Drink a toast to these 12 gifts for lovers of bubbly

This selection of wines and special accessories — a custom-made Champagne sabre, for one — will please the connoisseur and host alike.

By Janice O'leary 01/12/2017

Whether the gift recipient prefers a beautiful bottle of bubbles, a unique wine that is sure to appreciate, or one that will be poured that night at dinner, this selection of wines and special accessories — a custom-made Champagne sabre, for one — will please the connoisseur and host alike.

## A perfect five

Price: US$50,000 ($A66,000)

What, you may wonder, should you do with a 3-litre bottle of Lokoya’s Mount Veeder or Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon?

Christopher Carpenter, the winemaker at Napa Valley’s Lokoya since 2000, suggests that you wait for a party with a really good group of 10 to 20 people and serve it then. And, he notes, because of the size of the bottle and the composition of the wine, you can wait a really long time for that party to take place.

This gift from Lokoya, a winery based in the Spring Mountain District that produces premium small-lot Cabernets from some of Napa Valley’s most celebrated mountain appellations, comprises two 3-litre bottles of five vintages (a total of 10 double magnums). Each vintage has received a 100-point rating from Robert Parker. Specifically, the wines are the 2005, 2012, and 2013 Mount Veeder and the 2003 and 2013 Howell Mountain. Of the 2013 Mount Veeder, Parker writes, “This 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon wine is utterly profound, and while the scoring system ends at 100, if I had to pick a single wine that may have been my favorite of all the tastings I did in Napa, this could have been my pick. Full-bodied, rich, with incredible integration of its component parts of acidity, tannin, alcohol, and wood, the wine is lavishly built, has compelling purity, richness, and density.”

Carpenter explains that wine in a 3-litre bottle will develop more slowly than wine in a 750 mL bottle. “The smaller the bottle, the faster the wine will age,” he says. “With a 3-litre bottle, you’ll probably get 30 percent more aging time.” And while the wine inside matures, the bottle can serve as a centerpiece for your cellar. “If you have a display cellar,” he says, “the 3-litre bottle can have a pretty impactful visual effect.”

Carpenter also notes that Napa’s mountain wines, including the Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain, will age longer than the wines sourced from the floor of Napa Valley because of a greater concentration of tannins, which give the wine its structure and also serve as a preservative. “The Mount Veeder is probably a 20- to 30-year wine,” he says, “and the 3-litre bottle extends that even more. This is a wine that you can pass down for generations.”

The gift also includes a dinner for as many as 10 guests hosted by Carpenter at Lokoya’s mountaintop estate. But don’t worry; there’s no need to bring one of the bottles from the gift. Lokoya will supply the wines — and they will be exclusive vintages from the winery’s cellar.

## Three steps beyond

Price: US$2,300 ($A3000)

Some might consider Peter Gago, the chief winemaker at Penfolds, an intractable contrarian. About 5 years ago, Australia’s premier wine label decided to honor its country’s native artisans by enlisting four leading talents to produce an ampoule to house a rare wine. Gago, however, refused to put the brand’s flagship, Grange, into the receptacle: “ ‘You don’t mess with Grange,’ I told my colleagues.” Thus, when he proposed a limited edition consisting of three different vintages of that very wine, his associates were stunned. “It seemed to them contradictory,” says the winemaker. “ ‘You’re putting Grange in it?’ they asked. ‘Where’s the old Peter? He’s sold his soul!’ ”

There is method, however, to Gago’s apparent madness. The inspiration for this project, which yielded a modest 1,200 numbered bottles, came not from a focus group but from the history of Penfolds itself. Dr. Christopher Penfold and his wife, Mary, established the company in 1844 to produce fortified wines from multiple vintages, so Gago found the prospect of combining several of the cellar’s spectacular reserves irresistibly compelling. Some of the 2012 vintage had been held back from bottling and kept in neutral oak barrels; his wine, along with a cache of the extraordinary 2008, was married to a portion of the yet-to-be-released 2014 to yield g3, Penfolds’s most unusual creation yet.

“We knew what we had with these wines,” notes Gago, “but in blending, you find out what you don’t know. You can’t replicate this at home by putting the same percentages of ’08, ’12, and ’14 together, because once they mature as a blend, they’re a different wine.”

Indeed, the united trinity transcends the individual merits of its components. Priced at about $2,300 ($A3000) per bottle, g3 shows the youth of the 2014 in its notes of ripe black fruit and burgeoning spice, while the seductive character of the 2012 is present in its voluptuous mouthfeel. The formidable structure and depth of the 2008, however, serves to temper these hedonistic elements, making the experience of sipping this one-of-a-kind red a sensory-rich ascent into oenological paradise.

## The beast of bubbly

Price: Starting at US$10,000 ($A13,200)

The tradition of sabering the tops of Champagne bottles is rumored to have begun on the battlefield with the Napoleonic hussar regiments, who sliced the bottles open while still sitting astride their steeds. This unique Champagne saber, with its handle sculpted in Napoléon’s likeness, “is a nod to the great little Frenchman from an Englishman,” says its creator, jeweler Stephen Webster. Webster, who prefers to limit his consumption of the effervescent elixir to “those special moments when no other beverages will suffice,” will make just five of these homages by commission only. Dubbed the French Beast, the saber will join a bronze handle to a blade forged from steel using the Damascus method — a process that makes every single blade individual, yielding a unique saber in the style of Webster’s Beast Knives collection released earlier this year.

The artist understands the balance required by such a tool after wielding one himself at the opening of the Chapel Down Bar, which he and his team designed for one of England’s new sparkling-wine vineyards. With such a custom saber in hand, the recipient of this gift will soon enjoy the drama and theatricality that go beyond the demure popping of a cork.

Available through Stephen Webster stores.

## Darling Demi

Price: US$62 ($A80)

If you want an elegant pairing with Stephen Webster’s Champagne sabre, Champagne Taittinger Brut La Française NV would be a smart choice. The wine comes in a 750ml bottle (US$62 ($A80)) as well as a just-right half-bottle format that neatly tucks into a stocking hung by the mantle (US$35 ($A45)). Like the maison’s other wines, this one has a fine, persistent bubble, and it is a beautiful pale-straw colour. For a non-vintage Champagne, it contains a high percentage of Chardonnay grapes (40 percent) combined with 35 percent Pinot Noir and 25 percent Pinot Meunier. The grapes are pressed in the field right after picking, capturing the freshest flavors, which come through in the delicate aromas of peach and white flowers. It undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle and spends a remarkable 4 years on the lees, imparting additional notes of vanilla and brioche on the nose and honey on the palate. It’s the ideal pour for toasting a celebration this holiday season.

## Un Belle Boîte

Price: US$1,200 ($A1580)

For the first time in history, and for just this 2015 vintage, the renowned maison has created a special new bottle that celebrates 34 years of fine work by its late winemaker, Paul Pontallier as well as the new, modern facilities inaugurated in 2015 and, of course, the exceptional wine within. Rather than the traditional label, this bottle of Château Margaux 2015 Grand Vin has a more modern, gold, silk-screened image of the iconic château surrounded by one of the distinctive architectural features of the new addition, designed by architect Lord Norman Foster. This wine was the last to be produced under the supervision of Pontallier before his untimely death in 2016, and 2015 is predicted to be a legendary year of winemaking akin to those of 2005, 2009, and 2010.

## Give them Carte Blanche

Price: US$65 ($A80)

The 2014 vintage for Carte Blanche Wine is the brand’s best yet across all releases. It was the first completely managed — from vineyard to bottle — by winemaker Helen Keplinger. While it was hard to choose a favourite, the Carte Blanche 2014 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, which is a new addition to the portfolio, stands out as a striking example of the varietal with scents of red fruit, juniper, and dusky sandalwood on the nose. It’s especially elegant and surprisingly delicate on the palate with notes of Luxardo cherry, cedar, and black tea. It’s both tightly structured and silky in the mouth.

The grapes were grown in the rocky and sunny Sun Chase Vineyard high atop Petaluma Gap, slated to become the region’s next distinct appellation. General manager D.J. Warner says, “This is an amazing vineyard, and Helen works with four clones of Pinot and four blocks from 426 metres to 518 metres, allowing us to layer the wine. The break in the mountain ridges there sucks in the fog, and it gets nice sun but has cool evenings.” Keplinger likes to pick a little early to capture the freshness of the grapes, and her artistry and precision are felt in every sip. For the Pinot Noir aficionados on your list, this wine is a must.

## Wines that sing

Price: US$1,200 ($A1580)

The JN Wines 2014 12 Days of Christmas is a 12-bottle case of wine ideal for the oenophile who appreciates a little artistry on as well as in the bottle. The labels on these Cabernet Sauvignons — blended with just a touch of Malbec and Cabernet Franc to add some soft roundness — depict 12 different illustrations from the popular Twelve Days of Christmas carol, such as three French hens or 10 lords a-leaping. Nat Komes, the general manager of Napa Valley’s Flora Springs, commissioned children’s book artist Raul Gonzalez III to complete the drawings.

The fruit for the wine was sourced from JN Wine’s family estates in Napa Valley’s Rutherford region. The wine is bold and full of juicy fruit, with enough acid to age for years (if you can make it last that long). Blackberry, blueberry, chocolate, vanilla, and cedar present on the palate. The grapes were all hand-picked and then 10 percent of them were fermented in French oak barrels, while the rest fermented in steel tanks, before aging in French oak for 20 months. Only 100 cases of this special edition were created.

## The Italian stallion

Price: US$35 ($A45)

This unusual varietal — Ruché di Coastagnole Monferrato — is one of the oldest grapes in Italy (and possibly the world) and believed to have originally been a French varietal that crossed the principalities into Piedmont. It is no longer grown in France and can be found only in Italy now. For Zinfandel fans, this wine is a discovery — it has the spicy, peppery notes beloved by Zin connoisseurs but the light brightness of a Beaujoulais. It’s silky in texture and all too easy to drink, as it pairs with many foods. The Ruché Limpronta, a family reserve from Montalbera Vineyards, is the best example and a wine that delivers value, with quality priced so reasonably.

## A father and son duo

Price: US$200 ($A260)

Palmaz Winery was started by a cardiac surgeon who gained a reputation for innovation and engineering after inventing the vascular stent, which has saved countless lives. The founder’s son, Gaston, also has a passion for innovation and has used his technical savvy to track data meticulously throughout the winemaking process.

All this attention to data and detail pays off most handsomely in his namesake wine, the Palmaz 2014 Gaston Cabernet Sauvignon. This 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon wine represents the most premium of the grapes picked each harvest, and in this vintage, the 2014, the grapes come from three upper-elevation parcels. The clusters were all hand-picked from the hillsides at night to prevent too much sun and heat from causing fermentation before the grapes enter the tanks. The deep, red liquid is velvety on the palate with some black perigord truffle on the nose and deep black fruit notes, graphite, and a hint of cedar.

As a gentle companion, the family also makes a wine in honor of the third generation, which is still in grade school: Gaston Grand Cru (US$12 ($A15)) is a petite 375-mL bottle of grape juice made from Malbec and Merlot, fresh-pressed and cold-filtered — complete with a cork — to make the little ones feel part of the tradition of toasting and celebrating delicious grapes at the holidays.

## A taste of Champagne Charlie’s legacy

Price: US$1,200 ($A1580)

Entrepreneur Charles-Camille Heidsieck nearly took his pursuit of perfection to the point of ruin. The scion of a winemaking family in the Reims region of Champagne, Heidsieck struck out on his own in 1851 at the age of 29, establishing his own label of fine sparkling wines. Not content to entrust others with the promotion of his bubbly, the headstrong Heidsieck traveled Europe, pouring his liquid wares for the most discerning palates before crossing the Atlantic to tempt less-tutored taste buds in the United States. He proved as refreshing to New York society as his wines, earning the sobriquet “Champagne Charlie,” and soon his agents in the New World were placing hefty orders on account.

Heidsieck, however, came to regret his promiscuous credit practices when the Civil War broke out. His efforts to recover sums owed him in New Orleans resulted in his being arrested as a spy and nearly shot. Back in Reims, he recovered sufficiently from his financial losses to purchase several old chalk quarries, or crayères, which he believed furnished perfect conditions for long-term aging. A handful of contemporary collectors will have the opportunity to judge this point for themselves thanks to Charles Heidsieck La Collection Crayères, a new program that celebrates these historic cellars with a series of library releases chosen by chef de cave Cyril Brun.

Available October 1, the first examples represent a handful of single bottles and magnums from the 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985 vintages. Among the highlights is the 1982 Champagne Charlie, only 18 magnums of which will be offered at US$1,200 ($A1580) each in the States. “It’s as though all the Incas’ gold were reflecting through the glass,” says Brun, who calls this vintage “the El Dorado of Champagne” — a description that would certainly have excited the adventurous imagination of the founder.

## Wickedly good

Price: US$55 ($A70)

The legend of Dr. Faust generally involves the protagonist trading his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge. Yet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe altered the pact slightly: His antihero instead condemns himself for the sake of pleasure and passion. These elements play a part in the liquid interpretation of the legend offered by Napa Valley vintner Agustin Huneeus and his son, Agustin Francisco Huneeus, who sought to produce a bold wine that offers a tasting tour of the region in a single glass. They did not resort to diabolical aid to achieve their goal, but if they had, the Faust 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon would have been worth the sacrifice. Rich as sin, this luscious red — with notes of black plum, chocolate, and licorice — would tempt even the most pious palate.

## A gem of a stopper

Price: From US$6,300 ($A8300)

Crown your most elegant wines and decanters with an Art Deco–inspired stopper. The Regal Lion designs, by Cameron–Zemtsov Design Associates, are created in signed and numbered limited editions sculpted in elite silver, 18-karat gold, and 950 platinum. The lion heads are accented with diamonds or golden sapphires.


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Watch This Space: Justin Hast

Meet the game-changing horological influencers blazing a trail across social media—and doing things their own way.

By Josh Bozin 09/07/2024

In the thriving world of luxury watches, few people own a space that offers unfiltered digital amplification. And that’s precisely what makes the likes of Brynn Wallner, Teddy Baldassarre, Mike Nouveau and Justin Hast so compelling.

These thought-provoking digital crusaders are now paving the way for the story of watches to be told, and shown, in a new light. Speaking to thousands of followers on the daily—mainly via TikTok, Instagram and YouTube—these progressive commentators represent the new guard of watch pundits. They’re actively swaying the opinions, and the dollars, of the up-and-coming generations who represent the new target consumer of this booming sector.



Credit Oracle Time

There’s something comforting about Justin Hast’s watch commentary. It could be his broad English accent; a soothing melodic chime that hits all the right notes. But rather, it’s probably his insatiable thirst for all the little things in and around watches. It jumps right off the page with anything he’s ever written, and it’s infectious if you tune into his Instagram reels, where he speaks to over 50,000 followers almost daily.

Above all, he simplifies what, for the everyday enthusiast, can sometimes be a dry, jargon-heavy topic.

“I never really trained as a writer, photographer or producer of any kind,” says Hast. “It was very much, get stuck in and see what sticks. It’s not lost on me what a privilege it is to have access to these brands, these watches, and to the shows and events. I feel like a kid on Christmas morning every Monday.”

After spending a decade researching watches, enduring the drudgery of his office job, Hast’s big break came when he met Frank Geelen, owner and CEO of the influential Monochrome Watches website, at a Bell & Ross boutique opening in London.

“I can’t remember how much Frank drank that night when he agreed to allow me to write a story for him,” he quips. “That was the starting point that allowed me to pick up a camera and explore the watch world.”

From that chance encounter, Hast has gone on to contribute influential words to the likes of Hodinkee, Mr Porter, Revolution Watch and Forbes. He is the author of The Watch Annual, which was created for watch enthusiasts in 2020 as a means of cataloguing the best timepieces of the year.


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A post shared by Justin Hast (@justinhast)

Listening to Hast, it’s fair to say that he lives and breathes watches, and it’s been this way for a large chunk of his life. He recalls two formative moments: the first, age 10, when he received his first red G-Shock watch from a schoolfriend; the second came with the passing down of his grandfather’s Omega Constellation Day-Date —a watch designed by Gérald Genta.

That experience goes a long way to explaining Hast’s affinity with vintage dress watches. Unsurprisingly, then, his top four picks from the recent Watches & Wonders fair in Geneva are all vintage-inspired pieces designed for the modern watch consumer: the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Tourbillon, the IWC Portugieser Eternal Calendar, the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony 39 mm in rose gold, and the Laurent Ferrier Classic Moon.

Hast’s motto for life is “win the day”, one that he lives by as he continues on his journey to “inspire the next generation of watch enthusiasts”. And it’s clearly a mission already accomplished.

Read more about the watch industry’s horological influencers Bryan Wallner and Teddy Baldassarre.


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Watches & Wonders 2024 Showcase: TAG Heuer

This year at Watches & Wonders TAG Heuer continued on its path towards high-watchmaking status.

By Josh Bozin 09/07/2024

There was a moment last year when TAG Heuer surprised the watch world (and naysayers of the brand)—you couldn’t have missed it. At Only Watch, the biennial charity auction of luxury one-off timepieces, TAG Heuer dropped the proverbial mic with its release of a unique Monaco Split-Seconds chronograph; a piece completely left of field for the otherwise mid-entry level luxury watchmaker.

It was then inconceivable to arrive at the Palexpo in Geneva, day one of Watches & Wonders, to find the very same Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph as TAG Heuer’s hero release of 2024. Don’t mistake TAG Heuer’s intentions; this is a big moment for the brand, particularly as it endeavours to reach cult high-watchmaker status.


TAG Heuer Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph


This new $200,000 Monaco, which is aptly released in its 55th anniversary year, is an absolute workhorse of a timepiece. Retaining all the hallmarks of its legendary racing history, the new Monaco features an open-worked aesthetic that completely draws the eye to its intricate design details and mechanics. This is, folks, the first mechanical split-seconds (or ‘Rattrapante’) chronograph that the brand has made, essentially allowing the wearer to measure two separate events that start simultaneously but have different durations.

Of course, powering such a watch is no small feat; TAG Heuer has called upon the expertise of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier—a specialist manufacturer of high-end mechanical movements—to help craft the new TH81-00 caliber.

Available in two colour ways, red or blue, the watch also features a grade-5 titanium case (allowing for its lightness), a sapphire dial, and a neat 41 mm package that makes this a truely “wearable” timepiece—if the price tag doesn’t deter you.

If this is an indication of things to come for TAG Heuer, we’re all in.


Read more about this year’s Watches & Wonders exhibits from Rolex and JLC.


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Property of The Week: Swing Into Seclusion in Otago

Looking for the perfect marriage of seclusion and sophistication? This home’s proximity to world-class skiing and wine region makes it an irresistible asset.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 12/07/2024

Located in the charming hamlet of Arrowtown this six-bedroom country home offers plenty of room to breathe. With its proximity to pristine ski fields and world-class wine regions, the two-acre estate will appeal to active city-slickers seeking a sustainable tree change.

Just a putt away from the social life of the renowned Hills Golf Club, 214 McDonnell has private access to a world of laidback leisure.

Manicured gardens and luxurious minimal interiors makes 475 sqm of house feel even more expansive and cinematic. Adding to the dream is the property’s sunny north-facing position. Each of the main rooms has breathtaking views up to Mt Soho and Coronet Peak, then across to the stunning Crown Range. 

A grand entertaining terrace centres on a log burning fire with a layout that encourages indoor/outdoor dining.

Residents will never be lonely. They can expect to welcome children home for the ski season each winter, and to welcome friends to Otago’s excellent wine regions in summer.

The home’s interior has been kept minimal and maps perfectly to the awe-inspiring location. Modern integrated technology, heating and convenient fixtures deliver a fresh take on country style. Open-plan living invites easy contemplation of the mountain views, while interstitial spaces help to keep life uncomplicated.

The opulent master bedroom, with ensuite and walk-in wardrobe, enjoys a chilled L-shaped layout with commanding views of snow-capped mountains beyond the window frames. The master’s inviting nook not only caters to owners who are fans of 5-star hotels, but also situates the love nest in a sun trap perfect for reading.  

The three extra guest bedrooms and two bathrooms are meticulously presented; the fixtures and fittings recede from view with materials that meld flawlessly with the nature-first vibe.

The piece de résistance is the stand-alone guesthouse, featuring its own private entrance and terrace. Here the interior mimics the main home, with pleasant open-plan living, separate dining, kitchen and bathroom. And it boasts its own private, outdoor zone. 

The village itself is equally inviting. With a tree-lined main street featuring heritage row cottages and a good selection of restaurants, shops and cafés—you’ll never want for attraction beyond the front door. 

With the Alpine tourist hot spot of Queenstown just 20 minutes away by car, you can be at the airport in under half an hour: Either taking off on your next adventure, or collecting treasured guests to deliver back to your private estate.

Learn more from Sarena Glass at Sotheby’s New Zealand. Email: sarena.glass@nzsir.com


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Why BMW’s First Electric Cars Are Future Classics

Many things still feel contemporary about the BMW i3 and i8.

By Raphael Orlove 11/07/2024

In 2008, BMW committed to a multi-billion euro plot. It would retool its Leipzig plant to assemble two of the most environmentally-conscious cars ever designed, with carbon fibre passenger cells holding electric, plug-in hybrid, and gas-powered range extender drivetrains. Not until 2013 did they begin production. You could say they were a decade ahead of their time, but we’re still not ready for cars as daring as the i3 and i8.

Years before cries that EVs are too heavy and that plug-in hybrids offer a better compromise for the average car buyer, BMW poured resources into making an EV without the typical downsides of a battery electric vehicle. The idea was to make an electric car that didn’t require a gigantic battery pack, one that wasn’t perilously heavy. To do so, BMW would make the i3 into the world’s first mass-produced car made out of carbon fibre. This was no small feat.

The earliest uses of carbon fibre in cars go back to British race cars from the 1960s, and the first complete chassis to be made out of carbon fiber dates to the early 1980s. It wasn’t until the ’90s that we saw a carbon fibre chassis in a production road car, and that was with the Bugatti EB110, which cost around 3.2 million and required outsourcing the carbon work to the rocket division of French aerospace company Aerospatiale. Even in 2008, BMW’s plans for what it ultimately called the i cars really were at the leading edge.

The first of these to make production was the i3, a hatchback city car that would look at home parked in front of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Big windows gave great visibility, and while the car was too short for four full doors, BMW squeezed suicide doors behind the fronts. With both opened up, the i3 was outstandingly bright and airy. The light interior, seats finished in wool and the dash finished with eucalyptus, certainly helped. BMW also used a plant called kenaf in the interior trim; it’s a natural fibre similar to jute. Kenaf had been used as a backing material underneath a synthetic coating. With the i3, BMW put it up front, lighter and more sustainable.

Photo: NurPhoto

BMW even sourced its carbon fibre from Washington State, where the factory could rely 100% on local hydropower. The company was using technical solutions to make a more sustainable new car.

Its styling was daring, as was how BMW put the i3 together. BMW effectively split the car in two. All of the car’s essential systems – battery, motor, suspension, crash structures, and the optional range extender – were carried on an aluminum skateboard called the “Drive module.” The “Life module” that housed the interior and framed the body panels was what was made out of carbon. The top and bottom halves were glued together, or “chemically bonded” if you want that to sound less scary.

BMW did successfully make the car pretty light for what it was, coming in between 1200 and 1300 kilograms depending on the trim. A Nissan Leaf weighed hundreds of kilograms more, a Chevrolet Volt nearly 400 kilos more.

Sticking to low-weight principles meant that the i3 was never going to have a huge battery, and the biggest available pack was still only 42.2 kWh. The EPA rated it at 246 kilometres of range. The “REX” range extender boosted that figure to 320 kilometres, with a two-cylinder engine from BMW’s motorcycle division shoehorned under the trunk. For all of BMW’s investment in the i3, these weren’t earth-shattering numbers.

Photo: picture alliance

All of its innovation was costly, and BMW’s city car ended up relatively expensive. It started at €34,950 in Germany, $61.300 AUD. That went up to $67,000 for the Range Extender model. The most expensive versions of the i3 topped out at nearly $89,000.

(Rather curiously, all range-extended BMW i3s have 10.9 litre petrol tanks. In the U.S., however, to legally qualify as a range-extended electric vehicle, the i3 could not have more range available from its internal combustion setup than its pure battery. At that point, the government would have classified the i3 as a plug-in hybrid, not unlike the Chevy Volt. As such, all range-extended i3s initially sold in America were restricted by software alone to use just 8.6 letters of that 10.9 litre tank. Only in 2017 when BMW introduced a longer-range battery could BMW digitally unlock the full 10 litres.)

Its high price meant the i3 asked a lot of compromises of a luxury car buyer just to have the most environmentally-friendly vehicle possible. A regular 3 Series cost about the same and was much easier to live with, unless you were regularly parking on dense urban streets. Most Americans don’t.

If anything, the rather practical i3 was too good at its job. All the money that BMW had invested in its technical innovations cost it its chance to make a dent in the car market.

That would have been fine if BMW continued to roll its high development costs into future models, perpetually bringing down its own prices, but BMW wasn’t interested in keeping its i thing going. Chief executive Norbert Reithofer stepped down early in 2015 and BMW canceled the car in 2022 with no second generation. The company has gone back to completely conventional ICE, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and EV options. All of its EVs share their platforms with gas-burning equivalents, saving costs in development and on the showroom floor. They sell better than the i3 ever did.

BMW i3 Photo : picture alliance The i3 Brought Carbon Fiber to Mass Production

The only follow-up BMW did to the i3 was the dramatic i8, with butterfly doors opening up into a low slung cabin, flying buttresses directing air around its mid-mounted three-cylinder turbo engine. A dedicated PHEV, the i3’s engine did actually drive the rear wheels, and an electric motor drove the fronts. What shattered the illusion was that the front motor only made 97.6 kilowatts and the rear engine only 131. It might have looked like a supercar, but it didn’t drive like one. Like the i3, its carbon construction set it apart from its contemporaries, but also made it much more expensive than they ever were. In the U.S., the i8 started at a hair under $136,000 (AUD 200,000), which was a big ask for a car with three cylinders.

Following the same troubles as the i3, the i8 looked like one thing but was priced like another. It went on sale in 2014, not far behind the i3, and soldiered on through 2020, dying without a successor. An open-topped Roadster came in 2018 but didn’t change the car’s fate. Americans bought a grand total of 6,776 i8s through its entire production run. We buy that many Porsche 911s in a single year. Sometimes twice as many.

Photo: picture alliance

Taken at face value, the i8 is still a remarkable machine. A Porsche might be better on track, but the i8 is a dream realized in production form. It looks like nothing else on the road, even now.

And there is something that still feels contemporary about the i3. Its focus on low weight and low-impact manufacturing remains honorable. The electric car vision does us little good if it only reproduces the same more-is-more excess of internal combustion that clogs our roads with oversized vehicles.

As we now watch Tesla Cybertrucks lumber down the road at over 3,129 kilograms, GMC Hummer EVs pounding the pavement at over 4350 kilograms, BMW’s post-Recession vision is as relevant as ever.

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On the Crest

Surfing superstardom came early for Jack Robinson. Now Australia’s humble hero is chasing Olympic glory – keeping his head down.

By Horacio Silva 09/07/2024

There is a video on the internet of Jack Robinson at 15. In it, the pint-sized, towheaded Robinson, who was already considered the best young surfer on the planet, sports a cheeky gap-toothed smile and blunt bob to rival Lindy Chamberlain’s. Asked what he likes most about the sport, the shy grommet struggles for words, eventually offering, “Barrels, big hacks and airs.” 

Even at this age, Robinson prefers to let his surfing do the talking. But, as his interviewer surmises, don’t mistake reticence for unpreparedness: “When this young gun hits the surf, even the seasoned pros shake their heads in dismay.”

Aaron Hughes for WSL

Sixteen years later, Margaret River-born Robinson still beggars belief with his ability to seemingly walk on water. The bowl cut is gone (replaced by a new do that Robinson got for a recent photo shoot and that he jokingly refers to as “the full GQ”), but the difficulty in getting his point across remains, though not from a lack of effort. “Sorry, I’m trying to get my words together,” says Robinson, now 31 and based on the Gold Coast. “I didn’t sleep much last night and I’m hurting.”

He quickly explains that he was not out on the town with hard-partying surfer mates—far from it. These days, Robinson and his Brazilian wife, Julia, have a five-month-old baby boy, Zen, whose behaviour did not live up to the serenity of his name.

Beatriz Ryder

“I just woke up from a nap, actually,” Robinson adds. “At this stage, I get sleep wherever and whenever I can.”

He would do well to get some shut-eye. Robinson heads to Teahupo’o in Tahiti next month, where this year’s Olympic Games surfing competition is being held. Though he is currently ranked number three in the world, he has mastered some of the most challenging big-wave conditions, including a win with a late barrel at the Tahiti Pro in Teahupo’o last August, and is tipped as one of Australia’s best chances for gold.

With good reason, says Tom Carroll, the two-time world champion and Quiksilver ambassador. “That wave is up his alley,” says Carroll, who is now a meditation teacher on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. “He knows that break in all its various moods and forms. If the conditions are not favourable on the day, when some of his biggest rivals fall apart, he can still feel it out. He assesses the conditions in a nanosecond.”

It’s that fearless ability to be in the moment, to paddle out in anything and feel at home, that Carroll first noticed when Robinson was 11. “He has an innate sense for the water and the way it moves,” Carroll continues. “It revealed itself from the get-go and to see it expressed is quite extraordinary.”

Beatriz Ryder

These days Robinson is more focussed on the ordinary. “I’m trying to keep it simple,” he offers, “to stick to the same routines, and make sure that I am in a good headspace going into the Olympics.” Beyond countless hours in the water and gym, this means time spent on meditation, yoga and breath work. “It’s a super mental sport now,” he adds. “You have to be a smart competitor. It’s not just about surfing.”

Aside from the boards, gym equipment and yoga mats, the Robinson household is all prams, toys and nappies. “It doesn’t leave room for much of anything else,” he laments. “I love fishing and cars, and really want to get into flying planes but that will have to wait.” His role as a father has given him a different perspective on his sport and his own upbringing. Robinson, like many sporting phenoms, was coached by a domineering parent (his father Trev) and concedes it wasn’t always a swell ride.

“It was challenging growing up for sure,” he says. “But to reach this level you need people in your corner. Even if he was looked at as a little crazy by some people, he gave 100 percent and then some. I have a newfound respect for that.”

Aaron Hughes for WSL

He has the same regard for his competitors. When asked about the chances of his biggest rivals, Americans Griffin Colapinto and John John Florence, he is diplomatic to a fault. “I haven’t really thought about the other guys too much,” he demurs. “I’ve just been inspired by them. Even the last event with John John”—when Florence defeated Robinson in his native Western Australia—“I was just really inspired by his performance. It makes me want to do better.”

Perhaps if the whole modelling caper doesn’t pan out, after he retires from the sport he may want to consider a career in politics. “Nah,” he admits. “Leave that to others. Maybe that’s a path for Zen.”

The Olympic Games surfing competition begins July 27. 


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