2021 RDAA | Architectural Interiors | Hill Country Wine Cave | Clayton Korte

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.

Architectural Interiors

Honor Award

Clayton Korte
Hill Country Wine Cave
Texas Hill Country

Project Credits

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

Key Products

Acoustic Insulation: Knauf Ecobatt

Cabinetry Hardware: Blum

Cladding: Board-formed concrete bulkhead

Dishwasher/Warming Drawer/Wine Refrigerator: Miele

Disposal: InSinkErator

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)

Icemaker: Perlick

Lighting: BK Lighting, Ghost (exterior); Sistemalux, Tech, EcoSense, RAB, 3G, BK (interior)

Ovens: Wolf

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



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