On a 3,000-acre family ranch in eastern Texas, a small hill rises above a bend in the Blanco River. The family has a number of projects underway on their property at any given time, and one of them was digging into the hill in search of a natural cave. They wanted to build a wine cellar and tasting room for family and friends to enjoy.
“One of the family members led the effort and hired a geotech engineer. They thought if they just started digging, they would hit a cave,” recalls architect Brian Korte, FAIA. “They didn’t.” At that point, the family reached out to Clayton Korte for expert guidance.
The firm has earned some attention for its winery projects, along with custom residential, restaurant, and other generalist design work in Texas, California, and Hawaii. “Wine caves are a pretty common way to go about wine storage, and the family had a growing collection,” he explains. “They wanted a place to entertain for pleasure and business.”
When his firm came on the scene, the “cave” was a “70-foot tunnel filled with water.” The team documented the tunnel interior with a Matterport 3D camera, which enabled them to download exact dimensions to Revit. “From there on, it was kind of like building a ship in a bottle.”
Reinforced mesh and a layer of shotcrete line the interior of the tunnel. “It’s sort of an upside-down pool—a 5,000-psi shell,” he explains. The tunnel was drained of water, a perimeter courtyard with drainage installed, and 500-year-flood walls built. “The location is right by the river,” Brian says. “Stepping down into the courtyard space helps prevent flooding.”
From the courtyard, an entry portal of custom steel windows and board-formed concrete segues into an interior of chunky, textured concrete, white and ebonized oak, and Doug fir.
The front of the 18-foot-tall, 1,400-square-foot cave serves as the bar and lounge area, with a powder room tucked away in an ebonized oak chamber. At the rear, past another window wall, lies the tasting room and presentation cellar (messier storage hides behind a back door).
Throughout the cave, the palette plays with contrasts—between rugged and refined, light and dark. “We wanted the interiors to look like an insertion—a light touch in the existing space,” he explains.
Sunken and recessed into earth and rock, the cave is largely invisible when the lights are off. Eventually, the landscaping will fill in and further conceal it from casual spelunkers or wine enthusiasts.
Hill Country Wine Cave
Texas Hill Country
Architect: Brian Korte, FAIA, principal; Camden Greenlee, AIA; Josh Nieves; Brandon Tharp; Nicole Corwin, Clayton Korte, Austin, Texas
Builder: Monday Builders, McAllen, Texas
Structural Engineer: SSG Structural Engineers, San Luis Obispo, California
Project Size: 1,405 square feet
Site Size: 3,000 acres
Construction cost: Withheld
Photography: Casey Dunn
Acoustic Insulation: Knauf Ecobatt
Cabinetry Hardware: Blum
Cladding: Board-formed concrete bulkhead
Dishwasher/Warming Drawer/Wine Refrigerator: Miele
Door Hardware: Rocky Mountain Hardware; Deltana; Dormakarba; SIMONSWERK
Faucets: Kohler (bar); Watermark (powder room)
Foundation: Reinforced concrete spread footings
HVAC: Mitsubishi heat pump; WhisperKool (wine cellar)
Lighting: BK Lighting, Ghost (exterior); Sistemalux, Tech, EcoSense, RAB, 3G, BK (interior)
Paints: Rubio Monocoat, pigmented shellac
Passage Doors: Rocky Mountain Hardware
Refrigerator/Freezer: Sub-Zero drawers
Sinks: Vigo (bar); custom (powder room)
Ventilation: Panasonic; Fantech inline centrifugal fan
Windows: Custom thermally broken fixed glazing
Plans and Drawings