Jean León, Stardust in D.O. Penedes

59/365 – Catalonia – D.O. Penedes – Jean León – Jean Leon 3055 Chardonnay 2012

Stardust…..

… is forever sprinkled throughout Penedes! Jean León was the man who flip-side turned the whole concept of vine growing on its head, locals looking at him, at the time, as a crazy person. But I guess that is how it goes when we are talking about geniuses!

A street in Santander!

A street in Santander!

I am still amazed that no-one has made an epic movie about the life of Jean León, he certainly deserves a 3-hour silver screen appearance, so that everybody can get an insight into his turbulent and over achieving life, filled with tragedies, sorrow but also with entrepreneurial dreams being full-filled.

The Jean Leon winery and visitors center in Penedes

The Jean Leon winery and visitors center in Penedes

Half, if not more, of the wine experience is that of the story. The better the story the more interesting the wine gets! Have you ever heard of Ceferino Carrion? You probably know of Jean León? Same guy! Here is the story of a great man, an entrepreneur and the lovely wine left as a legacy.

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A mover and a shaker from young age, due too circumstances which more or less forced him but also gave him the opportunity to live the American dream. He originated from Cantabria, and this is where the story starts in 1941, at the time Ceferino was only 13 years old and Europe was in the midst of the Second World War.

Jean Leon in Central Park

Jean Leon in Central Park

Santander, the capital of Cantabria, fell victim to a great fire in 1941. Fanned by a strong south wind, the fire burned for two days. There was only one casualty, a firefighter killed in the line of duty, but thousands of families were left homeless and the city was plunged into chaos. The fire destroyed the greater part of the medieval town centre and gutted the city’s Romanesque cathedral.

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One of the many families that lost all was that of Ceferino. And as a result they were forced to seek their fortune in the more prosperous city of Barcelona. Ceferino’s oldest brother and father died during the Second World War and Ceferino moved to Paris at the age of 19, with whatever little money he had and one small suitcase.

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After a short stint in the City of Light, only a few years after the end of the war, he decides to board a ship and as a stowaway find his way to the United States. In New York, he worked as and where he could, mainly as taxi driver, dishwasher and waiter at restaurants. With no papers and having entered the country illegally, he had to hide form authorities. Finally he had to head west, across the States, arriving in Hollywood.

At La Scala: Tony Franciosa, Zsa Zsa Gabor and friends. Standing: Jean León.

At La Scala: Tony Franciosa, Zsa Zsa Gabor and friends. Standing: Jean León.

As a way to secure his stay in the States, he decided to sing up for military service and change his name, from that moment on, began to call himself Jean León. He came back unharmed from the Korean War and went back to work within the trade he already knew plenty about.

Frank Sinatra with Nat King Cole at Villa Capri, 1955.

Frank Sinatra with Nat King Cole at Villa Capri, 1955.

As luck would have it, he found work at the Villa Capri restaurant, which was owned by the actor Frank Sinatra and baseball player Joe di Maggio. This allowed him to become friends with many of the actors that frequented the restaurant, which was how he came to befriend Natalie Wood, Grace Kelly and James Dean, to name just a few.

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He must have been a likable and outgoing guy since he made friends easily, developing a close friendship with James Dean, who agreed to help and invest in a new luxury restaurant in Beverly Hills – La Scala. Dean died, in a car crash with his Porsche, a day before signing the papers, but León went ahead and the new restaurant quickly became the Hollywood place for celebrity diners.

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On any given day at La Scala, it was not unusual to see Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, David Jansen, Tony Franciosa, Robert Wagner, to name but a few, having a friendly chat with Jean Leon about wines, cuisine or some intimate secrets that they shared. It is said, unconfirmed, that Jean León was the last person to see Marilyn Monroe alive. She called earlier that evening to cancel her booking but asked instead to have her dinner delivered.

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Family legend says he was disappointed with the available wines and therefore he travelled all over the world looking for the ideal estate, until one day he arrived in Catalonia and there, in the heart of the Penedès, he found what he was looking for.

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In 1962, Jean León acquired the best plots of land in the region and set up the Jean León Pago, where he was a pioneer in planting Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.

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To be able to create the best wine possible, stories told say that he illegally obtaining cuttings of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon while in France. The Cabernet came from the famous Lafite vineyard in Bordeaux.These were the first plantings in Spain of these grape varieties.

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The estate is divided into several sections known as “pagos,” and only one wine is produced in each section. All grapes for the premium wines are sourced from the vineyard. The “pago” concept is equivalent to the “cru” in Bordeaux, or the “vignetti” in Italy and the “quinta” in Portugal.

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As León’s business bloomed, his health diminished. And in 1993, realizing his death was imminent; he left Spain and sailed alone on his boat until his death in 1995. Today, we can share a bottle or two of his wines and the stories! Now all I have to do is to find investors willing to make the movie.

jean-leon-3055-chardonnayJean Leon 3055 Chardonnay 2012

3055 is related to one of his first jobs in New York, being the number of the Taxi he drove.

The color is  pale bright yellow and clear. The primary aroma is notable for the intensity of the white flowers and tropical fruits. Shows very nice hints of barrel aging. The palate is fresh and elegant, due to the great acidity which carries the wine. It’s hedonistic and offers long aftertaste. Goes well with tapas such as clams, razor clams, cockles, cuttlefish and octopus. Would not mind having it with grilled sardines, sole or hake maybe together with a light sauce.

314 to go!

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