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Wine to 5: Vincent O’Brien

Inside a professional's everyday life, Decanter speaks to Vincent O’Brien, managing director of fine wine storage specialists, Octavian.

Vincent O’Brien is the managing director of Octavian Wine Services. Octavian is the world’s number one fine wine storage provider, home of many of the world’s rarest collections, and has been described as the ‘Fort Knox of wine’.

How did you get here?

I joined Cert Octavian, as it was known then, in 2009 as financial director. This was while the world was coming to terms with the financial crisis of 2008. After turning the business around, I was offered the opportunity to take on Octavian, when the general logistics business of Cert Octavian was sold off to enable us to focus on the fine wine industry.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I enjoy dealing with an industry that is evolving so quickly, with no set parameters! Over the past 10 years the value of wine, and the potential of wine as an investment, has increased rapidly, with expectations growing in tandem. I also enjoy getting to know so many interesting and informed wine lovers, and coming to appreciate wine myself.

And the worst?

I do feel frustrated that storage and logistics aren’t given more consideration by the fine wine trade. Provenance and pristine packaging are key for the value of fine wine and the trust in the market. It therefore baffles me that wine that is so valuable can still arrive without the correct paperwork. If provenance is key to value, it should be prioritised in the setting up of processes and systems. I’d love to see logistics embraced by the trade as part of the value chain and trading confidence of fine wine.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

The perception that a warehouse is just space, and that we’re all the same. Details are everything: optimal ambient conditions, specialist insurance, and stocktaking, for example. We take responsibility for so many aspects, and that prevents a lot of problems for wine buyers down the line.

Is there a special moment or achievement you recall fondly?

I am very proud of what we achieved during Covid. We managed to keep all staff engaged and safe throughout. Being applauded by my staff after a team briefing early in the pandemic was a very proud moment. And we delivered into London next-day throughout, which at times meant we were well ahead of larger companies.

There are many unique bottles down in your vaults. Is there one you feel/felt privileged to have under your watch?

I am very practically focused about how we manage all the wines in our care. Having said that, we currently store more than 1,000 bottles that predate vintage 1900. I do take a
particular interest in these, and feel the weight of that responsibility. These bottles have outlived the people who made them – they are a piece of history.

And one you feel privileged to have been able to drink?

I am definitely a red wine man, but then a customer very kindly gave me a bottle of Krug 2000. Prior to that, I hadn’t been a big Champagne fan, but that wine transformed me. It opened my eyes to what a great Champagne could be – it had such depth and layers.

What do you enjoy drinking at home?

I love Brunello di Montalcino and bought more than I probably should have during Covid. I am also enjoying a very good California Chardonnay at the moment, in readiness for the summer ahead. I am still learning about wine and am fortunate to have met lots of people in the industry who are helping me along the way.

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