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Vinopolis founder Duncan Vaughan-Arbuckle dies aged 83

Duncan Vaughan-Arbuckle, founder of Vinopolis, dies.

Wine merchant and entrepreneur Duncan Vaughan-Arbuckle has passed away aged 83. Vaughan-Arbuckle was the founder and director of Vinopolis, the award-winning wine-themed visitor attraction which was located on London’s Bankside from 1999 to 2015.

According to his daughter Desdemona Freeman his interest in wine began when he started trading food and wine in the mid-1970s. ‘He came from the business side of things but wine was clearly his favourite subject,’ she told Decanter.

What he found particularly interesting was talking to people about wine in a way which was inclusive, and that’s what led him all the way to Vinopolis,’ she added.

In 1980, Vaughan-Arbuckle founded Wigmore Wine Company in the UK alongside major Dutch distributor Baarsma’s Dranken BV. During this time he also purchased and developed a failing wine retailing operation and created Adhoc Wine Warehouse, the first wine ‘cash & carry’ for the trade and general public. It was awarded ‘Wine Warehouse of the Year’ by Which? Magazine in 1989. He was one of the first merchants to use ‘shelf talkers’ to tell customers about the wine in the bottle, something that was not done at the time.

City of wine

In 1988, Vaughan-Arbuckle conceived of Vinopolis, a museum which celebrated wine. In order to get the project off the ground he raised around £30m from investors in nine countries, including a £2.5m regeneration grant from the UK government.

The ‘city of wine’ opened its doors on 23 July 1999 and won numerous tourism awards. It was placed in the Top 100 of the ‘Very Best Lifestyle Venues’ in the world by leading German lifestyle magazine, Feinschmecker.

‘The idea was to make it really accessible to everybody, anybody could rock up and not feel intimidated,’ says Freeman of Vinopolis.

Vaughan-Arbuckle told The Irish Times in 1999: ‘It’s not designed with experts in mind. It’s for people who buy their wine in the supermarket – people who want to expand their knowledge a little and have a bit of fun. An American newspaper described it as beginner-friendly, and I think that’s a great description.’

Vinopolis closed its doors in 2015, although Vaughan-Arbuckle was not involved in the project at the end.

‘He was passionate about demystifying wine and sharing that information with people in a way which was not at all niche,’ says Freeman.

He is survived by his daughters Louise and Desdemona and grandchildren Rory, Poppy and Tallulah.

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