Wine styles of the rich and famous: The Wiltshire 'wine mine' that houses the finest vintages

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Demand for the finest vintages has soared during the past five years. Jamie Merrill discovers how they're kept in optimum drinking condition.

Five miles outside the town of Chippenham in the rolling Wiltshire countryside a precious treasure is stored in a very unlikely location. Buried deep under 100ft of clay and encased in millions of tons of limestone, nearly £1bn worth of fine wines sits safe from prying eyes and unwanted attention.

As my taxi pulls up outside the main gate at Corsham Cellars security is obviously tight. There are motion detectors, razor wire, huge steel doors and 24-hour guards that James Bond would struggle to overcome. All of this technology is designed to protect acre upon acre of Châteaux Lafites, Pétrus, Latours and Margauxs, which have literally been buried underground in a disused mine.

"The locals call it the wine mine," my friendly country cabbie tells me as I get out to confirm my identity at the security desk. "My daughter used to work down there for a while; it's a funny place, like a set from The Avengers or something."

Global demand for fines wines has soared in the last five years and while the Bordeaux bubble, where wealthy Chinese investors bought the 2010 vintage at almost any price, burst in June of last year, demand is still solid. A case of 1982 Châteaux Lafite, for example, will still set you back nearly £30,000, explaining the thorough bag search and security questions from the site's burly guards.

And there is no sign the trade, and the need to store fine wine safely, is likely to fade away. "There has been a slight dip in prices but in the long term they will remain high because there are more and more customers from Europe, Russia and the Far East competing for what is a limited amount of fine wine, says Richard Harvey, international director of wine at the auction house Bonhams.

With such large sums of money at stake, storing fine wine in an old rack in the corner of a draughty kitchen or in the garden shed is no longer an option. So much so that there are now seven million bottles stored underground at Corsham Cellars. Run by Cert Octavian, a company that specialises in looking after the finer things in life, the mine was previously owned by the Ministry of Defence. It spent millions of pounds making it suitable to store explosives and ammunition during the Second World War but since 1989, when the labyrinthine underground site, which spreads over one million square feet, was bought by the businessman Nigel Jagger, its corridors have been stacked with wine, not TNT.

"To store wine correctly humidity, temperature, air quality, light and vibration must be tightly controlled to ensure it matures at its natural rate and doesn't deteriorate," Jagger, chairman of the company, says.

"Our customers are very knowledgeable now and know that wine stored in direct sunlight or in a room that is too hot or too cold can be damaged. An average temperature between 10C and 15C is ideal.

"In hindsight, the attributes underground at Corsham are perfect as we are insulated by natural rock and have a constant temperature. All we need to do is tweak the humidity and ensure a smooth flow of fresh air passes through the mine."

Working underground can be dangerous, and before we climb down the 157 steps to the wine vaults, Ella Lister, a wine-industry consultant who works for Cert Octavian, fits me out with an emergency oxygen supply and high-visibility jacket. It costs customers £15 per year per case to store their wine in the vault and the average price of a case ranges from £1,500 to £3,000, rising to as much as £100,000, she says as we descend. As well as the major auction houses and wine suppliers, the company's customers include Andrew Lloyd Webber, the venture capitalist Guy Hands, chef Michel Roux Snr, a "very famous" Premiership manager and several Hollywood stars whose names a tight-lipped Lister won't divulge.

Underground the air is dry and the atmosphere eerie. Several scenes from The Guns of Navarone with Gregory Peck were filmed in the mine and Second World War graffiti – not all of it polite – stills adorns the walls. Just down the road is Burlington, Britain's now-defunct nuclear bunker and the place to which the Prime Minister and the Royal Family would have fled if the Cold War turned hot. It's not hard to imagine the piles of bombs and ammunition that would have been stored here.

Now there is only wine. And lots of it – about 700,000 cases in total. Each has a barcode and its exact location is stored in the company's computer, while a staff of 100 underground workers work in three shifts to keep things in order.

"Provenance as well as security is important to our customers," Lister says, as we pass a particularly valuable case of wine owned by a wealthy investor she dare not name. "For example, if a customer wanted his or her Lafite 1989 brought to the surface to drink or to sell, we'd never just bring the nearest case of that vintage up. We'd make sure it was that customer's exact case. And with so many bottles, our records have to be top-notch."

According to research by the company, keeping fine wine in a quality cellar like Corsham can add as much as 20 per cent to its value come auction day. But as Jagger explained before he left us at the surface – his bad back means he prefers not to tackle the stairs too often – it's the Second World War-era levels of engineering that make the site viable.

"Thanks to a box ticked by a pen-pushing Civil Servant back in 1936, the MoD spent millions on high-quality galvanised ducting that runs through the mine. It's still solid after all these years and means we can bring a totally new supply of fresh air down every half an hour for perfect storage conditions," he says.

What the soldiers working down here during the Second World War would have made of all this decadent wine in their former armoury I'm not sure, but they'd probably have thought much the same thing as me: "where can I find a corkscrew?"

Storage stories

Chill out

The Wholesale Produce Market in Philadelphia in Pennsylvania has a 700,000sq-ft refrigeration space; so you may need to take a coat when checking out its 68 stalls of produce.

Lost in the aisles

With more than 65,000sq-ft of produce from 75 countries, Jungle Jim's International Market in Ohio claims to be "a grocery store like no other". It's an area the size of 35 football pitches and boasts 75,000 products.

Deep freeze

A giant freezer in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, holds a staggering 42,000 pallets of frozen vegetables, ensuring it is near impossible to avoid eating your greens.

Bake off

Nearby, Camgrain, which stores and processes grain from farms countrywide, is adding another 210,000 tonnes of storage space to its massive grain silo at Great Wilbraham – enough to keep Britain in breakfast cereals, bread and biscuits for months.

Ellie Thomson

Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Sport
Jose Mourinho restrains his assistant manager Rui Faria, Fabio Borini celebrates his winning penalty and Connor Wickham equalises for Sunderland
sportChelsea 1 Sunderland 2: Deafeat is extra bitter as former Chelsea player Fabio Borini scores late penalty to seal victory
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
VIDEO
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit