The best wines have a sense of place and a back story. Not many have a sense of so many places and backstories as Spain’s Jean Leon label.
Born Angel Ceferino Carrion-Madrazo in 1928. Cefe was one of nine children who moved to Barcelona after the Great Santander Fire of 1941. His father and older brother were merchant marines who died when their boat was sunk by the British Navy who suspected it of carrying German supplies.
Quitting his job in an auto plant, Cefe crossed the Pyrenees by foot and became a waiter in Paris. His family believed him dead. He stowed away on a boat in La Havre which he thought was Guatemala-bound. He ended up in New York. In route, he was befriended by a sailor who taught him basic English. Working as a dishwasher, cab driver, and busboy at the Rockefeller Center executive, he then changed his name to Justo Ramon Leon after the famous painter and sculptor, his ID papers having been stolen while he slept on a park bench.
After being recruited by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1951, he moved to Hollywood, working at the Villa Nova and Villa Capri restaurants owned by Frank Sinatra and the legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio. James Dean became godfather to his first child.
In 1956, he opened the iconic La Scala Restaurant and celebrity haunt on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, pioneering nouvelle cuisine and becoming Italy’s top food ambassador and the original “friend to the stars” and Presidents. He was the last person to see Marilyn Monroe alive, having delivered her dinner – Fettucini a la Marilyn- the day before she was found dead.
Returning to Spain and reuniting with his family, he bought land in the Penedes wine-growing region. In 1963, he planted the Vinya La Scala vineyard with what was to become Spain’s first Cabernet Sauvignons. Then came the first Chardonnay vines in the Vinya Gigi vineyard. The Jean Leon winery harvested its first grapes in 1969. Two years later, his was the country’s first barrel-fermented Chardonnay in Spain. He died in 1996 entrusting his legacy to the Torres family. Mireia Torres has led the winery since 2010.
Jean Leon Vinya Le Havre Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2015 tells the story of Jean stowing away to find a better life and pays tribute to the unknown sailor who discovered him on board but kept his presence a secret. Thus changing Jean Leon’s life and many wine lovers’ lives forever.
Jean Leon Vinya La Scala Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2013 is the winery’s most exclusive wine with just 9,120 bottles released. All four wines have the classification ‘Vi de Finca’ in Penedés, the highest accolade awarded by the Generalitat de Catalunya.
Any Jean Leon wine, after you had some, makes you look at the bottle and shake your head in amazement and admiration. The wines are available from Amazon £21-37.50