“He had talent, he had intelligence, and he had the will to do exceptional things”

Discovering Jean Leon

21/09/2017

Jean A. Leon knew his father really well. While he was visiting Catalonia, we had the pleasure of having lunch together with him in our visitor center. Between the vineyards that his father founded in 1963, we remembered him and the legacy he left.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Jean Leon?

I think about the restaurant, and what he built in Beverly Hills and Malibu, and also the wines…

What would stand out to you most about his personality?

His will… he had one of those personalities where if he wanted something, his will would drive him to make it happen

What did you learn from him?

Especially about the restaurant business, and also about people… and just… how he would view the world.

How do you remember the time when you came to Barcelona (1962) to meet your Spanish family?

I still remember that very well – we arrived at the Estación de Francia and we came by train, so we had one of those little compartments which usually has six people in it, and the whole family arrived. It was a dozen aunts and uncles and something like 15/20 cousins and we were all packed into this little train car.

What do you think the Hollywood stars valued most about his personality?

His discretion. The stars, they didn’t want anything to show up in the newspapers or all the tabloids, and my father never allowed any cameras in the restaurant; he never allowed any reporters, anybody like that. He wouldn’t let anybody go from table to table unless he knew they were friends. So, they knew that when they could come to the restaurant they would not be bothered

Which Hollywood actor/actress did he have the closest friendship with?

I would say his best friends were Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. He knew them from before La Scala was opened. He met them when he was still working as a waiter at the Villa Capri. And he stayed friends with them, well, until Natalie passed away, and then until he passed away

Few people know that if it hadn’t been for the tragic car accident that took his life, James Dean would have been your godfather. Why do you think they struck up such a good friendship, even to the point of considering opening a restaurant together?

Well, at the time James Dean had already made his first movie but Nick Ray, Natalie Wood would come often to the Villa Capri and my dad would serve them, and he struck up a relationship with James Dean and another good friend of James Dean, a gentleman by the name of Lew Brocker, and they became good friends before James Dean became famous. So, it happens very often with Hollywood people that the people they meet before they become famous, those are the ones they trust most, because their friendship was before the fame.

How would you define Jean Leon’s lifestyle?

Well, he loved living what you would call a first-class lifestyle. When he traveled he always traveled first class; he always ate in the best restaurants, stayed in the best hotels, and traveled with, you know, what would be considered the crème de la crème of… whether it was the people involved with wine, or the people involved with restaurants, or the Hollywood crowd.

Why do you think he achieved everything he set out to?

Well as I mentioned in one of the earlier questions, it was his will. He had this drive to do things, to do exceptional things. Now, he had talent, he had intelligence, and he had the will to do it. So even though he started with nothing, he wound up having everything he propose.

Are you someone who thinks that behind a great man there’s always a great woman?

In the case of Mom, Mom was the one that took care of the home. That enabled him to go out and do whatever he wanted to, because he knew Mom was at home taking care of me and my sister. So his home life was taken care of.

How would you define your mother?

Mom was great. You know, she was just one of the very few people that I’ve ever met that never had a single enemy. You know, there’s always somebody that doesn’t like them. Not Mom. Mom never had anybody that disliked her. Everybody loved Mom.

Do you think your father still had dreams left to achieve?

 Well, not too many know. By the end of his life he wanted to move to Thailand, to Phuket, and open a restaurant there, but that was basically just so he’d have some place for him to eat. He’d already met everybody that he’d wanted to meet. He had opened his restaurants, he had created his wine… but at that point he didn’t want to work hard, he just wanted to have something where he could go and… So he was going to open a restaurant in Thailand, but, regrettably, he passed away before it happened.

What do you think of the legacy he left behind?

Well the wine is his primary legacy. Restaurants have a tendency to come and go. The restaurant – long before he passed away, I would walk into the restaurant and look around and it was all gray heads. Hollywood had changed. But the wine continues.

What aspects of his personality do you have?

Well, he was severe in certain respects. He could be very tough on the employees; he could be very tough on my sister and myself, but with his friends he was very outgoing, very charismatic… and he was very smart.

Are you an epicure as well?

A little different than him. I still enjoy going out to dinner, I enjoy good wines, but I’m not nearly as critical as he was. I’m a little more easygoing. But in many respects, I am the next generation of La Scala, and the world of wines and food.

What do you like most about Jean Leon wines?

I like their character, their depth… the bouquet, the taste… just about everything. I think the Torres have continued the wines very, very nicely.

 Are you still linked, in some way, to the winery your father founded?

Well sure I’m still very good friends with the Torres family. I see Miguel (farher) or Mireia whenever I come to Barcelona; I don’t see Father Miguel as often but that’s because he’s just so busy.

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