Stellar Storage at a Custom Wine Cellar in Tenafly

An oenophile blasts through bedrock to create a home for his wine collection.

The 600-square-foot cellar features a mahogany vaulted ceiling crafted to mimic wine barrels.
The 600-square-foot cellar features a mahogany vaulted ceiling crafted to mimic wine barrels.
Photo by Michel Arnaud

Robb Allen had been collecting wine for years, but rarely opened a bottle. Instead, he kept his collection of nearly 4,000 bottles in a wine and fur-storage center in Jersey City.

“For about a decade, I mostly collected and didn’t take much out,” says Allen. “I grew my collection by forced denial. I couldn’t get to it.”

That changed in 2015, when Allen and his wife,  Lina, along with their two children, Haley, 17, and Collin, 11, moved into a 12,000-square-foot home on the east hill in Tenafly. The hallmark of the newly constructed house: a 600-square-foot wine cellar.

The sprawling stone house, set in lush natural landscaping, had just the traditional look that Allen had in mind.  “I didn’t want anyone to be able to figure out if it was built yesterday or 100 years ago,” he says.

Allen, founder and CEO of Datapipe, a global technology company, worked alongside Curtis Dahl and Joseph Kline, owners of Joseph & Curtis Custom wine cellars, to design the space. Allen is particularly fond of Italian wines, so the team created a Tuscan-style masterpiece with a barreled ceiling, terra cotta floors, brick niches and wrought-iron accents. “I wanted that feeling of age and history,” Allen says.

Since much of Tenafly sits on bedrock (the same rock formations that tower above the Hudson River extend westward underground, Allen explains), the first step was significant excavation. “We dynamited massive amounts of rock,” Allen says. As a plus, the remaining rock creates a cool subfloor, helping to maintain the cellar’s temperature around the 56-degree mark. (The rock works naturally with the elaborate climate-control system installed behind cabinet doors.)

Materials were chosen to emulate old-world Italy. The rich mahogany barreled ceiling is intended to mimic wine barrels and is finished with actual staves. Dividing the two rooms are custom-made wine barrels hand-carved with the name of the family and the street where the house sits. The tasting table is from Napa Valley; the stools are made from actual Napa wine barrels.

LED lighting illuminates the space in a spectrum of colors from red to purple to blue. “Bottles are dark so as not to expose the wine to light, but getting the right lighting is important,” Allen says. Another safekeeping measure: The home has a generator that kicks in if power fails.

Although there is plenty of room to store all the wine in racks, Allen keeps some in wooden boxes. “Some of the boxes are really beautiful,” he says.
Allen continues to grow his collection. “My love of wine came first from my love of food,” he says. In fact, much of his knowledge of Italian wine was learned while dining at his favorite restaurant, Manhattan’s Del Posto. “The sommelier there really educated me,” he says. Allen primarily collects wines from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. His favorite: Soldera. He also has a significant collection of French Bordeaux, and even a few California wines. He admits to being popular among friends and family. “My friends are more than happy to share my collection,” he jokes.

The Allens are still putting finishing touches on the home, despite having moved in more than a year ago. In fact, many rooms are largely unfurnished, including the 10-seat theater and the home gym, other features of the sprawling basement level. The wine cellar stands alone, finished. “This house is still a work in progress,” says Allen, “but the wine cellar is complete. I’m passionate about this wine and this cellar. This is my baby.”

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