“More than a biography, Jean Leon left a legend”

Discovering Jean Leon

29/05/2018

Mauricio Wiesenthal is a writer, winemaker, photographer... and friend of Jean Leon. We met him at La Vinoteca Torres so he could tell us about how they met, why they became friends, and the memories he has of Jean. He shows up impeccable, elegant, extremely polite, and ready to tell us everything we wanted to know. We’re going to discover a bit more about Jean Leon.

Do you remember the first day you met him?

It was almost 30 years ago. I don’t remember the specific date, but I do remember the moment, because it’s unforgettable. Characters like Jean Leon make an unforgettable entrance.

Where were you?

At the Hotel Ritz. I was waiting for him in the hall, and the moment I saw him descend the stairs, I already knew there was a real character there.

But had you already seen him before?

Yes, I’d seen him in photos, but never in person. He was surrounded by the aura and spirit that sets great characters apart.

Who introduced you?

Miguel Torres. We were friends and I told him I wanted to do an interview with Jean

Leon for one of the magazines I was working with in those days. He put us in touch and we arranged the interview. The story of his life impressed me from the start: A character that has left more of a legend than biography now he’s gone.

Were you friends from then on?

Yes, because we shared the same international view of the world. My life and his had aspects in common and that brought us together. Jean Leon was an exporter of pleasure.

I understand the connection was on both sides. Did you feel like you really identified with Jean?

Definitely. Like I said, I shared his vision of life without borders, the value he gave to creativity and to the work of human beings, to the passion of his spirit for learning, for his interest in knowing who was doing something well and where the secret lay...

Do you think Jean Leon was someone ahead of his time?

He was a man who had created his own destiny. He lived an adventurous life and, in it, he found his path. He was happy because he had triumphed in the wine world.

Was he genuine?

Yes, he was a hard worker. He knew where to look for excellence and difference, and that’s why he came to Catalonia to make the best wine in an exceptional climate. He chose international varieties, because that was what the masters recommended to him. He was constantly learning.

Did he feel like a native of Santander, the USA, or Catalonia?

He would talk about Santander, his childhood home, and about his family with a lot of respect, but he had already discovered the whole world, without borders. He was a typical immigrant, the kind who never forget their birthplace, but who, nevertheless, feel one with the world because they have an open mind.

How long did your friendship last?

Until his death. I remember the last day we saw each other. He had just arrived with his boat, the Scala dAmore. He was tired of his yacht and he offered me the keys, as if he were lending me a bike. He just told me he would need it in Mallorca in May.

Did you take the keys?

No! I had a lot of work and I didn’t accept it, but he was like that. He was generous and he offered it to me so I could enjoy it.

Did he choose his friends very well?

Yes, the figure of Miguel Torres was always among us, and Jean trusted him blindly. Jean Leon knew how to identify loyal people, which for me is one of the best virtues in life and is above every kind of goodness. That’s why he knew that Miguel Torres was the only one who could respect and further his legacy.

Did he talk to you about his Hollywood friends?

Yes, especially Bette Davis. He defined her as the jewel of his restaurant. He put her before anyone else as an extraordinary woman. He also talked to me about Paul Newman. I remember him telling me that Paul only ordered Chardonnay in his restaurant because it was the wine his wife liked (laughs), but when he was alone he drank the Cabernet Sauvignon...

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

Because he was working on a dream and, in the case of the winery, he didn’t intend to achieve an immediate return. He was looking for long-term profitability and this meant he had to have legitimate and loyal people around him, since he wasn’t always at the winery. He needed people who were well prepared in all areas and he was able to surround himself with very competent people. His way of delegating was by trusting the right people.

How would you define the legacy he left behind?

I was really excited when I found out he put the continuity of his wines and his brand in the hands of Miguel Torres, because he knew that Miguel would enrich the value of his wines with the closeness that he couldn’t give them. Miguel lives in the heart of his vineyards. Every morning when he opens the window he sees his Mas La Plana estate. Jean couldn’t do that with his vines and his wines. In his emigrant life he wasn’t able to enjoy that simple pleasure that comes from being close to a land.

How do you remember his final years?

He was already affected by laryngeal cancer and wasn’t speaking anymore. Whenever we got together, he carried papers and a pen with him to write down his responses to the questions I asked him in the conversations we had. I collected some of those papers; I still have them somewhere in my house because I knew it would be a nice souvenir of our friendship. His written words were immortal. They were the words of a genius.

How would you define his wines?

Wines with personality, with a distinctive character. He took special care over the woods for aging, and that’s exactly what gives Jean Leon wines a unique element that affirms them, frames them, and gives them the finishing touch. The wines are substantial on the palate, but finish leaving an unforgettable trace. Just like his personality: impeccable.

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