Bacchus owner was 'nicest wine merchant in Singapore'

Family of veteran wine retailer Don Tay describe him as a humble individual who valued others

The late wine retailer Don Tay in August 2016 at his Bacchus outlet in the now-defunct Isetan department store at Westgate mall.
The late wine retailer Don Tay in August 2016 at his Bacchus outlet in the now-defunct Isetan department store at Westgate mall.PHOTO: ST FILE

Mr Don Tay, a pioneer in the wine retail industry who was best known as the owner of Bacchus wine shop, died at 70 of liver cancer on Sunday.

He leaves behind his wife, three daughters and three grandchildren.

A veteran in the wine scene, Mr Tay first started retailing wine in 1983 when he was a wine buyer for the Japanese supermarket at the now-defunct Liang Court, then known as Daimaru.

He opened the first Bacchus in Paragon in 1991, which ran till 2016. From 2003 to 2009, he also ran Bacchus @ Waterboat House, a wine bar at The Fullerton Waterboat House.

In 2016, although he told The Straits Times he was planning to ease into semi-retirement, he continued running another outlet at the now-defunct Isetan department store at Westgate, and opened a second one at the Robinsons department store at The Heeren mall. Both stores are no longer in operation.

In 2014, Mr Tay's daughters helped him create an online platform for wine sales. Before his passing, he had told them to take an inventory of his wine warehouse and that they could list the goods on the website for sale.

His wife, Madam Ngoh Boh Jong, 74, says: "He would use paper and pen to jot down sales. For him, his customer was not a nameless person. He valued the relationships and understood his customers' needs.

"My husband was very well-loved by his family and friends. He was very humble, fair, generous and kind. We thank all his friends for their support and long-standing friendships."

Others in the industry that ST spoke to echoed the sentiment.

Wine educator and consultant Daniel Chia, 52, met Mr Tay for the first time in 1997 as a rookie wine sales executive trying to sell wines to Bacchus.

He says: "Don was very pleasant, friendly, humble and did not talk down to me. We did a healthy level of business and I continued to meet him after I left the trade.

"Buying wine at Bacchus was always an adventure, as you never knew what vinous treasures you would find, especially at the bottom layer of stacked cases or under the shelves.

"Sometimes, Don would not be able to remember the price and would just say: 'Take first, pay later'. He was definitely the nicest wine merchant in Singapore."

Wine writer and reviewer Ch'ng Poh Tiong, 65, recalls how Mr Tay's staff would call him when they needed assistance in locating a particular vintage hidden in the "Aladdin's cave" that was Bacchus.

He says: "Don was down-to-earth as a person as he was a dedicated wine retailer. His shop was known for its remarkable range and depth of wine, fair prices and personalised service.

"He will be fondly remembered as a wine legend of Singapore, friend, inspiration, husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2021, with the headline 'Bacchus owner was 'nicest wine merchant in Singapore''. Subscribe