Welcome to the new "LA"!

At the end of July, I found myself in the Greater Mobile Bay area, aka “LA” or “Lower Alabama,” to help our new distributor, Stephen Clark, introduce locally our Silkbush Mountain Vineyard brand wines. We called on 10 accounts over two days, had a great reception to the Silkbush wines, and look forward to having sustained sales of South African wine in the new “LA”. But that’s not the reason for this Blog posting. The greater Mobile Bay really is just great; I was highly impressed!

Contrary to the stereotype of the deep Old South, the Mobile Alabama area has significantly gentrified and become a very desirable place to visit and/or live. Downtown Mobile has fascinating restaurants, upscale wine bars, clean streets, and a vibrant economy. While Mobile’s population is about 200,000, a 60 mile radius picks up over 1 million more people. While the residents are spread out, small towns such as Spanish Fort, Daphne, Fairhope, and Foley on the Eastern Shore are very impressive and are akin to the nicer suburbs of any major US city.

Mobile residents are quite excited that in 2015, Airbus, the European jet aircraft manufacturer, will start production of the A320 series right in Mobile, and will produce at least 50 jets per year. Airbus is investing $600 million and will employ at least 1,000 workers. And, when their supporting cast of companies, (those providing engines, avionics, wiring systems, windows, seats, etc.), open their doors, the Mobile economy will receive a substantial and continuing boost. Also, ever since WWII, there has been a significant local ship-building industry due to a 75’ dredged shipping channel. This also permitted the retired battleship USS Alabama to make Mobile its permanent home and it has become a major tourist attraction. The LA economy is doing well and this should translate into ever-greater wine purchase and enjoyment among other things.

Interesting Wikipedia factoids: Mobile began as the original capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702. During its first 100 years, Mobile was a colony of France, then Britain, and lastly Spain. Mobile first became a part of the United States of America in 1813, with the annexation of West Florida under President James Madison. As one of the Gulf Coast’s cultural centers, Mobile now has several art museums, a symphony orchestra, a professional opera, a professional ballet company, and a large concentration of historic architecture.

Today, year-round waterfront recreation is a big regional draw. There are many major hotel resorts along the Alabama Riviera and more are underway. Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s restaurant/entertainment complex “Lucy B. Goode” is drawing well; and a 500-acre effort to develop a Country Western entertainment competitor (think “Branson of the South”) is underway in Foley, to be named “Blue Collar Country”. “BCC” Phase I, including two hotels, a restaurant and convention center, and a sports tourism complex, should be open in the Spring of 2015. Because Mobile Bay is quite shallow, perhaps an average of 10 feet, much of the recreational boating is shallow draft power boats rather than deep keeled sail boats. Clearly the Bay has many nifty attractions with more coming every day.

Further, some aspects of traditional Southern recreation were quite evident, and most notably the pictured Bass Pro Shops facility highly visible from westbound I-10. The building was at least four times larger than the Marriott Courtyard where I stayed so it took little encouragement from my local friends to make an initial visit. Every kind of sporting good and apparel was available; the cast of Duck Dynasty would have thought they had died and gone to Redneck Heaven. Additionally, on a few warm summer nights, the residents living around Mobile Bay sometimes enjoy the fruits of a mysterious natural phenomenon called a “Jubilee”, when fish and crabs swarm toward shore and are easily harvested by people wading in the shallows.

Be that as it may, there are already many higher-end wine drinkers around Mobile and more moving to LA every week. They will soon be greeted with SILKBUSH wines at many turns, and I definitely plan on returning annually for Winegrower dinners and a little LA boating….

Namibia Adventure

In May of 2014, Catherine and I took our 32nd combined trip to South Africa and Silkbush Mountain Vineyards, and then our very first trip to Namibia. Planning our Namibian adventure was actually an adventure in itself; Catherine spent the better part of January 2014 researching and preparing the varied intricacies of the trip. (Her research was supplanted by our favorite African travel consultant, Denise Best, www.thebesttours.net (www.thebesttours.net)  who lives in GA and has assisted several friends in planning African “trips of a lifetime”).There was so much to see and experience we decided to stay three weeks driving across Namibia in addition to our two weeks in the Western Cape, on SILKBUSH and then in Stellenbosch.

Incidentally, the distances in Namibia are substantial; we covered by car at most 60% of the country, one week driving ourselves and two with our very enjoyable guide, Richard “Zubee” zu Bentheim zubentheimr@gmail.com. If visitors have less time, flights in light aircraft can be arranged at greater cost and you really miss out on much of the flavor of the country. Like much of Africa, much of Namibia deserves to be seen more slowly and digested deliberately with the locals.

BTW, Namibia is the first country in the world to incorporate environmental protection into its Constitution. From this, many tourism options spring, providing real monetary and social benefits for the local communities who provide them and, in return, a very enjoyable and gratifying Namibian experience for tourists. We visited the highest sand dunes in the world and the largest game reserves in Africa. We visited local communities, tribal lands and developed an appreciation for Namibia, it land, its wildlife, and its tourist-friendly peoples and amazingly diverse cultures. The country has earned its nickname, the Arid Eden!

This trek also became a geological safari because of the varied and ubiquitous rock formations throughout the country. Geologically, the Namib area is composed of a wide range of rock types, ranging from 1,265 million year old granite to the present day formations making up the Namib Sand Sea. The area is just west of the Great Namibian Escarpment, a feature formed by the uplift of the entire southern African continent about 120 million years ago. In the north and southeast, we saw many lavas or “volcanics” which are exposed rock outcroppings. Namibia’s highest point is the south at 6,500 ft. above sea level. The lowest naturally is the long Atlantic coast line or sea level.

We were totally awed by the local habitats, wildlife, and traditional cultures and rituals here, and we knew our tourism dollars had a beneficial impact on the environment and wildlife conservation. We’ve chosen just over two hundred pictures from the several thousand we actually took throughout our Namibian journey. We hope they and the accompanying text will give you multiple impressions into our most wondrous adventure. Take a look at Gallery 11 (http://silkbush.com/gallery/namibia) on Namibia and enjoy the ride. Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya are all great game camp safari areas we have also enjoyed, but Namibia is a different sort of adventure in Southern Africa; please give it due consideration.