On Cloud Nine with DFS & Cathay Pacific and BAC to the Future in Brisbane

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It’s a late night session for the website that never sleeps in a little cubicle at Plaza Premium Lounge’s Brisbane Airport lounge.

I’ve opened my Interim Bureau to while away a couple of hours before my 00:55 flight onboard Cathay Pacific back to Hong Kong. I’ve got four days at home and then onto Bangalore for what promises to be an enthralling occasion. Watch this space.

I’ve been in Brisbane to attend the dual Brisbane Airport Corporation and Lotte Duty Free celebrations of the renewal of their contractual partnership for ten years and what an enjoyable and educational time it has been. To a man and woman the Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) team have been incredibly welcoming and genuinely delighted that I wanted to tell their story.

Maybe I should call that narrative BAC to the Future (heck, the 1985 film of the same name starred Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and if that’s not an ideal nom de plume for me, nothing is). For incredibly exciting things are happening across the vast Brisbane Airport estate. For example, Lotte Duty Free’s departures store will be reimagined as a 3,900sq m walk-through shopping emporium, part of an entire refresh of the food & beverage, specialty, foreign exchange and travel essentials footprint.

Brisbane Airport Corporation and Lotte Duty Free senior management performing the traditional opening rites at last week’s ceremony. Pictured left to right are Head of Commercial Property Development Toby Innes; Lotte Duty Free Vice-President Head of Global Business Operations Division Lee Seungjun; Brisbane Airport Corporation CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff; Lotte Duty Free CEO Kim Ju Nam; Brisbane Airport Corporation Executive General Manager Commercial Martin Ryan; Lotte Travel Retail Oceania CEO Steve Timms; and Lotte Travel Retail Oceania COO Suzanne Van Den Broek {Photos: PixelPunk}
A proud Kim Ju Nam accepts a Delvene Cockatoo-Collins artwork from Brisbane Airport Corporation Executive General Manager Commercial Martin Ryan as Steve Timms looks on. The piece, called ‘Land, Sea & Sky’, by North Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah) local and indigenous artist and designer Delvene Cockatoo-Collins speaks to Brisbane Airport’s history and the link to the traditional owners of the land.
I chat with Brisbane Airport Corporation CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff for The Moodie Davitt Podcast about the exciting transformation ahead at Brisbane Airport

{Click on the podcast icon to hear Gert-Jan de Graaff  tell me about the exciting developments at Brisbane Airport}

Look out for my fascinating interview with Kim Ju Nam and Steve Timms coming soon
Meet Brisbane Airport Media Manager Peter Doherty. Not only is he a hugely respected media professional (he spent nearly three decades as a Senior Producer with Seven Network) but he’s also a great bloke. He asked me on Thursday what time I was flying back to Hong Kong. The answer was very late. That didn’t deter him from leaving his family and coming out to the airport and presenting me with a few Brisbane Airport keepsakes. One of them you will see me wearing proudly, I promise, on many an airport visit. It’s a tie based on ‘Land, Sea & Sky’ by Delvene Cockatoo-Collins, the artwork I referred to earlier.

But that’s just the start. Brisbane Airport’s hugely ambitious A$5 billion (US$3.3 billion) ‘Future BNE’ programme includes over 150 projects and ranks as the biggest development in the Queensland hub’s history.

Future BNE will upgrade both the domestic and international terminals and continue the development of a new Terminal 3 precinct as both Brisbane and Queensland look forward to hosting the 2032 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. I will bring you much more on this in the days, months and years ahead.

While awaiting my boarding call, I’m sipping on a pleasantly chilled glass of Australian sparkling wine – Hardy’s The Riddle – after spending an hour or so walking the Lotte Duty Free store, and some specialist retail and food & beverage outlets.

As of this moment I have 61,012 photos on my iPhone and I reckon 90% of them must have been taken within airports. I took plenty tonight, mainly of the impressively diverse wines & spirits line-up (see Lotte Duty Free turns Queensland into Ginland at Brisbane Airport).

I was super-impressed with the strength of the local offering, especially in gin, whisky and (as you would expect from such a great wine-producing nation) wine.

Great Australian whiskies impressively showcased at Lotte Duty Free, including Lark Distillery and Lawrenny Estate from Tasmania and Melbourne’s pride, Starward 

As regular readers will know, I always try to support the retailers I visit, so I snapped up a bottle of the multiple award winning Taylors Masterstroke 2020 Shiraz and a Sirromet Signature Collection 2019 Chardonnay. The rationale for the latter being I had asked a helpful shop assistant if the store stocked any Queensland wines.

Quick as a wink he pointed me to Sirromet (both red and white) from Granite Belt Wine Country, Australia’s highest wine region, around three-hours out of Brisbane. [UPDATE: Since posting this Blog, my wife and I tried the Sirromet. It is a beauty, a real food wine with a gorgeously creamy fusion of oak, peach and melon notes and flavours. Recommended.]

More on my Brisbane experience to come, both in this Blog and on our main website. But staying with the subject of fine wine, I found myself like the kid with the sweetest tooth in the world in the best candy shop on the planet just before the trip down to Brisbane.

The occasion was DFS Group’s 12th annual Masters of Wines and Spirits in Macau, as the name suggests a showcasing of some extraordinary liquid gems (click here for my full report).

DFS is simply different class when it comes to selection, presentation and hosting of such an event. There are 87 examples of the term ‘curation’ on our main website, the first of them as recently as 2013. Guess who introduced it to travel retail? Yup. DFS Group.

Others have since adopted the parlance – the term ‘curated’ is now thrown around like confetti to describe almost every activation in the industry – but no-one has matched the ability to deliver.

This year’s Masters of Wines and Spirits DFS Group was themed ‘Ignite Your Senses’ and it certainly ignited mine after the long (and dry) journey the day before on China Eastern Airlines from Riyadh to Shanghai and onto Hong Kong.

That trip unfortunately meant I missed all the DFS Masterclasses before the gala evening but I was lucky enough to get my own walkthrough of the entire collection courtesy of DFS Group Senior Director Global Merchandising Spirits, Wine, Tobacco, Food, Partnerships Daniel Licari and Manager, Merchandise & Planning – Spirits, Wine & Tobacco Fraser Wotzke.

Put two Aussies and a Kiwi in front of an assortment such as this and the wines and spirits in question are in serious danger. But on a serious level it was abundantly clear how much passion and pride both men and their colleagues had poured into making this year’s collection the best yet.

DFS Group Senior Director Global Merchandising Spirits, Wine, Tobacco, Food, Partnerships Daniel Licari tells guests about what makes Masters of Wines and Spirits 2024 so special
Two Aussies and a Kiwi walk into a (very well-stocked) bar… I am pictured with Daniel Licari (centre) and Fraser Wotzke while we sip on a dram of the outstanding Starward Lagavulin

“I’ve tried to go back a few decades. Customers can find the more recent vintages in places like Hong Kong and Macau. But we’re trying to bring them something unique, curate something that has provenance, which is massively important,” Fraser told me of the wine collection.

How about a 1939 Château Cheval Blanc for unique? Heck, a wine as old as me*.

“It was certified and recorked in 2018 under Mähler-Besse [one of Bordeaux’s oldest and most storied negociants], topped up with 1939 liquids, so they forfeited several bottles to make others better,” explained Fraser. “Topped up, relabelled and then released. That’s what I’m talking about in terms of provenance.”

Raising a glass to Masters of Wines and Spirits 2024 with DFS Chairman & CEO Benjamin Vuchot (centre) and DFS Group President of Hong Kong and Macau Johan Pretorius

DFS also introduced a dazzling array of fine and rare collectible whiskies to this year’s edition, including Glenmorangie Pommard Cask Finish 25 Year Old; The Macallan – The Golden Age of Travel: The Motor Car;  Tomatin Highland Scotch Single Malt Aged 50 Year; and Royal Salute The Age Collection II. You can visit the entire, magnificent collection here.

Selfie time with Benjamin Vuchot; Moët Hennessy Retail Marketing Manager APAC Diana Ropner and my far better half Yulim Lee

A sensational Single Cask selection includes an outstanding assortment from Scotland, Japan, Australia and American distilleries, representing what DFS with much justification dubbed “the pinnacle of whisky collectability”.

Given his nationality, it was perhaps unsurprising that Daniel highlighted the Starward Lagavulin, described by the acclaimed Aussie whisky distiller as its most exciting release yet. Lagavulin is, of course, a Diageo-owned Islay whisky renowned for its deep, smoke and peat flavours. This fascinating collaboration has resulted in Starward Single  Malt whisky being finished for 18 months in Lagavulin Scotch whisky barrels.

Starward Lagavulin pictured right with two fellow gems from Highland Park and The Glenturret

The result? I’ll let Daniel tell the story better than I can. “This expression is delicious. You get that sweetness of Australian whisky and that bit of punchiness from Lagavulin in terms of peat and it’s really elegant.”

“An event like this takes a lot of time and manual work,” he explained. “We are talking to brands and asking them what are the one or two SKUs that are not available anywhere else or they can only make available to DFS and that’s what sets us apart.

“And then there’s the authenticity. Our customers know that they are buying legitimate products and they are priced accessibly.”

The Macallan – The Golden Age of Travel: The Motor Car. During the 1930s the automobile business flourished and cars became a form of art, a way for owners to value elegance and innovation, the brand explains. Distilled in 1937 this single malt Scotch whisky – one of only 50 in the world – creates its own art through complex and invigorating notes of polished antique wood on the nose, similar to the finishes of a luxurious 1930s motor car. And at MOP520,000 (US$64,650) you can drive it away.
Time to sample some superb Speyside single malts from The Macallan alongside Edrington Regional Commercial Manager, Asia South, Global Travel Retail Bernard Goh and Edrington Customer Marketing Manager, Global Travel Retail

Back to my sweet shop. Château Lafite Rothschild Excellence Collection; Château Margaux Decades Collection; Château Lynch Bages Trio of Excellence; Château Mouton Rothschild Excellence Collection; Château Haut-Bailly Two Decades Set; Château Latour Exploration Collection; Château d’Yquem Trio Set Château Angélus Vertical Trio; Alert Bichot Grand Crus of Burgundy. The list goes on. And that is just some of the French collection.

The curation also includes a stellar array of Italian, American, Australian (including a Penfolds Bin 7 1967 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Kalimna Shiraz and a Wakefield Taylors Family Wines Legacy 2015) and New Zealand wines. And Chinese. Moët Hennessy’s Ao Yun Grand Cru is described as an exceptional ultra-premium Chinese red wine produced in north Yunnan province on the banks of the Mekong River.

Exceptional? You bet. The 2019 vintage (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 10% Syrah and 6% Petit Verdot) is lovely, its voluptuous dark hues promising and delivering a power-packed yet silky wine bursting with blackcurrant fruit.

The DFS limited collection (pictured below) combines Ao Yun Grand Cru with rare bottlings of its single village expressions: Adong & Xidang.

I had tried the 2019 Ao Yun wine previously, courtesy of LVMH North Asia Group President Michael Schriver and the Moët Hennessy Private Clients team, and I was wowed by it on both occasions. Ao Yun(敖云)– destined, I think, to become one of the world’s great wines – means ‘above the clouds’, which given the amount of time I spend in exactly the same place, makes it one I hope to drink a lot more of in the future.

On that very note, here’s a big shout out to Cathay Pacific Wine, Spirits & Beverages Manager Ronald Khoo. For on my flights to and from Brisbane this week, the Hong Kong carrier featured three Chinese wines in its ‘Discovery Wines’ offering – one each from the Ningxia-based wineries Grace Vineyard, Silver Heights and Xige Estate.

(Left to right) Chinese wines from Silver Heights, Xige Estate and Grace Vineyard, all served in Business Class, while the 2020 Domaine de Long Dai is served in First Class {Photo: Cathay Pacific Airways}

“China now has the world’s third-largest vineyard area in the world, behind Spain and France,” Ronald explains in an excellent commentary on the Cathay Pacific website. “Major players such as LVMH and DBR Lafite have invested in vineyards in regions like Yunnan and Shandong. It shows that the terroir quality here is good and that China can make high-quality wines when equipped with expertise and technical know-how.”

Ronald knows his wines and he and Cathay are right on the money. I tried the Silver Heights Jiayuan Marselan 2021 from a fully biodynamic vineyard. This seriously refined wine, all violets and blueberries, is fresh, flavourful and just right for putting you not just above the clouds but on one in particular. Cloud nine. ✈

*Any reader who believed that is no longer on my Christmas card list. I forgot to add the qualifier ‘almost’.