When Lev Spiro began receiving residuals from his work in film and television, he did what any enterprising young director would do—invest in Bordeaux futures. "My wife said, ‘You're crazy!' " he says, laughing. "Of course, she's changed her tune on that."
Like a self-financed cult film, Spiro's initial outlay has enjoyed a long tail, paying dividends to its creator 15 years down the line. Just shy of 600 bottles, the collection is focused on Bordeaux, with smaller allocations of Burgundy, California, Italy and Spain. For Spiro, whose credits include The Tick, currently airing on Amazon, and the Netflix dramedy Insatiable, as well as TV stalwarts such as Orange Is the New Black, Modern Family and Gilmore Girls, it's a fantasy come to life.
His introduction to wine took place far from Hollywood, in a "very good continental dining room" in Madison, Wis., where he worked as a waiter while attending college. "I got to taste a lot of really excellent French wines that way," he says.
You've seen this movie before: Man buys wine fridge, fills it up. Man buys bigger fridge, fills that too. Finally, man and his wife—writer-producer Melissa Rosenberg, who penned the scripts for the five Twilight movies, was head writer on the first four seasons of Dexter and is the creator and showrunner of Jessica Jones—design and build their dream home, thereby creating exciting new possibilities for wine storage.
At first, the home cellar resembled a crawlspace more than a cave. "It was going to be kind of a small room that you had to access from the outside and duck your head through a hatch with a 4-foot-high ceiling," he says. But in the course of blueprinting a basement mechanical area, the architects approached Spiro with a better idea. "They said, ‘You know, we could put a stairwell down there and make it a little bigger and give you an actual wine cellar,' " he recalls. "And I said, ‘Yes!' "
The space began as a blank slate—"a big concrete room." Combining ideas he'd developed through Internet research with practical recommendations from a designer—space to hold glassware, dedicated storage for large-formats and cases—the dungeonlike atmosphere of the basement gave way to the warm, inviting character found elsewhere in the home.
"I wanted two things in the cellar," he says. "I wanted it to be beautiful. But I also didn't want a lot of chemicals. I wanted the wine to breathe good air. So [the cabinetry] is all walnut and it's coated with olive oil. It smells really good in there."
Spiro quickly set about stocking the 1,250-bottle-capacity space. Among his treasures are bottles of Haut-Brion 2000, 2001 and 2007, as well as verticals of Angélus, Larcis Ducasse and Smith-Haut-Lafitte. In addition to his beloved Right and Left Bank reds, he has also developed an appreciation for California Cabernets and blends, citing Duckhorn's The Discussion bottling, Trujillo Madelynne and Cardinale as current favorites.
He tempers his connoisseurship with realism and restraint. "I don't go crazy," he says of his purchasing habits. "I will keep buying futures, two or three cases a year, because I anticipate my personal drinking window extending for another 40 years or so."
For now, the goal is to drink it all, preferably with friends and family. "In our circle, I'm the proselytizer of wine," says Spiro. "I like taking people down to the cellar and showing them around, and they talk about which bottles they're going to try and steal when I'm not looking."
Spiro is eyeing new categories for expansion in the future. Trips to Burgundy, Spain and Italy have opened his eyes to the riches of those winelands, and in a nod to Rosenberg's tastes he is upping his stores of Chardonnay. "I got her into Chassagne-Montrachet, which is my favorite white wine."
But perhaps the ultimate addition to the collection would be a case of the still-unbottled Château Spiro. "I have a fantasy of growing grapes on my property and making wine," he says. To weather the hot climate, he's considered Spanish and Portuguese varieties—maybe even grapes for Port.
Man falls in love with wine, man builds dream cellar, man makes Port in Southern California. Now that's a film we haven't seen before.
What's in Lev Spiro's Cellar?
Location: Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles
Number of bottles: 575
Large-format bottles: Forman Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2004 (1.5L), signed by the producer
Oldest wines: Château Lynch Bages 1996, Château Palmer 1996
Selected verticals: Château Angélus 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008; Château Figeac 2000, 2005, 2007; Château Haut-Brion 2000, 2001 and 2007; Château Larcis Ducasse 2005, 2008, 2009, 2012; Château Malescot-St.-Exupéry 2005, 2009, 2012; Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte 2005-2009, 2011, 2012
Cellar temperature: 56˚ F
Humidity: 70 percent