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Vinopolis celebrates 10 years

London's Vinopolis has proved itself one of the longest-lived of the world’s wine centres as it reaches its 10th birthday this month.

The labyrinthine complex on the south bank of the Thames, just downriver from the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe, celebrated its first decade with a party at its Cantina restaurant last week.

And it’s in much ruder health than the ill-fated but esteemed Copia – the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts – in Napa town, which opened in 2001 and lurched from crisis to crisis until closing, bankrupt, last year.

Or the National Wine Centre in Adelaide, which was also dogged by problems – including the resistance of much of the wine industry – when it opened in 2001.

After failing to meet visitor numbers and various bail-outs, it was finally sold to the University of Adelaide for AUS$1m in 2003.

Vinopolis, City of Wine, to give it its full title, has had its own tribulations.

It too found it difficult to attract visitors in sufficient numbers, and had to branch out into corporate sponsorship and franchises, and now aims to attract as many stag and hen parties as earnest wine lovers.

It hosts the Whisky Exchange, in 2004 was selling more absinthe than anywhere else in London, and its wine tour now includes the Bombay Sapphire Blue Room, an ‘Authentic Caribbean Rum Experience’ and a microbrewery.

And last year managing director Rupert Ellwood launched the Laughter Lounge, a regular comedy night that has had plaudits from the Sun newspaper, among others.

Now it attracts some 600,000 visitors a year, bringing in profits of £1.3m on an an annual turnover of £8m.

While such figures are not earth-shattering for a one-hectare site five minutes from the Tate, whose 5m visitors a year make it Britain’s second most-popular tourist attraction, they are respectable.

And the board of directors chose to celebrate this with a suitably low-key party, at which chairman Sandy Anderson remembered their early losses of £5m, but said, ‘Over the years we’ve made more right decisions than wrong ones.’

Ellwood promises Vinopolis will continue to diversify, adding more food and wine tasting events and branching out with more non-traditional events like the comedy night, and a new restaurant and other ‘food-led retail outlets’.

‘Our ability to adapt to market trends by creating innovative packages that exceed client expectations will help us to continue to be one of London’s most coveted events destinations,’ he told decanter.com.

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Written by Adam Lechmere

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