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Jean Leon

Jean Leon

Address:
Pago Jean León, 40
City:
Torrelavit (ZIP Code 08775)
Location:
Barcelona, Catalonia
Country:
Spain
Phone:
(+34) 938 995 512
Fax:
(+34) 938 995 517
Web:
http://www.jeanleon.com

The designer wine ‘Jean León' is the culmination of the life of one man, a man whose fascinating biography begins in 1928. Jean León was born in Santander, in northern Spain, and his real name was Ceferino Carrión.

His childhood was tough and full of misfortunes. In 1941, a tragic fire in the city of Santander reduced the Carrión family's home and possessions to ashes. This forced them to migrate to the prosperous city of Barcelona. Their bad luck continued and, just a few months later, on 1 July of that same year, Ceferino's father and his elder brother died at sea, when the boat where they worked was torpedoed by mistake.

However, despite the blows life had dealt him, young Ceferino had always dreamed of travelling and seeing the world. He was just 19 years old when, one morning, he picked up his suitcase and with virtually no money, embarked on a long and arduous journey that would lead him first to Paris and later, to New York, travelling as a stowaway on a merchant vessel.

Jean León 1940's

New York and the army

Within a few hours of reaching New York, he was already working collecting dirty dishes for 4 dollars a day at a club in the Rockefeller Center. But he was forced to continue travelling as he had no immigration papers and feared that the police would arrest him and deport him back to Spain. Ceferino crossed the United States from East to West and finally reached the town where his luck would start to change: Hollywood.

The glamour of this movie and show business paradise fascinated the young Carrión. Everything was possible in the town of the stars, even for a poor immigrant like himself.

Determined to legalise his situation, Ceferino signed up as a volunteer in the United States Army during the Korean War. In this way, two years later, he obtained American nationality and like all the young actors of the time, he changed his name. From then on, he would call himself Jean León, a name that was well suited to his courage and untameable nature.

On the right, in the army

The Restaurant and The Partner

By a stroke of good fortune, Jean León found work as a waiter at Villa Capri, at that time one of Hollywood's most luxurious restaurants. Its owners included the actor Frank Sinatra and the legendary baseball player Joe di Maggio.

At Villa Capri he quickly became the friend of many of the young actors that frequented the restaurant in the hope of being discovered by a movie director. Thus, he met actors and actresses such as Natalie Wood, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Debbie Reynolds, the PierAngeli Sisters and James Dean, amongst others.

Those times, lived with such intensity, left in their wake an endless list of anecdotes and memories. Filming during the day was followed by late night parties that always ended up at the house of musician Jimmy Van Heusen.

Jean León's first business with a future would arrive some time later, thanks to his friendship with actor James Dean, who had conquered the heights of fame with his films East of Eden, Rebel without a Cause and Giant.

His success would now allow James Dean to team up with his friend Jean León to fulfil a dream that they had both shared since they first met: creating the most luxurious restaurant in Hollywood. The restaurant was called "La Scala". Jean León chose the site himself in Beverly Hills. The two worked together to design a unique and personal restaurant.

The tragic and sudden death of James Dean greatly affected Jean León. Their friendship had been a close one and the legendary actor was going to be the godfather of Jean's child.

In spite of the tragedy, Jean León decided to go ahead with the project on his own. He borrowed 3,500 dollars and on 1 April 1956, in the very centre of Beverly Hills, LA SCALA opened its doors.

Within a short time, his little restaurant became the regular rendezvous of the stars of the moment. Famous actors and directors, powerful producers and influential politicians all dined at the tables of LA SCALA.

At La Scala: from left-right: Tony Franciosa, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Barbara Rush, Pete Rugulo and Jean León

Presidents, actors and actresses

Marilyn would arrive very early, at 5.30 p.m., the evening opening time for La Scala. The actress always sat at Table 14. The famous actor Paul Newman would arrive a little later, at 7.30 p.m. According to Jean León, the most difficult customer was Humphrey Bogart. After dinner, he would always end up ranting and raving about Hollywood directors and producers. Warren Beatty preferred to eat in the kitchen when he came in alone. Other assiduous visitors were Fred Astaire, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Tony Franciosa, Marlon Brando, Robert Wagner, Gary Cooper and David Janson, who always liked to sit at the same tables; sometimes even in the most discreet corners, so as not to be seen.

Jean León met five U.S. presidents including Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1962, he was with Richard Nixon on the night that he lost the elections. With Kennedy, he often talked about Spain and they always met up whenever the latter visited Los Angeles. He said that President Ford was the friendliest of all the presidents, whilst with Ronald Reagan he shared a passion for fine wines.

Chance also meant that Jean León was possibly one of the people who last saw Marilyn Monroe alive. On the night of 4 August 1962, Marilyn called him on the telephone. She said she felt unwell and asked him to take something to eat to her house in Brentwood. When Jean León reached Marilyn's house he saw that she was not alone. The next day she was found dead. Everything was hushed up. Jean León refused to talk about the event, alleging that it was too serious a political matter.

Over time, LA SCALA became a Hollywood classic. It was a point of reference for the elegance and glamour of the Mecca of the movie industry. Jean León and his restaurant transcended their fame and became a character and place of fiction in the most famous love and luxury Best Sellers, especially those written by Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz.

Photo of John F. Kennedy with dedication

The search for Wine Country

Jean León was known and respected in gastronomic circles throughout the whole country, but he still had one task pending. At numerous dinners, lunches and banquets, Jean León would choose the wine very carefully. Even though he was acclaimed as a wine connoisseur, he would often lament that he was unable to find the "perfect" wine, in his taste.

Thus he embarked upon his second great adventure: to create a wine that would bear his name, a unique and special wine to regale the palate of his dearest friends. For this venture, he needed to find the best land and climate, the best vines and finally, the best winemaking process. He travelled the world over in search of lands, until he reached Catalonia. There, in the heart of the Penedés region, he found the place that he sought. Jean León purchased the current estate, composed of 150 hectares of chalky clay land, distributed along a slightly sloping, south-facing hillside.

He then paid a small fortune to purchase grafts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay vines, from French wineries of renowned prestige such as Château Lafitte-Rothschild, La Lagune and Corton Charlemagne. To the surprise of the Penedés wine-growers, he ordered the existing local vine varieties to be dug up and these unknown varieties were planted. Jean León thus went down in history as a pioneer in planting noble varieties in Spain.

Finally, the winery was built and Jean León gave his oenologist, Jaume Rovira, absolute freedom to equip it with all the latest technological advances and to work with the most demanding quality criteria.

Today, as then, the Jean León winery continues faithful to the dictates of its founder. Oenologist Jaume Rovira still personally supervises all operations in the vineyard and the winery.

This is the incredible story of Jean León: a young idealist who forged a path ahead in difficult times and saw his dreams come true. He spent the last two years of his life, affected by serious illness, sailing alone on his boat "La Scala a Mare". This was his personal way of saying goodbye to the world that had led him to live through so many emotions.

Today the memory of this brilliant man and his singular adventure comes to mind every time we uncork a bottle of the wine that carries his name: Jean León.

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