There is nothing in the green heart of the English countryside near Bath to suggest that the gentle climb up the hill at Eastlays takes you to the biggest fine wine cellar in the world. ‘It’s like Fort Knox, cameras everywhere’, says the taxi driver. Sure enough, as we drive into a depot car park surrounded by steel railings, a battery of cameras autofocuses on every twitch of the nose and flutter of the eyelash. This is Corsham Cellars, bought in 1989 by Nigel Jagger when he founded Octavian. Built into the hill, it contains around 7.5 million bottles of fine wine worth over £1 billion. In total, Octavian stores about 10 million bottles across all its facilities.
In the 19th century, large swaths of the countryside here were dynamited by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to forge a path of the railway line from London to Bristol. The stone had been mined to build Bath and the mine itself became an ammunition dump during World War 2. Being so deeply subterranean, it was completely bomb-proof and therefore the perfect storage centre for munitions. Old black-and-white photographs show cases of TNT from the Atlas Powder Company piled high and looking remarkably similar to cases of wine. Maybe these are what inspired Nigel Jagger to turn the mine into the biggest fine wine facility in the world.
The gates slide open and the security guard checks my name against a pre-arranged visitor card while handing me a red fluorescent jacket. A short walk to the deeply unlovely premises takes us inside the offices, where we’re issued with a primitive oxygen mask to carry down to the underground cellars just in case of an accident. It looks suitably World War 2 issue in its primitive nature and you hope that you won’t have to use it because it doesn’t look easy to operate.
Wine storage has become an increasingly important issue for fine wine collectors for two major reasons. First of all the prices of top wines have skyrocketed to such an extent that collectors need a secure facility to ensure their wines are safe. Equally importantly, provenance and condition have become the mantra of fine wine brokers and auctioneers. The value of a product as fragile as wine can become easily eroded if the wine is not kept in the optimum conditions for both the packaging the liquid inside. According to Ella Lister, fine wine writer and consultant to Octavian, who accompanies me, these are: 13°C constant temperature, average humidity of 75 - 80 per cent and minimal exposure to UV light and vibration.
The 157-step descent into the mineshaft runs parallel with the train bringing wine out of the cellar. Once below ground, we’re faced with a warren of stone corridors, nooks and crannies of disconcertingly uneven height and floor level, but not so disconcerting that the little Cat trucks can’t ply their way noisily back and forth loaded up with fine wine. In fact the mine, hewn from Bath stone, is not remotely claustrophobic thanks to high ceilings and above all a plentiful supply of air. Supplying ventilation throughout, the galvanized steel metal ducts installed by the Ministry during the war are what make work in the mine possible. We pass a photography studio where a case of Chateau 2008 Margaux is being photographed against a lit background to show the condition of the labels and capsules and the ullage levels, perhaps for an auction catalogue.
Ali Cook has been with Octavian for 19 years and knows every nook and cranny. If there were a canary down here, Ali would be the first to know about it. He takes us round the cellars which are laid out in nine different areas, each housing wines from a multitude of wine merchants and private customers. There’s a million square feet equivalent to 18 football pitches. Humidity is at a constant 80 and temperature at 13°C. Around 100 trade clients and around 10,000 private customers store their wines here. Octavian has its own private customer service called Octavian Vaults with around 3000 private clients paying between £14.93 - £17.23 a case annually depending on the number of cases stored.
It’s wall to wall fine wine piled high on two racks, with seemingly endless quantities of Château Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut-Brion, top Italian wines such as Solaia, Tignanello, Sassicaia, Aldo Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello and Poggio di Sotto, great Burgundies from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Rousseau and others. Some wine merchants’ names I recognize, others I don’t.
I ask to see my own few bottles in storage with two wine companies, Farr and Corney and Barrow, neither of whom have multi-owner accounts. It had been a fairly easy matter for them to match the wine merchant’s reference number to the rotation number linked to my wines. In the unlikely event therefore that the wine merchant were to go bust, Octavian would be able to identify my wines, even without my name on the case, by reference to matching the rotation number given by Octavian to the wine merchant’s own records. Suitably re-assured, I climb the 157 steps back up to the surface, where, knowing my little nest egg is safe, I breathe the fresh air of England’s green and pleasant land just that little bit more easily.
This article was first published, in the version below, in the April issue of Revue du Vin de France, China.
文 /Anthony Rose 译/张 然
萄酒酒窖。“这就像诺克斯堡的Fort K nox（美
K i ngdom Br u nel，19世纪著名土木工程师）
At las Powder Company公司的T NT，看上去
利酒如Solaia、Tignanel lo、Sassicaia, 、A ldo
Conterno、Bartolo Mascarel lo 和 Poggio d i
的几瓶葡萄酒， 要知道在Farr Vintner 或者
是Corney & Barrow，都不会有联名账户，所
co.uk开设周专栏。也为Decanter、 The World of Fine Wine
写作赢得不少奖项。The Wine Gang 的创办人之一（www.
博Anthony _ Rose。