Jean Leon, a small Penedès winery that was once the tipple of choice for old Hollywood glitterati and choice of wine for Ronald Regean’s inauguration, is turning 60 this year.
The origin of the winery is inextricably linked to its eponymous and larger-than-life founder Jean Leon. Born in Santander as Ceferino Carrión, Jean Leon – a sussccessful restauranteur – arrived in the Penedès region intending to make a wine with his name for the clientèle of his restaurant La Scala, the place to be for all the celebrities of the day, such as Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, John F. Kennedy, Marlon Brando, and Robert Wagner.
In 1963, he began planting the vineyard with the French varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (followed by Chardonnay a few years later), opening his winery, built in the style of a château in Bordeaux, in November that year. He thus set out on his winemaking adventure – pioneering in many areas – alongside the winemaker Jaume Rovira.
The winery was the first in Spain to make a single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon wine and to obtain the “Vi di Finca” (single vineyard) recognition in Penedès for four of its wines, the maximum distinction awarded by the Autonomous Government of Catalonia.
Its first vintage from the single vineyard called “La Scala” 1969 was entirely sent and sold at his restaurant in Beverly Hills. It was the first Spanish wine made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon and labeled as such. This Gran Reserva wine later came into the limelight when Ronald Reagan, who knew Jean Leon personally, selected the 1975 vintage for his presidential inauguration dinner in 1981, together with Jean Leon’s Chardonnay – one of the first barrel-fermented Chardonnays in Spain – which hailed from the Gigi vineyard named after Jean Leon’s daughter.
Besides La Scala and Gigi, Jean Leon planted two other vineyards, Le Havre and Palau, while Paula was the final vineyard he planted.
In 1994, which is the third year after Jean Leon has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, he transferred his legacy to Spain’s wine giant, the Torres family, in order to protect the winery and preserve the personality and unique identity of the wines. Jean Leon’s partner, Jaume Rovira, remained as the winery’s winemaker until his retirement in 2008 and continuously contributed to the winery.
Now, Mireia Torres, the winery’s director since 2010, keeps making the wines created by Jean Leon as well as making breakthroughs in winning the top distinction awarded by the Government of Catalonia: the Vi di Finca(single vineyard) certification. The wines are praised as “outstanding aging”, which Mireia Torres attributes to “the soil pH and the climate”.
Moreover, Jean Leon winery has a series of vintage wines, including the early vintages of La Scala Gran Reserva.
“At that time, the wines had a more vegetal character, which is also an indicator of the climate and how consumer trends have evolved. Despite this evolution, Jean Leon’s legacy remains alive, making wines that express the character of each original vineyard,” said Torres.
Through these years, Jean Leon’s wine incorporates advances in winemaking as well as adding other wines with the same artisanal and innovative spirit shown by Jean Leon, such as the 3055 range, and the Nativa range, incorporating the wine made with Petit Verdot and Xarel·lo.
Today, Jean Leon also takes fighting against climate emergency as the key aspect, using regenerative viticulture techniques in vineyards to recover fertility of the soil and stop erosion, also capture atmospheric CO2 and reduce the effects of global warming. Moreover, in order to reduce plant protection products and solve the challenges that winegrowing is facing, Jean Leon winery also carries out many field trials.
Now with 65 hectares to its name, all Jean Leon wines have been certified organic since the 2012 vintage and are exported to more than 40 countries.
The wines are available in Hong Kong through Links Concept.