In which we urge collectors to give as much attention to the cellaring of their wine as they do to selecting it.

One allure of fine wine is its lifeline. Many of the bottles in Octavian’s vaults have been with us for decades, acquiring depth, nuance and value. No wonder that these wines are opened to celebrate precious milestones.


Such transcendent wine experiences are created through diligence and are threatened by complacency. Great wine is a child of earth, and time. From ancient times, humans have completed the last stage of wine creation by ageing in dark, cool, still and ever-so-slightly damp conditions. What’s good for wine is not necessarily what is most convenient for traders, or spontaneous drinkers.


The foundations of good wine cellarage are (or mimic) the environment of the under-ground: cool, dark, damp, and still. And unchanging – fluctuations can be as deleterious as poor conditions.


Whether your wine is cellared at home or in professional storage, these environmental conditions are the foundations. But they’re just the basics. Is the humidity controlled, and how is it monitored and tracked? Is temperature control dependent on air-conditioning units? If so, to what extent? What are the contingencies in the event of a power cut, or heatwave? If your wine is in an above-ground warehouse, how is that structure insulated, and what is the roof made of? Will it heat up as summer temperatures rise and challenge the effectiveness of the aircon? How are the temperature fluctuations between winter and summer measured and minimised? What lighting is installed, and is it low UV? If your wine is at home, is your wine fridge protected from UV light shining in through the glass door? Is your wine cabinet fitted with UV resistant glass? Make sure that any at-home wine cabinet is sited away from appliances that generate heat and vibration.


Whether storing wine at home or professionally, check your insurance; it is almost as important as your cellar temperature and humidity. Octavian’s consultant Master of Wine, Sarah Abbott, also advises loss-adjusters and insurers and has encountered many home wine-collections that are under-insured, particularly if the owner assumed they would be covered by their home contents policy. It’s easy to get the wine bug, start building a collection, and find yourself with many great wines but too little time to keep a current inventory and valuation. But if you’re storing wine at home, it is imperative that you log its purchase and current value and adjust your insurance policy. Wine collector software WineOwners has comprehensive inventory and valuation functions, is available on a low-cost annual subscription, and can be set up in minutes. Octavian Vaults’ “My Cellar” online portal has been developed by the WineOwners software team and gives all our private clients immediate updates on stock, location and values, as well as the opportunity to buy and sell wine to our community of collectors.


Standard contents insurance may not cover “invisible” potential deterioration of wine from mechanical breakdowns or power cuts that interrupt the operation of air conditioning units or wine fridges. Making a successful claim for non-obvious damage to wine can be time-consuming and frustrating: fine wine cellarage is a specialist and even esoteric area for general insurers. Abbott recommends that collectors research specialist home wine-insurance policies, now widely available online. Be aware that the costs and restrictions on all policies have risen in recent years: most underwriters have capped the coverage for items stored at basement level in the tens of thousands of pounds. Abbott has seen clients with beautiful bespoke home cellars struggle to secure renewed insurance after flooding. This risk can be mitigated by changing cellar design, and ensuring that bottles and cases are stored 20cm above floor level.


If you are paying for external wine storage, check the insurance policy, trading terms, and small print. Don’t assume that insurance for your wine is covered within the fees for your wine storage. Some of the largest wine storage companies in the UK do not include insurance cover for client wines. While this gives traders and collectors the freedom to source their own level of cover, finding a policy with the right cover takes time, research and documentation. Remember to update valuations, and keep an eye on the rising value of any rare aged bottles: you may need to specify individual high-value wines to ensure adequate cover. Octavian Vaults offers the highest and most comprehensive level of insurance cover in the wine storage marketplace. It takes commitment (and buying power) from us to achieve this: our checks, product condition photography and risk management processes are just some of the conditions we have put in place to enable the underwriting syndicate to insure Octavian-cellared wine to such a high level.

Financial stability

Beyond insurance, check the financial stability and accountability of the holding company. The wine press has salutary tales. Ensure that wine stored on your behalf by a wine trader, or a wine storage warehouse, is labelled with your name and details so that you can prove ownership in the event of that business going bust. It is surprisingly common to come across young companies with minimal assets storing millions of pounds worth of wine on behalf of clients. You should also ask your storage provider to share details of each unique case rotation number of your wine. These unique identifiers for each case are mandatory for HMRC purposes and, as Octavian MD, Vincent O’Brien, explains, should be routinely visible to all wine owners: “It’s key to transparency and traceability. Using rotation numbers alongside the owner name, we can guarantee the case you bring in is the case you get out. Not all warehouses could honestly say the same!”  The wine trade is informed by tradition, relationships and culture that can be delightful. But trust is not enough to secure such an asset and we encourage all collectors to ask searching questions.