9,000 wine bottles holding up the floor

Whistlewood Common Round House

I own a share of land as part of a Community Benefit Society – one of the forms of not for profit organisations we have in the UK. The land is just outside Melbourne in Derbyshire and transformed from intensively farmed arable to a community area with trees, a reinstated stream, lots of wildlife and an action-packed social calendar. Our Society is called Whistlewood Common.

I read our weekly newsletter with interest and am often in touch with one of the board members to see how I can help out – for example, we are donating some pea gravel to Whistlewood. When I got a recent newsletter I was entreated to contribute to the collection of 9,000 wine bottles by the beginning of March.

First I hit my calculator: 9,000 bottles in 14 weeks equate to a lot of wine. Even with 350 members and Christmas looming ever nearer, each of us would have to find two bottles a week. Well over the national drinking guidelines and flying in the face of a dry January. So I suggested the board approach local restaurants, wine bars and pubs.

All these bottles are going to take up a lot of space so the board asked for storage ideas and now Whistlewood volunteers are building a shed and have already erected a drop-off point. I also offered to document the background to this unusual request in my blog, which will also be shared on the Whistlewood website.

What are all those bottle for?

How strong are wine bottles? The short answer is very.
Wine makers have honed the shape of their bottles over hundreds of years. They have to withstand the pressures that build up inside them and rough handling. While they don’t have to take a top load, they do have to have strong necks to withstand the torque and force of twisting and pulling out corks.

I hear you cry. Hopefully, it is obvious, they will form the floor of a roundhouse and the roundhouse will take pride of place in the Whistlewood Common hub. In my next post I will tell you more about Whistlewood Common and its hub; let’s use this time to contemplate the construction of a roundhouse.

Imagine, if you will, that you are a not for profit society that wants to create a beautiful community space. That space must celebrate all that is special about your local area and cause as little harm as possible. Now you are going to do what any sane person would do.

  • You are going to build a beautiful octagonal building (called the roundhouse) with straw walls, local timber and a floor made from wine bottles.
  • You will pay for the building with a share offer, a grant from the National Forest Company and match funding from the Community Shares Booster Programme.
  • You will engage a renowned straw build company and give their architect free-reign to design a building with stage with the least possible environmental footprint – Straw Works.
  • Finally, you will plan to open the roundhouse in time for your annual MidSummer Festival.

So let’s think about wine bottles.

Round House Floor ConstructionIn this picture you can see the architect’s drawing of the structure of the walls, don’t worry I am going to guide you through it.

Let’s start at the bottom. About 45 cm below ground level (the land slopes so this is an average) we will lay a course of hardcore across the area of the roundhouse to form a foundation. In a ring around the perimeter of the building, we will stack tyres filled with pea gravel. The tyres are the bobbly bits on the diagram, the hardcore is below the tyres and fills the hole in the circle to about the depth of three tyres. Next, we will put down a geotextile layer to separate the layers. On top of the fabric will sit sand and then the bottles. Neck down, bedded in the sand and surrounded by sand, the bottles will hold air, which is a great insulator and are very strong. They will be topped with another layer of geotextile and 10 cm of self-levelling limecrete screed. We plan to wax and polish the floor, most likely using a mixture of beeswax, turps and linseed oil.

Can you help us collect wine bottles? We are very flexible. We will take glass, unbroken standard size wine bottles (75cl) or similar spirit or other bottles of the same height.

How do we know we need 9,000 wine bottles? Our architect calulated a much higher number based on the Bordeaux wine bottle. Ah, you may not know what a Bordeaux wine bottle is. In general (not including dessert wines), there are three types of bottle. The straight bottles (on the right of the image) are the Bordeaux bottles. The bottles with sloping shoulders (on the left of the image) are called Burgundy bottles. Of course, sparkling wines are bottled in even strong bottles, generally Burgundy ‘ish’ in shape.

Wine Bottles - Burgundy and Bordeaux
The big question is will I drink this wine in time for the bottles to be immortalised in the roundhouse?

So, one of our directors took a mixture of all three arranged them in an area of one square metre and worked out the final total. Allowing for the fatter Burgundy and sparkling wine bottles reduced the total.

You can bring them to Whistlewood on a Saturday afternoon and put them in the bottle collection bin (built by our Duke of Edinburgh’s volunteers) just inside the main Whistlewood gate (not the access gate on the main road). However, if you can keep your bottles at home until you have a ‘significant’ quantity we may be able to pick them up from people in the Melbourne area.














A short guide to terminology

Geotextile – “Geotextiles are permeable fabrics which, when used in association with soil, have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect, or drain. Typically made from polypropylene or polyester, geotextile fabrics come in three basic forms: woven (resembling mail bag sacking), needle punched (resembling felt), or heat bonded (resembling ironed felt)” (Taken from Wikipedia 16 November 2017). Our geotextile will be non-woven and made from recycled plastics or natural fibres.

Limecrete – Limecrete is an alternative to concrete made from natural hydraulic lime and lightweight aggregate.

Screed – Screed is a thin layer of hard-wearing material laid over a floor to protect the floor. Our screed will be made from natural hydraulic lime and like the floor will be breathable.





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