Wine land

Wine land was an idea I had soon after hearing about the creation of the floating kingdom, and started off as the idea for a wine importing, storage and marketing operation, and grew from that, of course now it is much more a life style than a business and how this was created is the subject of my report to you.

In case you are new to the floating kingdom perhaps I should explain what wine land is. We are a reasonable sized island, there are many larger, and we are devoted to wine. Within the island we make some, consume a great deal, store and market wines from around the world and run experiences, courses etc for those who want to know more about or just to find out which wines they like.

Like many islands the outer walls at all levels above the water contain accommodation and offices, and entry to the island is from boat docks at water level. The walls or buildings around the island vary in height being shorter on the side which is normally south and higher on the northern side, so as to allow as much light in as possible. The large center area on the surface is our vineyard, and we have 16 acres of vines,  on land this would produce around 37,000 bottles of wine but out here we manage by feeding the wines to get well over 50,000, still a very small percentage of the volume of wine that goes through our island every year.

On the first floor down are lecture theatres, halls, and facilities, below that is a level mainly used by the highway through collection points and bridging points to islands on each side of us. 

Next down is the area we actually make the wine from our grapes and those from several other islands that have limited areas of grapes. Quite a few family islands also have areas of vines and these are brought in and produced for them as their own label wines. Even some of the hotels have chosen to have some wines within their gardens so we are kept quite busy.

Next down are the wine dealers, spread over two floors, some representing specific countries, some regions with wine growing countries, and some having a more general coverage.

Below is a floor of discount outlets, and bargain shops, there are also some consortium displays where people can get involved in part ownership deals in vineyards and the like. The next two floors down are storage and dispatch areas, and below that we have the boat docks arrival and dispatch areas.

At the first level below water we have a little of an oddity, we have composting bins, that turn garden refuge from many islands around into compost, and below that another slight oddity in that we have a mushroom farm. 

Below we have several levels of wine storage, some at natural sea temperature and some in cooled compartments, at the very bottom is some ballast, like a number of islands this is  a large number of compartments with  a level of gravel in each.

Each of the levels below water and several above are made of sealed units so whatever happens the island will float. On several floors we have ballast water tanks that we use to trim the level of the island and also to allow for seasonal variations in weight of wine being held in store. We use sea water for ballast and have pumps that can move it about.

The composting level, was added into the initial design partly because we needed compost, and to constantly feed the wines but also so that the island could become self sufficient so although we have plug through services as apart of the kingdom structure they mostly are just that, we generate our own electricity, mainly from gases collected from composting. We also manage our own environment with heat exchangers etc. The mushroom farm was added to use up space that is designed for expansion of storage, and as we had the compost and environment that was suitable.

We are currently building a new island a few rings out, but not far away, and most of the composting will be moved there, and we have made an agreement to both supply and purchase power at near the same price, which will be better. The composting will be a larger part of the new island, and it will again have vines on the surface, but just a few homes at surface level, the majority of the space we are selling as shell space for others to fit out. Once this is complete the mushroom farm will take up half the room that will become available and most of the rest is being converted to hold a new bakers and sandwich supply business, that will also supply hampers for meals, wine etc as well as having a range of home delivery services of meals and wine. I have also agreed to lease the surface of another island that is a freshwater reservoir, as it will go up and down as water demand varies, no accommodation will be on it.

Most people within the floating kingdom drink quite a lot of wine, partly because we have a non stop summer and partly because we have no tax or duty on wine so it is about a quarter of the price people are used to paying within the UK.

The accommodation and offices we have in the outer wall is complimented by several eating places looking over the vineyard, and are popular as clients to the restaurants can walk along paths between the vines. We also have some flowering shrubs and flowers around the paths, these were not originally put there for people but to keep the bees we have in some of our hives busy for the parts of the year when we don't need them to help the vines in the pollination process. The bee hives also produce quite a lot of honey and the bees and flowers do appeal to the people. The only feature that was added for humans really on the surface was a small series of waterfalls and a stream, as we pump the water around, it serves no other purpose than to produce sound and visual effects. 

The courses we run on tasting and enjoying wine are popular and we won an award last year under the unusual holidays heading. What we have tried to do is to run these at a variety of levels, we have the tasting and spitting out courses for experts, but also the starter courses where a lot of wine is drunk and everyone gets very friendly and has a good time.

So how did it all come about. I knew nothing of any of this, I drank wine, but was not an expert, and had never even owned a rowing boat living inland.

I read about it all first on an interment site, a bit like you are, and decided to look at a small island housing a shop of some type and started to play with ideas for layout. As I found out more I realized the opportunity there was if you were one of the first in with a new project. I decided on food and wine as something that will never go out of fashion and because I felt I would be able to find partners, as it turned out I didn't need any.

I remember the first model I made out of empty lemonade bottles and some ceiling tiles, it floated but up side down. The next model was larger and involved a whole series of empty plastic pop bottles with a garden cane pushed through them and to the holes sealed with a sealing gun. I had a large flat raft that definitely floated and the right way up. I added some corner canes, and side canes and draped an old blanket over it. I was hooked. My next model was larger, I started with a shape made out of old cardboard boxes, put lemonade bottles all around the outside and a a layer on the top of the boxes, next I glued an old plastic ground sheet from an old tent over the lot. Then glued that and stuck some chicken wire to it and then added a number of layers of glued newspaper, when dry it was quite stiff, and I finished the outside off with several layers of waterproofing PVA glue and then paint. I turned it upside down and did the same inside. a bit of tidying up and I had a small boat. Out of sight of anyone who may have laughed at my craft I went to a river and yes it floated. I filled it full of water, and as I did it sank lower in the water, but did not sink, the lemonade bottles had sufficient buoyancy to keep it afloat.

Then I started reading, working out what was possible, looking at how ships were designed before making another model, this time a scale model of something very similar to the island you see today. It floated, but then again by then I knew it would, more importantly I was able to get a series of pictures to excite others of the idea.

The original idea was to get partners, but I thought the case would be stronger and my position safer if I already had some clients for it, so I set about doing some presentations with photographs and drawings, commitments were not very hard to get after all they were not committing to anything unless I got enough to build the island. The deal was a simple lease for a set number of years for an amount down and agreed regular payments.

As you will know you have to build two islands one that you give to the state, and in my case I managed to negotiate that the two islands would be different, I didn't want a competitor.  I worked on the theory that I would let half the units and used this to set the price based on my estimates of the build cost, so as to cover the total cost. As it was I sold over 75% of the available space. 

Next I had to decide who was to actually build it for me, I had been looking at supplying the wine shop through Portugal and the Azores and had with some difficulty learnt a small amount of Portuguese. I needed a technically competent country where labor was also available cheaply and decided on Brazil as they speak a version of Portuguese, and the towing distance was reasonable. I started to make contacts and before long found people who could manage the build phase for me and the price was quite a bit lower than I had expected.

All I needed now was the funding, but rather than go by the normal routes I decided to give any of my clients who were signed up the chance to get involved, and so offered them a deal where they would buy rather than lease the space at a considerable saving, quite a few jumped at the opportunity and agreed stage payments as the island was built. I still did not have quite enough in cash so I went to some companies that build commercial property to let out and put the deal to them, I could get it built, had the clients already signed up did they want to buy some of the units to rent out. There was some haggling about price, but I soon sold all I needed and had around 25% more cash than the price I needed, so if anyone failed to pay up on time we were still in business.

I got contracts with the builders sorted, and it all got started. The shell was to be built in Brazil and floated out for completing and ballasting within the kingdom. It was the builders who then came to us with an idea, in order to make the island stable to tow out they wanted to flood some of the compartments once at sea, and they suggested that this could be done just off the mouth of the Amazon with fresh water that has a lower density than salt water, and that we might see if there was a use for this fresh water. One of the water utilities within the floating kingdom was delighted to take this and we did a deal where I would swap this water for other fresh water that we would have later, either to help in the building of the island or in its later supply. This apparently helped them as the requirements were outstripping supply but they had other developments well in hand.

The island  arrived, it was around a month late when it arrived in the kingdom and unloading the water  took another week. However construction from there on went slightly faster than expected so we were finished around the time we had hoped, and several months before the clients were expecting. The second island that we supplied to the kingdom was built by the same builders and followed along being completed around 6 months later, using largely the same people throughout. This had also brought out more fresh water, when the shell was being delivered.

We did not hold back to the agreed moving in dates but gave them all free time to get set up early if they wanted, and set about our own areas. Now it was complete, the remaining space was either let or sold very quickly and at a higher price. At this point I still had all my own areas, and a pile of profit I had created so far, so fitting out, planting, bringing in staff etc was all accomplished without difficulty. 

I did change some of my plans, for example I decided to let out the restaurants and to do a partnership deal with the accommodation side of the training company with a hotel group. I got in at the right time early, I doubt if you could do so profitable a deal today, after all I ended up owing nearly half the island myself as well having the vineyard, school, and rentals all coming it.  The mushroom farm I have given to one of the first people to join my staff, but I still get a low rental for the space. 

As you can guess I have every optimism in getting involved in building more islands, but prefer to be hands on as opposed to an investor so have stacked up my cash.  I have however been thinking of building  a family island, with a home and vineyard on the surface and letting all the rest under the surface, and have been playing with drawings. 

As to you, I never advise other people what they should do, this has worked out great for me, and  I could retire a multi millionaire if I wished, but I feel you have to be driven, have the commitment and be able to stand up and turn the dream into reality even in the early days when people may laugh at you. Its funny they forget that later and swear they always knew you would make it happen. 


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Last updated: October 09, 2002.