A hundred feet below the hills of Corsham, Wiltshire, some of the finest wine in the world is encased in twenty football pitches (90,000 sq m) of solid Bath stone. A former mine which is backed up by two aircraft hangars, Octavian is the go-to cellar many of the world’s leading wine merchants, wine funds and restaurants, as well as having over 10,000 customers from 39 different countries.
It’s been a year of firsts for Octavian Vaults, says MD Vincent O’Brien, who helped a customer take out a loan on his wine collection for £20m. ‘It was a first for the industry and has sparked a lot of interest,’ says O’Brien. The company has also welcomed a resident MW to help customers, who are increasingly cautious as regards provenance, assess and value their collections. Octavian are continuously innovating in order to make sure they stay on the cutting edge when it comes to services: last year, for instance, they introduced new ‘log books’ to improve the flow of information and help people make more educated purchases.
They store £1 billion worth of fine wine in more than one million cases, over a hundred of which are pre-1800 vintages, plus the odd barrel of rum, and some of which have been there for over twenty years. Old world wines predominate, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, but the range continues to widen, with a notably growing diversity in the collections in storage. ‘Up to 2012 circa 90 per cent in our care was Bordeaux whereas now it is less than 75 per cent with Burgundies, Italians and Champagnes making up the gap,’ says O’Brien, who concedes he does enjoy a nice glass of Sassicaia (a Bordeaux style red from Tuscany) as a treat now and again.
‘It’s one of the safest storage places in the world; because it’s underground, very little can go wrong,’ says O’Brien. Even the finest of wines need the right cellaring conditions to remain intact and to mature to optimum standards, which means no UV light, humidity at 80 per cent and the temperature kept at 13 degrees, and few can boast the facilities that Octavian provides. The quality and quantity of the wine they have vaulted is just one reflection of this: unlike equivalent storage companies, Octavian is only focused on the fine wine market, refusing to ‘dilute’ their service and store trade wines, says O’Brien.
A continuous trend is that clients are storing wine bought as part of their investment portfolio, O’Brien points out, adding that most of their customers have such large portfolios that he’d be ‘concerned if they were drinking it all’. The emergence of more exchanges such as Liv-ex are also allowing people to see ‘what’s selling and when it’s selling’ enabling them to know when their wine needs to emerge from the mine. Condition, therefore, is key to making sure that these investments provide a return and so the correct storage is essential. Anecdotally, O’Brien notes, wine stored with them provides ‘better returns’ at auction ‘than wine that is stored elsewhere’.