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Jean Leon Winery

One man’s dream come true

One man’s dream come true

Jean Leon was the idiosyncratic founder of a wine empire and a friend to movie stars in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

A true rags-to-riches story

Jean Leon had been making wines in Penedès since the early 1960s, but nobody had heard of them until 1981, when Ronald Reagan chose them for his inaugural dinner. It was then when many people discovered the incredible history of this man who came from nothing to create a wine empire.

Jean Leon was born Ángel Ceferino Carrión Madrazo in 1928 in Santander. When he was 12 years old his family moved to Barcelona, and after working for a number of years as a sheet-metal worker at the Pegaso plant, in 1947 he walked to France to seek his fortune. There he worked as a waiter until he saw the opportunity to leave for New York as a stowaway on a vessel that was departing from Le Havre.

In New York, with no command of English, he changed his name to Jean Leon, worked as a taxi driver and got a job washing dishes at the Rockefeller Center. In 1950 he moved to California, where he started his American journey: he met Rita Hayworth’s uncle and got a job at the restaurant owned by Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio, Villa Capri. It was then when he became friends with major stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood and was even about to open a restaurant with James Dean until the actor’s death put an end to that enterprise. In 1957 he opened his own restaurant, La Scala, where Marilyn Monroe was a regular diner. In fact, on the night before her death, Jean Leon himself delivered the dinner she had ordered some hours before.

It was at this restaurant where Leon met the professor of enology and viticulture Maynard Andrew Amerine and became interested in wine. In 1962 he decided to buy some land in Torrelavit, Penedès, and commissioned the enologist Jaume Rovira to manage the vineyards. In 1969 the first harvest was produced and in 1981 he rose to fame when his wines were served at Ronald Reagan’s inaugural dinner. In 1993 the prestigious magazine "Wine" chose his 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon as one of the world’s 10 best wines. Since then, the wines of this party-loving eccentric, who lived out the last years of his life on his own yacht, have been among the most prestigious in the world.

The Jean Leon winery pays homage to its creator by naming its wines after his adventures, such as the Le Havre estate wine, the 3055 organic wine (the licence number of his taxi) and the Gran Reserva La Scala.