So time has been called on Vinopolis. Indeed, London’s wine and spirit part education, part tourist, and latterly (it has to be said) part naff attraction is to close its doors at the end of the year. If the green light is given on various planning applications a massive £300m retail park will be up and running by 2017. Oh what deep joy!
The outgoing Vinopolis chief, Samantha Anderson, has all but conceded that a wine tour cannot compete with an enlightening shopping experience. Quite frankly I’d rather go on 10 consecutive wine tours than spend 10 minutes in what, in all probability, will be a hideously sophisticated shopping mall – and I have never been a consummate Vinopolis fan.
The complex, which is situated in a warren of railway arches covering 2.5 acres by the southern approach to Cannon Street railway bridge, opened its doors to much fanfare in 1999. It promised in those days “a world wine tour” which occupied 20 themed rooms charting the history of wine, with elements from the remains of a Roman wine store, complete with other remains of Greek amphorae on the walls, all the way up to a bubble clad lift taking visitors to Champagne.
Along the way adult-only entertainment included a ride on a Vespa through an Italian landscape, a simulated flight over an Australian vineyard and a climb up the Andes to get from Chile to Argentina. Sounds positively exhausting, doesn’t it?
I think it’s fair to say that Vinopolis did not live up to early expectations and over the years its offering has become somewhat diluted and at times standards were decidedly patchy. Certainly of the ‘dos’ I’ve been to at Vinopolis the one that really sticks in my mind was quite ghastly.
Most of the great and the good of the European drinks industry were assembled to announce some initiative or other, and all seemed to be going well, I think I was even wondering whether I had misjudged Vinopolis after all – and then lunch came. To say the offering turned the clock on British cuisine back to the late 1950s would be too flattering – I don’t think even in those days it was as awful as the ‘fayre’ that was served up that day...I shudder even now at the memory.
Fast forward 10 years and other niceties have been added to its pot pourri, including a monthly comedy night, the Laughter Lounge, along with corporate sponsorship and franchises, as well as special deals for stag and hen parties – all in a fairly desperate bid to get visitors through its portals.
Indeed, as host to Laithwaites as well as the Whisky Exchange, and a wine tour which now featured the Bombay Sapphire Blue Room, an Authentic Caribbean Rum Experience and a microbrewery, Vinopolis had become a significant retailer of wines and spirits in the UK and, curiously, the top selling outlet for Absinthe