March 2010: Sold on the cellar


 Three years ago, Kevin and Beverly Sidders left San Francisco to move into a big house on Rugby Road. They didn’t know much about its history when they arrived. But, as they embarked on a multi-year renovation, the past gradually emerged. 


With the help of Daniel Bluestone—UVA professor and an expert on Eugene Bradbury, who designed the house—the Sidders learned that their house is the second of two nearly identical buildings to stand on this spot. The first, probably built in 1909, burned down in 1921. The present one rose on its ashes soon afterward, with slight alterations to the sprawling design. 

Both the home’s incarnations have been rather grand, but it’s doubtful that either ever boasted one particular amenity—a dedicated wine cellar—until a year ago, when Kevin’s 1,800-bottle cellar was completed in a corner of the basement where there had previously been a rock outcropping dusted with soil. 

Though he’s on the board of the Wine Guild of Charlottesville, he’s careful to avoid highfalutin wine talk. Plenty of his 900 bottles, he says, are in the sub-$10 range, and he’s not one to preach the necessity of a cellar. It’s just that it’s nice to be able to access bottles so easily—to browse, to stay organized, to look around at the collection. “The amount of pleasure I get when I’m hanging out with my wine,” says Sidders, “is worth the investment.”—Erika Howsare

“[Before we built the cellar] the wine was just in boxes. In a cool dark basement, that’s not a bad thing. People get all geeked up about whether your wine should be at 50 or 55 degrees…for years I kept my wine in a closet in San Francisco. And I’m still opening stuff that’s moved twice with me, and it’s still fantastic. 

“That said, when you have [a cellar], it really is nice. It’s mostly about capacity. The racking’s a big deal—how you want it organized, the sizes of the bottles…The lighting is reasonably straightforward. We’re still missing the center [fixture]—I’m thinking a Gothic, black, Rathskeller thing. We had to redo our patios, so the floor is reclaimed 100-year-old brick. 

“For cooling, we have a split system. We keep it at 59. I don’t want my stuff to never age. I want it to age a little and slowly. The natural humidity in here is pretty good. What you don’t want is too dry. Corks dry out and you get leakage, which will spoil the wine.

“In the grand scheme of cellars, this is nice but not anywhere near crazy. You can go crazy. This for me is a place to store wine. Some people will have a dining room table in the next room so they can eat and gaze at their wine. I just want to wander in and think about what I want for dinner, pick something out…

“[I’ll say, for example,] ‘Tonight I’m making salmon. What do I want to drink?’ I drink wine about six nights a week. To me, wine is a very important contributor to the meal. I think of it as another course, or more important than that even. I’ll spend three or four minutes down here—‘What do I feel like? I haven’t had this in a while…let’s see how this is aging…’ I can tell you roughly when I bought everything in here. There are memories attached to a lot of these. There’s a lot of accumulated pleasure and experience; all of that resides down here.”