The Wine Cellars at Corsham – A Literal Liquid Gold Mine

Forget about wine cellar equipment for their McMansions, the super rich have an underground wine vault 100ft under the Wiltshire countryside in Southern England. Formerly Eastlay’s mine, a source of honey-colored Bath stone, it is now Octavian Vaults’s Corsham Cellars, the place where the rich and famous hoard their most precious bottles of Petrus, Lafite or Latour. It’s like a bank storing liquid gold and run by one of the world’s relatively few specialist wine storage companies. Octavian Vaults is the only place you can get a “Certificate of Pristine Storage”.

Documented wine storage conditions along with provenance is vital to maintaining a wine’s value. A wine known to have crossed the Atlantic twice is likely to raise a much lower price at auction than one that has moved only once in its life, from chateau to a reliably cool wine storage facility. Other than the trip to Corsham itself, many of the wines at Corsham Cellars have moved only a few yards between different owners’ stacks in the wine vault, either through sales at auction, via merchants, or from one customer to another.

The caverns are 100 ft underground resulting in a constant temperature of about 13.5 deg C/56.3 deg F. They can be reached only by two heavily guarded, half-mile shafts, one of them serviced by a small, lumbering hydraulic-powered train that transports wine in and eventually out of the cellars. Many clients like to visit their wine to check its condition. They have to walk down 157 steps, carrying an emergency underground kit (i.e. gas mask and flashlight since the property is still officially classified as a mine) to get to the heart of the cellar. They can inspect the security measures if they choose, including motion-sensor beams used to protect bank vaults.

As buyers become more and more concerned about authenticity and the precise fill level in bottles before a sale (the lower it is the warmer the wine has probably been kept), or if they simply don’t care for a trip to Wiltshire to check on their investment, there are three photographic studios underground so that high-quality pictures of the wine can be taken at any time and sent to the client’s desktop. And should they have a special occasion to celebrate, customers can ask for a crate or even single bottle to be sent anywhere in the world to impress their guests.

Corsham Cellars already stores around 12 million bottles of fine wine (or 1 million cases), many worth thousands of dollars each. It’s the size of 22 football fields but is having trouble keeping up with the demand. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of cases stored by Octavian increased by 35%, and the time each bottle stays underground has increased from 6 to 8.5 years. As a result, the company has been forced to expand above ground. It now has a reserve facility at Colerne Airfield (also in Wiltshire), another old military facility. Who knew the military were such proponents of fine wine?