Extreme Winemaker Rowing 3,000 Miles Solo Across the Atlantic Right Now

The New Zealander, supporting mental-health causes, could be alone at sea for three months. Also in Unfiltered, "escape the cellar" game comes to Sonoma, and green-hued cannabis wine joins growing field of weed drinks, jokes
Extreme Winemaker Rowing 3,000 Miles Solo Across the Atlantic Right Now
Yo ho ho and a Sauvignon Blanc! Pictured: the 2017 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge; winemaker Isaac Giesen has just begun this year's race. (Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge)
Dec 13, 2018

What has two oars and is on the way to breaking records as he rows solo across the Atlantic Ocean? This guy: Isaac Giesen, a 26-year-old winemaker and member of New Zealand's Giesen Wines family. On Dec. 12, the young athlete-vintner embarked on a roughly 3,000-mile journey, alone, from the Canary Islands to Antigua; a solo crossing is a feat accomplished by fewer people than have climbed Mount Everest.

"When he first told us that he would do this … we said, 'Wouldn’t you rather go cycle up and down the country, or go across Australia, or from Singapore to London?'" Giesen's father, Theo, who is a co-owner of the family winery, told Unfiltered. "But that's Isaac."

Giesen is rowing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, an extreme rowing race usually held once every two years. There are 28 boats this year, but only five of them are in the solo division. When he reaches Antigua some 75 to 90 days from now, Giesen will be the first Kiwi to complete a solo row across the Atlantic and, thanks to a trek from Portugal to Cuba with five other teammates in the spring, he is expected to be the first Kiwi to complete two transatlantic rowing adventures in one year.

The Blue Rower
Isaac Giesen and his trusty vessel, the Bonnie Lass.

A trained winemaker with a degree in viticulture and winemaking, Giesen put his vinous life and career on hold to train for this quest; as Theo pointed out, his son can make wine "till he's 80."

Giesen is also using the voyage as a platform to raise money for organizations that support mental-health awareness, research and counseling. It's a cause that is close to his heart; he has lost an aunt and two friends to suicide. "He wants to make a difference; he wants to raise awareness," the elder Giesen said. "When people say, ‘What should we do?’ he says, ‘Just talk. Make it easier for people to talk about it. Don’t stigmatize it.' … We as a family are thinking of setting up a foundation somehow. For the safety and the good of people, we have to look at this more and tackle the problem."

Instagram / @thebluerower
Isaac Giesen out to sea on day 1, Dec. 12, 2018.

Giesen is only one day out on the water but has raised nearly $43,000 of his $1 million goal; those interested in supporting him can donate at his website, TheBlueRower.com. You can also go to the official race website, TaliskerWhiskyAtlanticChallenge.com, to view his progress on the satellite race tracker.


Hot New Wine-Country Escape: Escape from Chateau St. Jean

Anyone who's ever been locked in an "escape room" knows the rules: Figure out clues and solve puzzles to escape the room before the clock runs out, lest you be rewarded with the shame of failure. It's a powerful motivator, but what if instead, players were rewarded with … wine?

Laura Hughes
Chateau St. Jean's captives, captivated.

Sonoma's Chateau St. Jean has become the latest winery to set up an "escape the cellar" experience with its new Unlock the Chateau game. It sounds at first like most escape games: Groups of six to 12 are given one hour to solve a series of puzzles and riddles in three different rooms of the historic chateau. "With the popularity of escape rooms, it seemed like it could be an offbeat offering for us, since we had space in the chateau to make an experience like this come alive," Ingrid Cheng, a marketing manager/warden of Chateau St. Jean told Unfiltered.

In St. Jean's lockup, they even give you bubbly before you manage to escape, to help get those synapses firing as you solve the puzzles. While that actually might be a trick now that we think about it, a few competitive groups have managed to successfully unlock the chateau and win the game. "It's achievable," Cheng said. "But I [wouldn't] say the majority [have won]." Still, with a tasting flight to end the experience regardless of escape outcome, is anyone really losing?


Swirl, Sip, Pass: Green-Hued Cannabis Wine Joins Growing Field of Weed Drinks, Jokes

Hear me out: So they're making all these new wines in trippy colors like Gïk Blue, Vindigo Indigo and Orange now, right? And they're also making cannabis-infused wines like CannaWine in Spain and Rebel Coast's California Sauvignon Blanc. What if we made a wine that was neon green and THC-infused?

Courtesy of Winabis
Certified "green," no papers needed

"Thinking outside the box and forgetting all about wine etiquette is our credo," and that's how "Winabis" was born, explained export manager Rowdy Lohmuller to Unfiltered via email, in Comic Sans font. A new fusion product from Spain's Bodegas Santa Margarita, the 9.5 percent ABV wine product is "medium-sweet with a daring high blend of Mary Jane aromas," Lohmuller said. "The Verdejo grape has mainly been used in this 'joint' venture," he added, doing his best to rob Unfiltered of pretty much all the marijuana puns we had lined up for this article.

While it is still illegal to sell a joint sigh, combined tonic of alcohol and cannabis in the United States (Rebel Coast's wine is alcohol-removed), Winabis is all good in the E.U., since levels of the cannabinoids THC and CBD are below 0.01 percent; it's already distributed in eight countries. Lohmuller wouldn't divulge much about how Winabis was made. ("This is something we would like to keep a secret between Mother Nature and ourselves.") But cannabis-wine recipes are something European cultures have been hashing out for thousands of years, so all these new formulas are merely … re-creational.


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