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Sunday 31 January 2021

A new Hobart hotel offers just the right vibe

Opening a new-build city centre hotel poses considerable challenges. 

Launching a new hotel brand in a city at the time of a global pandemic makes that challenge even tougher. 

That's why the team at the new Vibe Hotel Hobart have performed miracles in the few weeks they have been open. 

A new team; the first Vibe in Tasmania, and restrictions of everything from soft furnishings to the numbers allowed in the restaurant, or the lifts. 

That The Vibe has, sorry for the pun, a very good vibe, is a credit to them - and Hobart folk and interstate visitors now have another excellent hotel option at a lead-in price of under $200 a night. 

What we have here is a modern hotel (think plenty of plugs and USB ports, fast free wifi and Chromecast) within walking distance to the waterfront and dozens of Hobart bars and eateries, as well as being just across the road from the Royal Hobart Hospital. 

The first hotel from Raadas Property - and managed by TFE Hotels - the lead-in rate here is $183 with an opening special of 20% off a fully flexible rate, room only. There are 142 rooms, including 16 suites, all with air-con, flat-screen TVs, mini bars (post-Covid) and in-room safes. 

The feeling is hip, but welcoming, not always an easy combination to find.

There are multiple USB charging points at both bedside and the desk and the beds are super comfortable. You get the sense that a lot of planning has gone into the property. My upper storey room had expansive views of the Hobart waterfront a couple of blocks away. 

For those looking to chill out, there is a gym, a lovely heated pool long enough to allow laps and a bar and eatery with a fascinating history.  

Back in the 1930s, the Belvedere Ballroom was Hobart's best address for fun and dancing.

The Art Deco space, which stood where the hotel now sits, is memorialised in chain art – featuring an eye-catching Kriskadecor panel - and several historic images.

All day dining (although dinner is only offered on Friday and Saturday nights right now) features a very well-priced menu including dishes like pork cutlet with seeded mustard, apple and lemon slaw and fennel aoili ($26) and Cape Grim flat iron steak with potato gratin, salad and truffle butter ($35).

There are several vegan/vegetarian options, including a roast pumpkin salad ($17), but the wine list is limited and needs some serious attention. 

Other teething issues include Covid-enforced lack of soft furnishings, garbage bins and mini bar contents in rooms, while the downstairs bar had no chips or snacks, an oversight I am assured has now been addressed. 

I liked my stay a lot - and was particularly impressed with my old school breakfast of scrambled eggs on sourdough toast with crispy bacon.   

The Vibe Hotel Hobart is at 36 Argyle Street, Hobart.

# The writer was a guest of Vibe Hotel Hobart  



Are you looking for the right address in Los Angeles?

You can't find a much more hip address than the corner of Hollywood and Vine. 

In the shadow of the Capitol Records Building, just a short stroll from legendary Musso and Frank's restaurant and the TCL Chinese Theater, this is quintessential Los Angeles. Perfect if you happen to have a meeting with a movie star. 

Thompson Hollywood, a luxury boutique hotel situated on Wilcox Avenue, near Hollywood and Vine, is getting ready to open its doors in the heart of what is known as the Vinyl District. 

The 190-room hotel will be managed by Hyatt and will join Hyatt’s guest loyalty program, World of Hyatt.

In a city where the right address can mean the difference between an easy schedule and spending hours a day on clogged freeways, this looks a good choice. There is a nearby red line Metro station that links to downtown, although catching a train is decidedly non-LA. Ideally, you need a car and driver.    

There will be 24 suites - in case someone else is paying your tab - and you are right in the centre of the city's musical landmarks and a serious bar and dining scene. Just be alert late at night as the regeneration of the precinct is still underway. 

The hotel will feature two immersive restaurants (whatever that means) and a range of meeting and event spaces, along with views from the rooftop pool deck and lounge.

Founded in 2001, Thompson Hotels is an award-winning boutique lifestyle hospitality brand, as yet unknown in Australia. 

The Thompson portfolio of lifestyle hotels includes The Beekman and Gild Hall in New York City; Thompson Washington D.C.; Thompson Nashville; Thompson Seattle; Thompson Chicago; The Cape in Los Cabos, Mexico and Thompson Playa del Carmen in Riviera Maya, Mexico; Thompson Zihuatanejo on Mexico’s Pacific Coast; and the new Thompson Dallas. ­

The Thompson Hollywood, 1523 Wilcox Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028. 

Saturday 30 January 2021

Veteran winemaker changes direction with new range

Throughout almost half a century in the wine business, Geoff Merrill has made wines that are designed for the long haul. 

A typical Merrill red is released with several years of bottle age and destined to have a long cellar life if required. 

Current releases date back to 2003 and include several wines that are a decade or more old. 

Trained at Seppelt, Merrill worked in Europe and South Africa and at Chateau Reynella before creating his own brand, which released its first wines in 1983. 

Today, Geoff Merrill Wines has vineyards in two of Australia’s classic viticultural regions: Pimpala Vineyard and Wickham Downs in McLaren Vale, and Graymoor in Coonawarra. 

Mount Hurtle Winery stretches back more than 100 years to 1897.

Now Merrill has released a new range "the Gaggle by Merrill" aimed at the next generation of wine drinkers looking for younger, fresher styles and immediate gratification. Buy now. Drink now. 

All five wines retail for $25 and three, the 2020 Dancing Queen Riesling (Clare Valley), the 2020 Charley Dry Rosé (Riverland) and the 2019 Georgie May Chardonnay (McLaren Vale/Coonawarra) are unoaked. 

The two reds are the 2018 Grumpy Gramps Grenache and the 2017 St Nic Shiraz Cabernet. both from McLaren Vale. 

I opened the riesling and the chardonnay last night. The chardonnay bottle is empty, the riesling close. Both, needless to say, were extremely refreshing. 

"This is the most significant product launch for us for many years," says Geoff Merrill sales and marketing manager Chris Lawson. I reckon Merrill's on a winner as he attempts to unearth a whole new audience. 

And the names? "Every wine has been carefully crafted to reflect the unique characteristics of the family members symbolised," Merrill says. 

And the Gaggle? Named for the geese that hang around the vineyard and cellars at Mount Hurtle. 


Friday 29 January 2021

New Zealand travel icon sold to overseas investors

One of New Zealand's oldest and grandest luxury lodges has been sold to Australian business Baillie Lodges, which is is turn owned by an American investment company KSL Capital Partners

Huka Lodge at Taupo was founded by a high-end fishing camp in 1924 and then turned into a world-class property in 1984 by Huka Retreats founder Alex van Heeren.

It was one of the first luxury lodges globally and has hosted Queen Elizabeth II, Bill Gates and the author and his wife on their honeyoon.

The sale - for a reported $AU47 milllion - followed a long-running business dispute. New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office has reviewed and cleared the path for the acquisition to go ahead.

Baillie Lodges continues to spread its wings. It acquired Clayquot Wilderness Lodge on Vancouver Island last year. 

Both Huka Lodge and Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge are members of the Relais &Chateâux collection.

KSL principal Kirk Adamson said Huka Lodge was an important next step in the evolution of Baillie Lodges.

“We are excited to continue building our portfolio of exceptional boutique luxury lodges both within Australia and New Zealand, and also being selective and thoughtful in pursuing additional opportunities on a more global basis,” Adamson said.

“For our guests, the continued expansion of Baillie Lodges opens up new, exciting itinerary options across Australia, New Zealand, and beyond.”

Guests and staff of Huka Lodge can expect the transfer of ownership “to preserve the unique boutique luxury experience at Huka Lodge”.

All staff will be retained.

The Baillie Lodges portfolio includes Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island and Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree as well as Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, was destroyed by bushfires in 2020.

Covid-19 fails to quench Australia's thirst for Champagne

While many Australians were locked indoors with restaurants closed and events cancelled, they still drank more Champagne than before in 2020.

Overall, there was an 18% drop in Champagne sales volumes globally in 2020, but Australia defied the trend with imports up by 14% overall.

Shipments of Champagne in 2020 totalled 245 million bottles with the global health crisis the major reason for the slump.

"The closure of main centres for consumption and sales, along with the cancellation of many events, put the business under pressure and called for rapid adaptability, in a climate of considerable uncertainty, to ward off the consequences of the health and economic crisis," the Comité Champagne announced this week.

Already in retreat before the crisis, the French market continued to fall (-20%).

Champagne’s three leading export markets also recorded serious drops in 2020: 20% in the United States; 20% in the UK and 28% in Japan.

Australia's gain of 14% seems extraordinary against such figures.

“Faced with an unprecedented crisis, the organisation of our sector has proved its resilience," the Comité said in a statement. "Together, the Champagne winegrowers and houses took last year wise decisions about yields."

The Champenoise maintain a positive outlook.

“Despite the crisis, Champagne remains dear to the hearts of consumers who feel the need to keep something exceptional in their everyday lives, to choose quality products when so many other pleasures are unavailable due to the health crisis,” added Jean-Marie Barillère, co-president of the Comité Champagne and president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne.

“It is the strength and power of our appellation to be the champion of prestige and above all quality among our consumers.”

Thursday 28 January 2021

All change in Bordeaux vineyards

Reacting to climate change, Bordeaux wine producers are now able to use six newly approved grape varieties in their releases.

The Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO) this week officially approved the use of four new red and two new white wine grape varieties in the region.

The announcement by INAO, a division of France’s Ministry of Agriculture, represents the culmination of over a decade of research by wine scientists and growers of Bordeaux to address the impact of climate change.

The four reds are arinarnoa, castets, marselan and Touriga Nacional and two the whites are alvarinho and liliorila. 

In addition to the six new varieties, AOC specifications also allow six benchmark red varieties – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, carménère (rarely used) and petit verdot – and up to eight white varieties: semillon, sauvignon blanc, sauvignon gris, muscadelle, colombard, ugni blanc (also known as trebbiano), merlot blanc and mauzac (known in Australia as ondenc).

Over 52 varieties were subjected to intense scrutiny over the past decade, with only six making the final cut. Petit manseng, heavily tipped to be included, missed out. 

Under the revised national guidelines, the six additional Bordeaux grape varietals were named “new varieties of interest for adapting to climate change”.

They are limited to 5% of the planted vineyard area; cannot account for more than 10% of the final blend of any given colour; and as such, per legal regulations for labelling, will not appear on Bordeaux labels.

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Forget Tokyo. Florida wants the Olympics. Now.

We may be less than a month into the New Year, but already he have a brilliant candidate for the award of Tin-Eared, Deluded Opportunist of 2021.

And, no surprise here, the nominee is an American politician - from the Republican Party.

Meet Jimmy Patronis, who enjoys the title of Chief Financial Officer in the US state of Florida.

Patronis is lobbying the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach into moving the upcoming Olympics to his state should they be canceled in Tokyo.

He pointed out how successfully Florida had recently hosted a UFC fight card. 

The Games were postponed from Tokyo in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak but are due to go ahead in Tokyo in six months' time. 
“There is still time to deploy a site selection team to Florida to meet with statewide and local officials on holding the Olympics in the Sunshine State,” Patronis told the IOC. “I would welcome the opportunity to pitch Florida and help you make the right contacts to get this done.”

Patronis said that Florida’s “ample hotel capacity and well-maintained transportation network” could allow it to successfully hold the Games, and that there are “12 major universities that have existing sporting facilities.”

It usually takes a city up to eight years to prepare to host an Olympic Games and there is also the unfortunate matter of Covid-19 to consider. Something Patronis appears to have forgotten. 

The United States leads the rest of the world in both confirmed cases and deaths from the virus and Florida has had the third-most cases among any state in the country. There have been 25,000 deaths so far in the state as the US death toll soars above 420,000.

Florida, with a huge retired population,so much so that locals joke that gangs include "the Bloodclots and the Cripples". It has repeatedly been a hot spot for the virus, and locals have resented being asked to wear masks to prevent the virus spreading. 

Florida is also where the "Paramedic of the Year" was this week accused of stealing Covid vaccines.  

Victor Matheson, a leading sports economist, said holding the Games in Florida would be “mind-bogglingly stupid” and "batshit crazy". 

“The idea that just because Florida has a lot of hotels that they could organize an entire Olympics event within six months is absolutely crazy,” Matheson told the Huffington Post.

“Let’s be honest here: If Tokyo is not safe enough due to Covid-19 to host the event, there’s no way in a million years Florida is safe enough to host the event,” he said. 

“It simply means that Tokyo actually cares about whether they want a mass superspreader event in their city while Florida doesn’t.”

Patronis said in his letter that Florida has successfully allowed sports to take place during the pandemic.

Patronis is a former restaurateur and politician. He was previously a member of the Florida House of Representatives representing the 6th district, which includes Panama City (the one in the US, not the one in Panama) and other parts of southern Bay County, from 2006 to 2014

This mouth-breathing, inward thinker - who probably chants "USA, USA" in his sleep - seems not be aware that the US has already hosted the Summer Olympic Games four times, the most of any country. Los Angeles is again expected to host in 2028. 

Andrew Zimbalist, another leading sports economist, did not hold back. 

“This is an idiotic, delusional, uninformed, ignorant Florida politician trying to put his name out there,” Zimbalist said. “And whether or not he himself believes this can be done, I don’t know. It’s got no chance. It’s just stupid.”

The Tokyo Olympic Games are scheduled to begin July 23 but maybe Patronis can convince the IOC to make them an annual event held at Disney World with free ice creams all round. 

Tuesday 26 January 2021

From funny business to serious business: comedian's wines are no joke

It seemed like good fun when New Zealand wine company Invivo teamed with comedian and TV talk show host Graham Norton to produce a sauvignon blanc.

Seven years on and the partnership is closing in on a million cases of wine sold - and has a range that now features five different wines.

A new pink bubbly is the fifth addition to the Graham Norton’s Own range of wines and is made with the glera (or prosecco) grapes, grown and produced in the same way as prosecco, and blended with 15% pinot noir.

Invivo co-founder Tim Lightbourne said Graham Norton’s Own Prosecco had seen “phenomenal” growth in popularity over the last two years, New Zealand news website reported.

“Our new wine taps into the growing popularity of prosecco and also the emerging trend of Kiwis looking for pink drinks and dry styles of rosé wine.”

A shareholder and board member of the Invivo brand, Irish-born Norton has apparently been involved in blending his own sauvignon blanc, rosé, shiraz and prosecco, and he had input on the new bubbly.

As well as BBC TV star Norton, Invivo has also developed wine with actress Sarah Jessica Parker.   

Monday 25 January 2021

New airline plans to service 100 cities across Asia

A new Hong Kong-based airline has unveiled plans to fly to over 100 cities across Asia. 

Greater Bay Airlines has said nearly half the routes would be from Hong Kong International Airport (below) to mainland China.

Other major destinations would include Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia.

The new upstart is run by former Cathay Group executive Algernon Yau Ying-wah in partnership with Bill Wong Cho-bau, who owns Shenzhen-based Donghai Airlines, Travel Mole reported.

Hong Kong Air Transport Licensing Authority rules state rival airlines such as Cathay and Hong Kong Airlines must submit any objections within 14 days.

Greater Bay has leased three Boeing 737 aircraft and expects to launch with a workforce of about 300. It is targeting up to 30 aircraft by 2025  and is recruiting former workers of now defunct Cathay Dragon, which Cathay Pacific closed down last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic downturn.

The 104 routes the start-up has applied for include Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Brunei, Laos, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Mongolia, the Northern Marianas Islands, and Guam.

Those routes were left vacant following the demise of Cathay Dragon. 

Pink Freud: Discover some French rosés worth analysing

The Camargue region in the south of France is both wild and beautiful.

It sits between between the Mediterranean Sea and the two arms of the Rhone Delta and is home to wildlife ranging from 400 species of birds (including flocks of flamingos) to semi-wild white horses known as Camarguais. 

The local wines, predominantly still rosés, come under the Sable de Camargue geographic indicator. 

The region is best known for its vins gris style of rosé (grey wines), made predominantly from grenache, cinsuat and carignan. These and more traditional rosé styles account for over 90% percent of production.

The vines are planted on sand dunes, either right next to the sea or further inland, divided by a number lagoons and salt marshes. 

Domaine Royal de Jarras, whose wines are readily available in Australia, has vineyards in the heart of the Camargue region near the small Languedoc town of Aigues-Mortes, which means dead waters. 

The vineyard is located on an island between the sea, lagoons, and salt marshes. 

Domaine Royal de Jarras comprises a 924-hectare estate including 420 hectares of vines. Both flamingos and horses are a common site.

The estate is owned  by Champagne House Vranken-Pommery Monopole and the vineyards are all classified organic under European regulation.

The portfolio features the 2018 Domaine Royal de Jarras gris ($22) and 2018 Pink Flamingo rosé ($25); both produced by winemaker Auriane Eysseric. 

Both are dry, saline, lightly citrusy, savoury and extremely food friendly, made predominantly from grenache.  Thinks salads, freshly shucked oysters, seafood stews or simply as a chilled drink on the back porch in summer. 

Vranken Pommery also produces quality pale and dry rosés from the nearby Château La Gordonne in the Var region of Provence - equally stunning but with contrasting landscapes.

The Château La Gordonne vineyards were cultivated in 1300 by Carthusian monks so there is a little bit of history in every tangy mouthful. 

Both brands are well worth checking out to add some joie de vivre to your dinner. 

Sunday 24 January 2021

Four-year ban on American products ends as bitter orange tart departs

A Belgian bar that banned all American products in protest against against President Donald Trump is now back selling Coca-Cola and American whiskey after the inauguration of new President Joe Biden.

In early 2017, Caf
é ZeeZicht declared that it would stop selling all US products in protest at the election of the Tangerine Tyrant. 

“Now that Joe Biden is president, we are going to sell Coca-Cola and American cigarettes and whiskey again,” David Joris, manager of the ZeeZicht, told Radio 2, as reported by the Brussels Times.

“We had promised that and we are now going to reintroduce American products into our range.”

This isn’t the first time the bar has instituted a boycott. It also refuses to sell beers by brewing giant AB-InBev after job layoffs at Belgian breweries.

“We don’t have anything against Americans, or America or American products,” Joris told the Washington Post when the ban was first announced. “On the contrary. I like to drink Coca-Cola in the summers. I like Bob Dylan. I like working on Apple computers. It’s just our statement. It’s our way of reacting.”

The bar found difficulty replacing Tabasco sauce and Coke - but maintained its boycott until the bitter orange tart left office.

Friday 22 January 2021

Look at us! South Australia launches a major wine tourism campaign

South Australia’s 18 wine regions will be celebrated with a year-long campaign designed to encourage visitors to raise a glass, buy local and embrace wine festivals across the state.

The 2021 Year of South Australian Wine campaign – launched by Chester Osborne of d'Arenberg, Justine Henschke of Henschke and Kate Laurie of Deviation Road – aims to drive both sales and visitation to local wineries who have been hit hard by the double blow of bushfires and Covid-19. 

It brings a series of regional cellar door shows, wine-making classes, hands-on experiences, music and food festivals, and gourmet events under one bubble. 

Co-ordinated by the South Australian Tourism Commission and the Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA), the campaign will include a year of must-see wine events, additional marketing support for wine regions and provide wineries with a toolkit to help grow their businesses. 

Premier Steven Marshall said today that with more than 200 cellar doors located within an hour’s drive of Adelaide, and with limited interstate travel currently on the agenda, now is a perfect time to discover South Australia’s world-class wine regions.  

“South Australia is indisputably Australia’s wine state, producing 50% of all bottled wine and almost 80% of premium wine," he said. "Wine is massive part of our state’s character, is a significant economic and cultural asset, and a major employer. 

“Nearly one quarter of all day-trip visitors undertake an activity that involves visiting a winery, which is great for our regional communities, our primary producers and wineries.  

“Events are recognised to grow visitation and spend, and further contribute to the wine experiences on offer. Our aim is to grow these events, encourage our wine regions to be creative and innovative at their cellar doors and ultimately drive wine tourism, and boost economic spend in SA’s wine regions.” 

Across the state, there are more than 350 cellar doors, with each of the 11 tourism regions home to at least one winery. Tasting Australia, which launches in April, is  expected to add further impetus to the campaign. 

South Australian Wine Industry Association president Nick Waterman said the triple impact of bushfires, Covid-19 and changes to international tariffs mean “the wine regions of South Australia are hurting”.   

“With the prospect of little international travel before the end of 2021 the Year of South Australia Wine initiative is a welcome boost to our SA wine industry,” he said. 

“It will drive people into regions, connect them with wineries, the on-site experiences they offer as well as regional food and tourism businesses.” 

The 2021 Year of South Australian Wine kicks off this weekend with Crush Festival in the Adelaide Hills.

For more information on other 
South Australian events, and to see the full calendar of events, visit 

New Year, New Experiences in Margaret River

It is now over 50 years since wine production began in Margaret River - and despite a difficult 2020 there are plenty of new products for visitors to enjoy in the New Year.

Artisan winemaker Dylan Arvidson, born in New Zealand and raised in Geelong, has opened the doors to a brand new LS Merchants cellar door in Cowaramup over summer.

Arvidson has a range of over 20 small-batch, minimal-intervention wines featuring different varieties, styles and blends all handmade with wild fermentation where possible and a lot of experimentation.

Another newbie to check out is Skigh Wines, set in the Yallingup hills with a relaxed set up and sprawling gardens.

Down the road, Marri Wood Park's recently opened cellar door is a drawcard for those interested in biodynamic, regenerative farming practices. Book ahead for a complimentary cheese platter.

There are also plenty of new places to stay, with sustainable housing for travellers to the fore. 

A new eco-friendly spot to join the growing list is Barn Hives (above) in Yallingup, in a vineyard near Smiths Beach. 

The eco-pods ahere re architecturally designed with special attention to sunlight and cross ventilation. Water is collected from rainfall and heated by solar panels, making it self-sustainable.

Petit Eco Cabin is the latest rural hideout to open in the region. The modern timber cabin is set among the organic vineyards of Windows Estate in Yallingup.

All fixtures, fittings and decor items have been sourced and made in Australia - and there is an outdoor vintage tub in which to chill off.

Margaret River Heartland is also eco-aligned offering off-grid accommodation with pastoral views to the forest.

Visitors can choose from a weatherboard cottage or a glampavan – a completely refurbished caravan designed by artist Anita Revel. It boasts a modern kitchen, vintage record player, and rainwater sky shower.

A new experience is the four-day Yoga and Wellness Glamping Adventure with Nullarbor Traveller.

Enjoy yoga in pristine locations, sample local and organic produce, connect to country with an indigenous experience and tuck into a glamping tent by night.

Meanwhile, popular wine destination Aravina Estate has recently entered the craft beer space.

With their own on-site brewery, they have five brews which are crafted by chief brewer Dr Brad Hutton (who also happens to be one of their winemakers).

Dunsborough is bursting with new bars to discover. Har Bar in Dunsborough has a vintage nautical theme with a solid cocktail menu. Lady Lola is part deli, part bar, part bistro. Indulge in a negroni or a glass of bubbles and some share plates.

Thursday 21 January 2021

Gippsland glams up with a brand-new hotel

Gourmet visits to Gippsland became potentially a whole lot more glamorous with the opening of the new build 50-room Mantra Traralgon hotel in the heart of Latrobe Valley’s largest city.

The first hotel to open in Traralgon in more than 10 years, Mantra Traralgon is set to become a destination of choice for business travellers and leisure guests looking for convenient, contemporary accommodation in the fast-emerging Gippsland region.

The $18 million development, which comprises five levels is located directly opposite the city’s major retail centre and within an entertainment complex that houses a cinema, ten-pin bowling and bistro.

On-site amenities at Mantra Traralgon include a ground floor café and bar called Hush Lounge, meeting and conference facilities with modern audiovisual equipment that cater for up to 30 delegates, high-speed internet connection and car parking.

Accor Pacific CEO Simon McGrath, said: “We are proud to bring the Mantra brand to the Gippsland region. This hotel will play a key role in further elevating Traralgon’s profile and its attractiveness as a leisure and business destination.

"LA Hotel Group should be very proud of the long term investment they have made into the future of tourism in Traralgon and the greater Latrobe Valley, and we look forward to enjoying a successful partnership together.”

LA Hotel Group director and Mantra Traralgon general manager Andrew McDonald, said: “Mantra Traralgon sets a new benchmark in accommodation and meeting facilities in the Gippsland region.

"We are delighted to be partnering with Accor, who are the market leader of accommodation in Australia, under a franchise agreement. Accor’s Mantra brand is the ideal fit for our hotel and we’ve enjoyed working with their team to create a hotel that is both contemporary and welcoming.”

Since its inception in 2007, Mantra brand has become Australia’s largest hotel brand with more than 75 properties across the country.

Since acquiring Mantra in 2018, Accor has continued to grow the brand with five new Australian hotels opening, including the 146-room Mantra Albury Hotel, 214-room Mantra Epping Melbourne, 79-room Mantra Mackay, 41-room Mantra Melbourne Melton, and Mantra Traralgon, which is 165km south-east of Melbourne.

Mantra Traralgon has launched an opening special with prices from $186 per night in a standard king room. To book, visit

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Bremerton splashes out on new tasting facility

Award-winning and family-owned Bremerton Wines, in the Langhorne Creek wine region, have officially opened a new tasting room that sits alongside their historic 1866 barn.

The $1 million investment into Bremerton Wines, established by the Willson family over 35 years ago -was built and partially designed by another local family-owned Adelaide company Kennett Builders.

Bremerton Wines is run by the second-generation winemakers Rebecca Willson and Lucy Willson and was the first sister-run winery in Australia. 

“We believe our new cellar door tasting room gives visitors another reason to visit the Langhorne Creek wine region, which has eight cellar doors and is only a 45-minute drive from Adelaide or 35 minutes from the South Coast,” said Lucy Willson.

The restored barrn, which has been the cellar door and tasting area for over 26 years, will continue to be used for indoor dining, serving their popular lunch menu, including pizzas and shared platters. 

It will also continue to house the David Dridan OAM ‘Barrel Ends’ art collection, and the upstairs space will continue to showcase local artists with the exhibitions changing every six weeks.

“Along with the tasting room, we now have a beautiful outdoor area with more seating, which gives visitors a chance to enjoy a glass of wine or local produce platters on the verandah overlooking the lawn or sit on a picnic rug or bean bag,” Lucy said. 

Rebecca Willson explains visitors to the winery will now enter over stairs, down the recycled timber arbour, through big, double timber doors, to find a large, spacious and interactive tasting room. 

“We chose materials for the new tasting room and extension that were sustainably sourced, recycled, and repurposed to maintain the integrity, character, and charm of the historic barn building, while also modernising the space for the future,” she said. 

“We used bricks from the original barn to create the arbour walkway on entrance and limestone from the original walls in the garden beds and external feature walls.” 

Bremerton Wines plans to host ‘Lazy Weekend’ sessions in the new space, with live music, food trucks, and a range of beverages, so that visitors can make a day of it.

To celebrate the new space, Bremerton Wines will release new tasting experiences in February, including a tasting plate of fresh produce to match the wine and special gin tastings.

“We also have additional plans that we look forward to unveiling later in the year, which will include exciting developments to the winery and a distillery."


Meet the new wine bar with room for just five tasters

Adelaide's newest wine bar can only seat five people at a time. 

Unico Go, created by Unico Zelo founders Brendan and Laura Carter, will open its doors this tomorrow at the rear of BRKLYN cocktail bar in Adelaide’s CBD, in what was formerly a recording booth.

After witnessing the positive impact of its digital happy hour Wine for the People - which was created during the initial wave of pandemic lockdowns in 2020 - Unico sought a space to continue to grow that connection with its community. 

Unico Go (‘go’ meaning five in Japanese) will showcase a rotating selection of five Australian and international wines curated and served by Team Unico in collaboration with guest sommeliers.

Expanding not only the way a wine brand traditionally interacts with its audience, but also the concept of a wine bar itself, Unico Go will form the backdrop for season two of Wine for the People

On top of these live episodes, each service at Unico Go will be live streamed via social media platform Twitch, with people from all over the world able to tune in to ask questions of the sommeliers - or just see their friends’ faces for a digital drink.

“We've all been hit hard this past year - some of us are still separated from our families by national or international borders," says Unico creative director and co-founder Brendan Carter.

"Some incredibly talented hospo workers and somms are also out of work and we want to invite them to come in and curate the wine list for their shift, have a bit of fun and basically enjoy the easiest night of work they’ve ever done! 

"It’s an opportunity to have an intimate drink with some of the most talented wine minds in Adelaide and invite your mates to tune in if they want to.

"Basically, you never have to drink alone if you don't want to - no matter where you are in the world or what your version of lockdown looks like. The space is tiny, but really fun - you can book out the space for yourself and four mates if you like. We want it to feel like a hospo lock in, but open to anyone".

The wine menu will rotate weekly and will always include one or two Unico Zelo drops, alongside a selection of local and international wines. 

The launch menu has been curated entirely by Team Unico, including Unico Zelo Sea Foam Pet Nat and crowd-favourite Esoterico, alongside 2020 Sven Joshcke La Eleanor Sangiovese, 2016 Cantina Giardino Tutu Skin Contact Fiano and 2018 Domaine Buisson-Charles Bourgogne Blanc Hautes Coutures. 

A small snack menu will be available courtesy of neighbouring hot-chicken restaurant Cheekies. The wine list will be constantly updated, with guest sommeliers beginning to rotate through the venue later in the year.

Tuesday 19 January 2021

Make a date: A capital idea for beer lovers

Beer and cider lovers can mark March 20 into their diaries for a trip to the national capital. 

The Mercure Canberra will host the 14th Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival on that date with an expanded venue and special Covid-safe arrangements.

The festival will extend from the hotel grounds to  the adjoining lawns of Batman and Gooreen Streets in Braddon as a result of a grant from the ACT Government. 

The festival will now be split into two ticketed sessions from 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. All transactions will be cashless, with a simple tap-and-go system in place for purchases.

Some 40 local and interstate exhibitors will be presenting up to 250 craft beers and ciders for tasting. There will also be beer/cider food-matching sessions, guest speakers and "meet the brewers" sessions. 
A range of dining options (including local gourmet food vendors), live entertainment and family activities will be available throughout the day.

Canberra’s rapidly emerging brewing scene will be reflected in the presence of BentSpoke Brewing Co, Capital Brewing Co and others, while interstate exhibitors include many of Australia’s most renowned breweries such as Sydney Brewery, 4 Pines Brewing, Mountain Goat Beer, Lord Nelson Brewery and James Squire. 

Specialist cideries such as Franks Cider and Willie Smith’s Cider from Tasmania will exhibit their range of ciders.

Advance purchase tickets will be available through Moshtix (booking fees apply) and tastings (150ml) will be available for $4 each.  

The festival will help raise funds for Rise Above Capital Region Cancer Relief, a locally based group that provides support for over 950 cancer patients.

Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival organiser Jenny Farrell said that after the disappointment of having to cancel the event in 2020, the new-look festival will provide a tremendous showcase for Australia’s best brewers.

“To have such easy access to 40 craft brewers and three hours of entertainment for as little as $20 entry provides a perfect opportunity for both serious lovers of beer and cider and those who just want to enjoy a fun, family-friendly event in a really attractive venue,” she said.

“Canberra is the perfect place for a long weekend, so we will be expecting a large number of visitors who want to combine the Festival with visits to the many other nearby attractions.”

Festival information: Festival bookings:

Special accommodation and festival packages include overnight accommodation at the four-star Mercure Canberra, a four-pack of award-winning Sydney Brewery beers, entry to the festival and breakfast costs $149 per room per night for one or two people (conditions apply). Bookings: 02 6243 000; or via

Myth busting: what if everything you've been told about wine was wrong?

Many of us believe enjoying wine comes with strict rules about temperatures, food pairings, and etiquette. Maybe it is time to think again.

While there are of course tips and tricks to better maximise a wine'’s flavours, the "rules" don’t always need to be followed. The fact you can and should break them is only the start of many misconceptions we have about wine.

Here’s a list of common wine myths exploded for you by experts.

Wines are made from grape juice and are suitable for vegans

Surprisingly, many Australian wines are not vegan- or vegetarian-friendly.

“‘Fining’ is an important step in the winemaking process to remove unwanted compounds and the ‘rough edges’ of phenolics derived from grape skins and seeds,” says Yalumba chief winemaker Louisa Rose.

“Typical fining agents are protein (animal) based, such as milk, eggs and gelatin, which can also strip the precious flavours and textures our growers and winemakers spend great efforts at getting into the wine.

“As all of our Yalumba wines are made without the use of protein-based fining agents, we can confidently say we are 100% vegan – and vegetarian – friendly.”

Gold medal stickers mean a wine won at a wine show

The wine industry would like you to believe this, but it is actually a trophy that is awarded to a wine that wins its category at a wine show, not a gold medal.

While the wine industry sees little gold medal stickers as a sales tool, the reality is that most consumers do not understand how the Australian show system works.

You’d probably imagine that a wine that won a gold medal was first in its class, like at the Olympics, a silver medallist was second and a bronze medallist third. Wrong.

In wine shows, any wine gaining a score of 18.5 out of 20 (or 95 out of 100) from the judges gets a gold medal. That could be as many as 20% of all the entries. Any entry scoring between 17 to 18.4 and gets a silver, and so on.

Red wine should always be served at room temperature

This myth derived from the room temperatures in French chateaux, which were a lot cooler than Australia.

On a warm day in Australia, it makes sense to chill a red wine so that it is refreshing. Around 13°C is ideal.

“While it is true that red wine should be served at a warmer temperature than white wine, there isn’t really any truth to the notion of serving it at room temperature,” says Mitchell Taylor from Clare Valley winery Taylors.

“If red wine is too warm the alcohol dominates and can mask its subtle flavours. Chill a wine too far and the flavours are suppressed, the tannins become harsher and the acids too sharp.

“A red wine, lightly chilled to its ideal temperature, reveals its delicious flavours, just as the winemaker intended.”

Older wines are better than young wines

It all depends on your palate. Many wine drinkers actually prefer the fresh, fruity taste of young wines to the earthy, more mature older styles with their elegant complexity.

More than 90% of all wine is actually consumed within a year of its release, while aging wine requires stable temperatures to maintain the quality of wine, and the cork.

Determining which bottles to age and when to open them is among the most puzzling aspects of wine, says New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov.

“The best time to open a bottle is subjective,” he says. “The trick is getting to know your own preferences, which takes a bit of time and effort.”

The date on a bottle of wine is the release date

No, the year on a bottle of wine is the ‘vintage’ – the year in which the grapes were picked.

Many wines mature in oak, or in bottles, for several years before being released.

Rosé wines are a blend of red and white grapes

Usually not, although there are a handful of exceptions to this rule. Most rosé wines are made from red wine grapes, incorporating some of the colour from the grape skins, but not enough to qualify it as red wine.

Many of the new wave of rosé wines are made in a much drier style than a decade ago and are very food-friendly.

Foreign wines are better than Australian wines

It all depends on your personal taste. 

Wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy in France can be ludicrously expensive, while Australian wines have gained international acceptance over the past couple of years.

“For some years Australians have been at the cutting edge of the new World of Wine,” says leading English wine writer and educator Jancis Robinson.

Wines under screwcap are of lesser quality than those under cork

Corks are notoriously unreliable, with as many as one in 10 failing to deliver.

Stephen Henschke, whose family makes Hill of Grace, Australia’s most expensive single-vineyard wine, has not used cork for several years, citing its likelihood of delivering cork taint or allowing premature oxidation, which can leave a wine tasting of vinegar.

Henschke uses either screw caps or glass stoppers called Vino Lok across his entire range.

“Winemakers want their customers to enjoy their wines the way they design them to be; they don’t want the characters changed by faulty cork,” Hensckhe says.

“Under cork, you lose control and are at the mercy of a God-awful closure. It can turn wines into awful beasts.”

Drink red wine with meat, white with fish

“You don’t need to follow the rules if you don’t want to,” says Stuart Knox, a qualified sommelier and owner of Sydney wine bar Fix. “You can drink whatever you want – if you want a pinot noir with salmon, go ahead.

“Wine is meant to be enjoyed and while it would be odd to enjoy Riesling alongside a T-Bone steak, it is your money.”

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on the now defunct The Upsider website

Monday 18 January 2021

Bringing a new vegan vibe to Banrock Station

Banrock Station was among the first major wine labels to flaunt its eco-friendly credentials.

As more and more wine producers seek to virtue signal to consumers, Banrock Station is now in the process of converting all its wines to vegan friendly by the end of 2021. 

Over the past 25 years, Banrock Station has been committed to environmental causes, contributing over $6 million to sustainability projects. 

Banrock Station’s core range has started its evolution to vegan starting with its shiraz, cabernet merlot and crimson cabernet in both bottle and casks. 

As part of the brand’s introduction of vegan-friendly wines, Banrock Station is rolling out its new Every Drop Matters campaign. 

Banrock Station winemaker Paul Burnett explains: “We’re committed to conserving our planet at Banrock Station and we’re always observing ways to extend our environmental practices. 

"The move to vegan wines is a great achievement that we’re looking forward to sharing as we know that Every Drop Matters. Not only are Banrock Station wines environmentally friendly, every purchase is an easy way for wine lovers to contribute to the preservation of the planet.”

Since 1996, Banrock Station Trust has contributed to over 130 projects across 13 countries which includes protecting turtles in the Great Barrier Reef to supporting polar bear and orangutan rehabilitation. 

In addition, the Banrock Station Wetlands in the Riverland is funded from the profits of Banrock Station providing habitat to thousands of animals and birds as well as playing an important part of the water health of the Murray River. 

The Ramsar-accredited Banrock Station Wetlands site covers 1600 hectares featuring wetland, floodplain woodland and mallee ecosystems, acting as home to hundreds of species of plants and animals. 

By mimicking the natural wet and dry cycles, this helps ensure the health of the wetland and floodplain forests, which rely on the wet and dry seasons to thrive, as well as encouraging the return of native birds, fish and flora.

Located next to the wetlands, Banrock Station’s cellar door also incorporates the winery’s environmental philosophy. 

Banrock Station vegan-friendly wines (shiraz, cabernet merlot and crimson cabernet) are available in 750ml and 1-litre bottles from an RRP of $10.00, and in 2-litre casks at an RRP $16.00 through independent retailers. 

The rest of the core range will transition to vegan from vintage 2021 with the addition of new lighter-style varietals.


Sunday 17 January 2021

Animal magnetism. The pulling power of a luxury train to nowhere

Nowhere on the planet does luxury wildlife experiences better than South Africa.

Which is why the new Kruger Shalati experience - a luxury train parked on a bridge over the Sabie River - is No.1 on my bucket list once travel returns to normal.

Kruger Shalati, which opened last month, adds a new dimension to visiting the iconic Kruger National Park game reserve.

The newly refurbished train sits on the historic Selati Bridge above the Sabie River. It pays homage to the guests who explored the park nearly 100 years ago, when the first visits were allowed in the 1920s.

The train delivering those pioneers would park overnight in the exact spot where Kruger Shalati is positioned.

Offering 31 rooms, consisting of 24 carriage rooms and seven Bridge House rooms that will open towards the end of the year, Kruger Shalati has glass walls which allow views along the length of the majestic river while featuring local art and craft designs.

Aligned with the floor level of the train is a unique swimming pool. Take a dip while gazing at the crocodiles, hippos, buffaloes and elephants below.

Rates include accommodation, all meals, teas and coffees daily, soft drinks, house wines, local brand spirits and beers, two game drives daily in open safari vehicles and return road transfers between the Skukuza Airport (more a landing strip really) and the lodge. Prices start from around $AUD680 per person per night twin share.

All suites have king-sized beds, en-suite bathrooms with both bath and showers as well as separate enclosed toilet, mini bar and electronic safe.

Outside walkways run along the bridge - which was decommissioned in 1973 - connecting the hotel's different spaces.

Discounted rates are available to residents of select countries in Africa.
For details see