Octavian Vaults is considered to be the “Rolls Royce” of professional wine storage facility in the UK. Located in Corsham in Wiltshire (about 12 miles from Bath), an area historically known for their building stones, so called “Bath Stone” or “Great Oolite Freestone”. The underground cellar is 100 feet deep (157 steps down as I have counted) and it is as big as 20 football pitches.
Getting to Octavian from London wasn’t as tricky I thought it would be. There are frequent trains from London Paddington to Chippenham every 30 minutes, a 69 minutes train journey plus another 15 minutes on the cab from the train station to Octavian.
The Managing Director of Octavian, Vincent O’Brien kindly gave me a tour around the cellar. I was honoured to be their first visitor there since the lockdown due to the covid-19 outbreak – masks and gloves were worn during the visit as well as a fluorescent vest and an emergency kit.
Octavian Vaults was formerly an underground stone mine (Eastlays Mine), the freestone mine was operational from the 1820s to 1910s, theses stones were used in construction of many buildings around the UK and as far as the City Hall of Cape Town in South Africa. The disused mine was then used as a munitions dump during World War II. In 1986, Nigel Jagger purchased the disused mine and turned the mine purely for wine storage for merchants and private individuals. There are currently more than £1bn worth of wine stored at Octavian (average case value £1,200).
At 100 feet underground, Octavian has no issue with maintaining the temperature between 13-14 oC (55.4-57 Fahrenheit). Coincidentally I chose to visit Octavian on one of the hottest days in the UK, 33 oC above ground. My digital thermometer-hygrometer reads 13.5oC and 86% humidity. Naturally the underground cellar is very humid, and they have an integrated dehumidification system with external and internal sensors that measures humidity and pulls in fresh air from above ground automatically when the humidity goes above 85%. They aim to keep the humidity between 75-85% (industry standard) to keep the cork moist. In case the humidity drops below 75%, they will turn on a unique ceiling water nozzle that essentially sprays moist out and dissipates before it touches cases of wines (so to protect the integrity of the case).
There are minimal light as the LED lights on the ceiling are all equipped with motion sensors which would only switch on when someone walks pass. Floors are polished so to minimises vibrations when the electric folklift drives pass the wines at a slow pace. Octavian also benefits from the superb countryside air quality, surrounded by empty grass fields and a few free-range cows behind a few lovely stone houses further down the road.
Security and Insurance
The guards at the gate registers every single entry and exit of staffs and guests, and the guards also check every staffs’ and guests’ bags and cars to make sure there are no temptations to take any fine DRCs away from the cellar. Not to mention the number of security cameras pointing at me as I entered their private road before getting to the gate. There are only 2 long and narrow staircases to access the 100 feet deep cellar below in the premise, and the main power is switched off after working hours every day so the cart won’t work either. Stealing wines from them would be very difficult.
The cellar is also equipped with nitrogen fire suppression system in case of fire (much better protection for wines than water sprays). Though starting a fire in the cellar would be a tricky task consider cases are overall spaced out, not to mention the cool temperature and high humidity would make it tricky to ignite anything.
Octavian have insurance that covers up to £500m for the entire cellar, which is the highest and most comprehensive in the industry. When storing wines with any wine storage facilities, private customers should ask what is insured, to what level and what is the excess. Buyers / collectors beware: many insurance policies have exclusions.
Wines Entering and Leaving the Cellar
Wines that have just arrived (“landed”) from wineries or other warehouses or leaving Octavian cellar would sit in their above ground warehouse (transition area) for administration for up to two days, though they try to clear them up quickly especially during warmer period and never leave wines over the weekend when it is hot outside. The warehouse is directly connected to the underground cellar entrance for easy access. My only concern is that the warehouse is not temperature controlled. It shouldn’t be an issue on most days, however I would be concerned if my wines were to be sitting in the transit warehouse during the hottest summer days (even just for a day). For that I would try and minimise wine deliveries during the hot summer days (which admittedly we don’t get much of in the UK), not only because of the transit warehouse, but also because most delivery vans are not temperature controlled (ultimately to blame customers opting for cheaper delivery options, nothing to do with the wine warehouse).
Wine Ownership and Title
This is arguably one of the most discussed subjects for many wine collectors. After doing some research and clarifying with Vincent, all wines that private individuals store through most wine merchants are legally under the ownership of the wine merchants and not the private customers. (Some merchants do put private customers’ names on the cases). The yellow labels clearly state the wine is under the wine merchants’ name, unless private customers are storing wines directly with Octavian. Of course, wine merchants would tell you that they guarantee that your wines are 100% under your ownership legally (on their books). However, in the event that a wine merchant files for bankruptcy, private customers may struggle to reclaim 100% of their assets. (This actually happens more often than you think).
Octavian offers private customers to store wines directly with them, however the storage cost is more expensive than storing through wine merchants (currently £17.31 per case of 12 if you store more than 100 cases directly). It is ultimately up to you whether you prefer storing your wines through a wine merchant and taking the merchant risk or paying the premium to get a peace of mind knowing your assets 100% belong to you.
To open an account with Octavian please visit:
Other services that can be provided (at extra cost) includes content checking and repackaging, mixed case delivery (only for private customers), private collection, and professional photography (see below).