Inspiration is often rooted in a greater landscape. Buildings can partner with a beautiful setting, remaining subservient and quiet, while carrying their own beauty as stewards of the place they are in. The embedment of this space into the hill, contributes value to this larger environment by appearing as a non-building, and as a stealth destination that calls little attention to itself.

Located at the eastern edge of the Texas Hill Country, this wine cave is a destination along a secluded bend in the Blanco River, within a short stroll from family ranch amenities. Excavated into the north face of a limestone hillside, an existing shotcrete lined tube is protected on the East and West by tall oak and elm trees, allowing it to nearly disappear into native landscape. An unassuming entry court at the mouth of the cave reveals a bit of the mystery as it provides a glimpse of what lies within. Limestone boulders, collected from the excavation, and lush vegetation camouflage the entry as you descend into the cave. A lounge, bar, cellar, and restroom are tucked into the 19’ tall x 70’ deep existing tunnel. The cave opening is capped with a board-formed concrete portal molded to the irregular limestone, structurally retaining the mouth of the earth cut. The concrete is meant to patina naturally over time as native vegetation clings to the face and onto the flanking limestone earth cut to further blend the headwall into its surroundings. North-facing glazing avoids harsh summer sun while providing filtered daylight to interiors and a visual connection to the outdoors.

The wood, steel, and concrete that comprise the parts of the structure have inherent individual beauty, offering additional contrast to the natural excavation in which they are inserted. They are pared down, purposefully simple, warm, and above all else, authentic. Once inside, a study of White Oak, both raw and ebonized, mixes with vertical grain Douglas fir to panel the walls and dropped ceilings as a warm contrast to the more rugged concrete and stone that surrounds. Custom thermally broken, insulated steel and wood windows provide separation between the interior and exterior, as well as the entertaining lounge and the chilled cellar. Reclaimed cedar was milled for live-edged countertop surfaces for the tasting bar and the floating restroom vanity. Ebonized Oak cabinetry is capped with honed slate countertops. Every material was selected and finished to leverage the particular qualities of that material; to enrich the grain of the wood, to promote the strength and durability of concrete, and render the flexibility of steel.

Below the fully arched profile at the back of the cave, the private cellar is surrounded by White Oak casework providing storage for an ever-expanding private collection of +/-4,000 bottles. Custom pendant lighting imbues the space with an added sense of craft that provides a beautiful contrast to the concrete shell.

The lounge and cellar spaces are thermally controlled by the naturally colder subterranean temperatures with supplemental cooling set targets of 76 degrees and optimal atmosphere of 58 degrees respectively, which through Thermal Load modeling resulted in the use of high-efficiency 20 SEER/10.4 HSPF heat pump equipment, exceeding code requirements by 53.8% for cooling and 35% for heating.

Cost control on one-of-a-kind projects can be challenging. Considering the logistics of building a “ship in a bottle” in a remote setting, and tolerances that come with marrying rich, crisply dressed materials with a ruggedly textured cave shell, the cost sq. ft. for this project was a reward considering the craftsmanship.