Glass act: A local winery’s new tasting room is all bottled up

With 12-foot-tall walls made of 19,400 bottles, the interior lights up beautifully during the day, with sunlight filtering through the bottles. Photo: Stephen Barling With 12-foot-tall walls made of 19,400 bottles, the interior lights up beautifully during the day, with sunlight filtering through the bottles. Photo: Stephen Barling

The empty bottles were piling up at Free Union’s Glass House Winery. The recycling service that co-owners Jeff and Michelle Saunders relied on for years had begun hauling the glass to a landfill, which the environmentally conscious couple couldn’t tolerate.

At the same time, the winery was increasing production, having gone from six acres under vine to 12. “We already needed more space to age wines and store cases,” Jeff Saunders says. “So, we framed out a pole barn. And then the empties started piling up.”

While touring wineries out West, the Saunders’ had seen a couple of buildings with walls made of bottles. The structures were smaller than the barn under construction at Glass House, but Jeff had experience as an architect and builder, so he decided to give it a go.

“It was totally doable,” he says. “You just had to get the right mortar, one that’s on the soft side so it wouldn’t create cracks or pop the bottles.”

As the project progressed, Saunders saw the possibilities. “I thought it could also be a second tasting room or even a little event space,” he says.

The mortar, which he found online, turned out to be prohibitively expense in the quantities he needed. Undeterred, Saunders did a little research and found the formula to make the mortar on-site.

With a concrete floor and foundation in place, and the framing complete, all that remained was building the walls of glass bottles, installing the roof, and finishing out the building. The walls are not load-bearing (six-by-six studs do that work) but they are air-tight, with insulation added in some places inside.

Construction finished up in the spring, and the bottle house—64 feet long and 32 feet wide —opened in May.

With 12-foot-tall walls made of 19,400 bottles, the interior lights up beautifully during the day, with sunlight filtering through the bottles. On cloudy days and in the evening, soft lighting reflects off the glass walls, creating a unique atmosphere.

Visitors are impressed. “They see it from the outside, so I believe they think it’s going to be more rustic, but it’s pretty sleek and cool inside,” Saunders says. “It just seemed like a cool thing to do with a bunch of old bottles.”

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