Craig Chard, Warehouse Supervisor
"It's always a good conversation-opener when you tell people that you've been underground for the past eight years," says Craig Chard, warehouse supervisor, and one of the 'moles' making up Octavian's 34-strong, sub-terrain cellars team. "You could say I'm allergic to sunlight," he laughs, particularly since his previous job was night shift picker at another Octavian facility at nearby RAF Kemble.
Today, while his working environment may be totally devoid of natural light - an intrinsic element of the flawless storage conditions required for laying down the finest wines in the world - Craig's passion and enthusiasm for his work shines through when he talks about it. He clearly loves what he does. "I want to be there," he says, doing what he describes as a "varied role in which two days are never the same, covering everything from ordering cleaning supplies to stocktaking, and goods-in to distribution."
Keen to highlight that he is 'just one cog in the wheel' of a finely-tuned and cohesive team, Craig is emphatic about the importance of maintaining 'Swiss watch' precision in in-house processes for optimum efficiency and customer service. "It's essential that everything keeps moving," he explains. "Much of my role focuses on maintaining the smooth running of the warehouse. We all have a part to play at the right time, but more than anything, we're driven by ensuring that customers' wines are stored perfectly, and they're ready whenever they are needed upstairs."
Service is fundamental to the Octavian reputation and it's something that Craig takes personal pride in ensuring. So much so that he will readily extend his 6am to 3pm shift to as much as twelve hours when needs must. "It's like caring for a baby, you can't just leave it. Say a customer needs wine for a particular function or our London hotel and restaurant customers have a particular deadline, it's up to us to make it happen. We have a reputation for being the best in the world and we want to keep it," he says.
One of the greatest changes Craig has witnessed in his role over the years - and indeed, what he cites as the most challenging aspect - has been the introduction of handheld terminals, which are now used for all picking. "I was PC literate before, but I've had to evolve with the technology, which has at times been hard, especially when you're using bespoke technology that's new to you and you're 100 feet below ground, with just a laptop and a phone to rely on!" he adds. However, technology has undoubtedly revolutionised the team's work.
"There's picking consistency, any problems are immediately highlighted, efficiencies have been improved and mistakes eliminated. When the IT works well, everyone's happy," Craig says.
And Craig is never happier than when he's conducting cellar tours, which may be to existing and prospective customers and even special interest groups. "I love this place. It's the most unique place in the world. Seeing customers' faces light up when they come down here - they're like kids in a sweet shop," he enthuses.
"Visitors are always fascinated by the history of the cellars and their former usage. The MOD left behind a few smooth walls, but much of the exposed rock, complete with cut marks can be still seen today, together with old graffiti and drawings that captivate everyone who sees them," (see back cover).
Craig's favourite character is a man with a flat cap and pipe. "It just makes you stop and think about how people passed their time here in those days. What do the German inscriptions mean? And who were 'Dave and Doris', whose pairing has been immortalised on these walls? It's incredible - you can't help but be affected by the atmosphere here."
The unique Corsham environment has rubbed off on Craig in other ways too. Despite being an ardent West Country Bitter drinker, he has, over the past eight years, been collecting 'Marilyn Merlot' bottles from the Napa Valley, California. "The bottles look lovely and just appealed to me," says Craig, adding, "if I can be a collector, anyone can be - and where better to wrap them up and store them away safely than here at Corsham?"