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1bn worth of fine wine buried under Corsham
By Sarah Jones
BBC Wiltshire

Cert Octavian - Corsham Cellars
Over 650,000 crates of fine wine is stored underground by Octavian Vaults at Corsham Cellars, near Gastard.

A hundred feet under the tiny village of Gastard, on the outskirts of Corsham, can be found £1bn worth of the finest wines in the world.

Acres and acres of Château Lafites, Latours, Pétrus', Palmers, Margauxs and Haut Brions have literally been buried under the Wiltshire countryside in a disused mine.

Over seven million bottles, some worth as much as a small semi, are in storage - stacked floor to ceiling at Octavian's below ground vault near Corsham.

Cert Octavian - Corsham Cellars
This shaft, with 157 steps, is one of only two ways down to the vaults.

"Underground at this precise moment," says Cellar Master Laurie Greer, "we've got about 650,000 cases of wine.

"From a value point of view, the wine underground starts at about £5 a bottle and can go up to as much as £30-40,000 a bottle."

But is a disused quarry really the best place to store your champion vintage 'châteaux'?

For Corsham Cellars' 160 trade and 1,800 private customers (including it's rumoured Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alex Ferguson) it is.

"A large proportion of our business is investment wine," says Laurie.

"Customers buy fine wine quite young and then it has to be laid down for 10,15, 20, 30 years before it will be drunk.

"And wine likes to be stored in a dark place where's there no UV rays.

"It's got to have a constant temperature for it to mature to its best and it's also got to have a humidity that's right."

And the Wiltshire mine, that once supplied limestone to Weymouth's Grand Hotel and the town hall in Cape Town South Africa, has it all.

With a temperature kept at a constant 13 degrees and a humidity maintained at 75%, the 30 acre honeycomb of tunnels is an ideal place to store your vintage investments:

No corkscrews allowed

"This is the only one of its kind in the world," explains Paul Watts the deputy mine manager as we descend the 157 steps into the mine.

"It's about the size of 20 football pitches, if you can imagine that. It takes the people that work down here about four months to really know their way around and 'get the knowledge' so to speak."

Cert Octavian - Corsham Cellars
Some of the wine, in storage, is worth as much as 40,000 a bottle.

And you can see why.

Branching off from the 'main drag' in every direction are a honeycomb of tunnels that seem to go on for miles. And piled up to the bare limestone ceiling, in every available space, are crate upon crate of fine wines.

"If there was a party to be had it would be down here," says Paul. "That's for sure.

"When we get wine experts down here they're like kiddies in a sweet shop. It's difficult to drag them out. Just touching the crates and feeling all that value in your hands."

Touching however is all that visitors to Corsham Cellars are allowed to do.

As a 'bonded warehouse' most of the wine stored underground has yet to have the duty and VAT paid on it. So as soon as a customer pops the cork they release it from the bond and have to pay the tax due on it.

Fort Knox for wines

And no you can't drink your wine down there. I asked. In fact all cork screws or any other 'implement where you can get wine from the bottle' are strictly prohibited.

So with corkscrews barred, along with every other bottle opening device, exactly how safe is it burying your vintage vino under Corsham?

Cert Octavian - Corsham Cellars
The honeycomb of tunnels covers over 30 acres or 20 football pitches.

"It's like a Fort Knox for wines," says Paul, "The whole site is fenced off, has CCTV cameras everywhere and security guards.

"And we're 100 feet underground so it takes a lot to carry a case of wine up the stairs."

And with the 157 step entrance shaft, one of the only ways into the mine, only the fittest of wine collectors can hope to view their investments:

"We're governed by the mines inspectorate and we have strict safety codes," says Paul.

"So if you want to come and see your wine you've got to be over 16 years old and physically fit. No minors, pardon the pun, are allowed down here."




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