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Tony Verdin: a tribute

The funeral takes place today, Friday, of former wine merchant and restaurateur Tony Verdin, who died aged 81 last week.

A portrait of Tony Verdin, reproduced with kind permission from the artist, Alan Mynall.

Having gone up to Merton College, Oxford in 1953 to read Chemistry, Tony spent much of his life in and around the city, but was perhaps best known as owner of the Cherwell Boathouse restaurant, which he took over in 1968.

Aside from its picturesque setting and punting facilities, the Boathouse became renowned for a superior and excellent value wine list, which made it something of a hub for generations of wine lovers and university blind tasters.

One of these blind tasters, Jasper Morris, who later set up the wine merchant Morris & Verdin with Tony, offers a glimpse of this treasure trove. “Lafite 1865 originally purchased from the Christie’s Glamis Castle sale looked a tad underpriced at £200 a bottle,” he recalls. “More recent vintages such as the 1982 clarets, purchased en primeur, were only put on the list at 20 years old. Burgundies from Comte Lafon and others also featured prominently.”

A book published last year to mark the 60th anniversary of the Oxford versus Cambridge blind tasting match contains a number of fond references to Tony, the Cherwell Boathouse and their close connection to the Oxford University Wine Circle, whose activities inspired so many alumni to pursue careers in the wine trade.

One typical memory comes from a blind taster during the 1990s, Dr David Strange, who recalled: “The Boathouse list was amazing and affordable, and our well-heeled guests would delight in buying bottles for us to try. We did stupendous verticals of off vintages of Lafon’s Le Montrachet.”

A further tribute came from Frederika Adam, who went on to spend two years as sommelier at the Cherwell Boathouse and so came to know Tony particularly well.

She offered insight into the early days at the restaurant as he worked to build up a wine list from scratch, buying Bordeaux en primeur during the ‘70s and “notably four cases of Echézeaux ’61 from Michael Broadbent MW at Christie’s.”

Adam also highlighted close links with the university undergraduates, saying: “As a student dealing in unusual wines and odd lots, Oz Clarke sold him a memorable purchase of vintage Krug, and Jancis Robinson celebrated her 21st birthday party at the Boathouse.”

When Morris & Verdin was set up in 1981, the restaurant naturally became one of its biggest customers. Morris – now Burgundy director for Berry Bros & Rudd, which took on Fields, Morris & Verdin as its agency and wholesale arm in 2003 – recalls Tony “enjoying trips to the major wine regions of France while ensuring that his inexperienced partner avoided making too many mistakes in the commercial world.”

In addition to being friends and business partners, the pair became brothers-in-law when Tony married Araminta Morris.

Another of Tony’s combined customers and business interests was Chelsea Arts Club, which he took over during the late 1970s in partnership with former Boathouse manager Dudley Winterbottom through their company Chelart.

Recalling the club’s former “moribund state”, Morris reports: “The club has thrived wonderfully under this regime”, which continued until Winterbottom’s retirement last year.

Morris also highlights a number of Tony’s other wide ranging interests and areas of expertise, saying: “Not many of those who knew Tony through wine will have read his authoritative textbook on gas analysis instrumentation or have been aware of Tony’s other principal work interest in another company he founded, Analysis Automation Limited. He also had wide ranging sporting interests, especially real tennis and rugby, still playing the latter up to his 70th birthday.”

Following his death on 25 September, Tony’s funeral is being held today, Friday, at 3pm in Merton College Chapel in Oxford.

He is survived by his second wife, Araminta Morris, and three children from each of his two marriages. His son Arthur has recently joined the wine trade.

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