showcasing select vintages over St Hugo's 40-year history, the Fine and Rare Collection aims to highlight the potential longevity of the range. 

Stored securely and in carefully monitored conditions at the St Hugo winery in the Barossa, back vintage cabernets from 1998, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 have been selected by the chief winemaker, Peter Munro, for re-release.

“The St Hugo Fine and Rare Collection is an exciting release of some of our finest back vintages," Munro says. 

"It has been fascinating to monitor the evolutionary transformation that these wines have undergone during the extended cellaring process.

"The 1998 St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon is a fully mature wine from an exceptional vintage that is still displaying primary blackcurrant flavours twenty years on while the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 are excellent examples expressing the individual vintage conditions and will continue to develop further complexity over the coming decade.”

The St Hugo Fine and Rare Collection is now available to collectors and customers for purchase through select wine merchants, the St Hugo wine club ( and selected venues.

St Hugo was named as a tribute to Hugo Gramp, former managing director of G. Gramp & Sons in the 1920s and 1930s. 

Put a cork in it. China threatens Australia with Grape Wall

China has turned from sweet to sour on Australian wine, launching an anti-dumping investigation as diplomatic relations between the two nations continue to be glacial.

The inquiry will look into whether Australian winemakers dumped cheap bottles of wine into China over a five-year period, damaging out local producers, Australian Associated Press reported.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham described confirmation of the inquiry as "a very disappointing and perplexing development".

"Australian wine is not sold at below market prices and exports are not subsidised," he said.

"Australia will engage fully with the Chinese process to strongly argue the case that there are no grounds to uphold the claims being made."

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has denied the dumping allegations.

"Australia produces some of the best quality and most popular wine in the world," he said.

"That reputation has been recognised by Chinese consumers who have helped make China our largest export market with $1.1 billion exported in 2019-20."

China is Australia's largest trading partner but several rifts have seen the relationship under strain.

China recently imposed tariffs on Australian barley, suspended some beef imports and warned students and tourists it was not safe to travel to Australia because of allegations of racism.

Shares in Treasury Wine Estates dropped by 14% as news of the investigation emerged and have since been halted from trading on the Australian Stock Exchange.

TWE, which imports premium brands such as Penfolds and Wolf Blass into China, said it would co-operate with the investigation.

"TWE's focus will remain on building premium and luxury brands, investing in the local operating model and team, and working with partners to enhance the wine category and grow our contribution to China," the company said in a statement to the ASX.

Umbrella body Australian Grape & Wine said it was aware of the request by the Chinese industry to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFOCM) to launch the investigation.

"Australia has a large number of exporters with close cultural ties to China," it said in a statement. "The Australian industry welcomes the opportunity to build on these ties and work with the Chinese industry and government to further technical cooperation and develop lasting relationships."

Monday 17 August 2020

Mixed news for lovers of an Australian wine classic

This should be a year of celebration for Grosset Wines, which is marking 40 years in business and the 40th consecutive release of Grosset Polish Hill and Springvale rieslings.

Not only is 2020 a disaster in business terms for small wine producers but the lack of rain meant volumes of each of the acclaimed Grosset rieslings are what Jeffrey Grosset describes as "woeful" - the lowest in three decades.

"With the world in turmoil this 40-year celebration is a low-key, almost sombre affair," Grosset (right) says.

But there is some good news. Grosset describes the 2020 riesling releases as "beautiful, with so much flavours, texture and persistence."

For riesling lovers it could a case of the the quick and the thirsty.

Back in 1981, Grossset purchased and converted the old milk depot in Auburn - turning it into a makeshift winery at a time when many Australian rieslings were still sickly sweet affairs.

"The aim was simply to make the best wines possible," he recalls.

Grosset's Renault 12 doubled as a delivery vehicle, capable of carrying 16 cases of wine. With no vineyards of his own he purchased the best fruit he could afford before planting Polish Hill in 1986 and Springvale in 2000. Planting continues to this day.

"It takes time, devotion and attention to detail to produce beautiful wine, especially when you’re a small family-run operation." says Grosset, who has been a leader in many fields including the introduction of screw cap closures and certified organic and biodynamic vineyards.

Annual production is capped at 11,000 cases and just 25% is exported despite significant international demand.

The new riesling releases are the 2020 Polish Hill ($65), 2020 Springvale ($47) and 2020 Alea ($42). 

My samples arrived today. I'll add tasting notes as soon as possible.