Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

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Famed winemaker Patrick Leon visits Cuffs in Chagrin Falls to share story of his successful life

 

By SUE REID

Telling his life story — without mentioning wine — is close to impossible for Patrick Leon, he admitted with a warm smile.

That is because when the legendary winemaker was born in Bordeaux in 1943, one in three people’s lives were dependent on the wine industry, he noted.

“Either your mother, father or grandfather – you had connections to the wine business,” he said.

From the historic Carriage House at Cuff’s in Chagrin Falls, where Mr. Leon visited for the first time in mid-October, he described the experience that surrounded his first taste of wine and then expounded on a career that has led to his creation of some of the greatest wines in the world.

Mr. Leon, 74, was the tender age of six when he first sipped red wine, he described. It was a warm July afternoon and he was on holiday with his parents in the resort town of Arcachon.

“It was an anniversary in the family and we had lunch outside,” he recalled. Guests’ wine glasses were left on the table, and Mr. Leon and a friend proceeded to take small sips from each and then to take a walk on Arcachon’s sandy beaches.

Fast-forward to young adulthood and Mr. Leon said he realized early on that while tasting wine is a pleasure – “the more you taste the more you learn” — to truly know wine one must work in the industry and have experience in its development.

To that end, Mr. Leon began his education in the area of Oenology, the science and study of all aspects of wine and winemaking. He went to school for three years to the level of graduation, he said, and then had a choice before him as to what specialty he would pursue. He could work as a garden designer, following the footsteps of his mother, a florist, or he could learn about wine.

He chose the latter, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mr. Leon, whose breadth of experience and knowledge has led to the creation of such iconic wines as Opus One, Chateau Moutin Rothschild and the famed rose Whispering Angel, became a consulting oenologist, working with Sacha Lichine in making their great wines, as well as working with Alexis Lichine on developing content for his Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits.

His career spans nearly 20 years as a managing director, overseeing technical winemaking facilities for Chateau Mouton Rothschild, d’Armailac, Clerk Milon, le Petit Mouton, Aile d’Argent, Opus One in California, Almaviva in Chile, Domaine de Lambert and Baron d’Arques in the Languedoc, Mouton Cadet in Bordeaux as well as other wines in the Baron Phillipe de Rothschild portfolio, including Escudo Rojo in Chile.

To reach the level that he has and earned the accolades, Mr. Leon noted that three things occurred in his life.

First, he established himself as a hard worker, he explained, and also, he had a passion for wine. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, he stressed, “You need to have a chance.”

His chance came in the form of an apprenticeship with a union of growers in a particular area of Bordeaux, he continued.

“I was paid to sit with growers to increase quality, and was constantly learning,” he said.

He held that position for six years, perfecting his understanding of the soil, climate and terroir, with the realization that climate has a large impact on quality, and that, coupled with soil, variety of grapes and the people making the wine – it all makes a difference in what makes a wine great.

To round out all aspects of wine and wine making, Mr. Leon even learned about the business management aspect of it, working for a company that bought and sold wine. He did that in an effort to understand who was having a successful vineyard, who was not, and why, he explained.

“That was my next chance,” he said.

In 1972, he joined Alexis Lichine and Co. in Bordeaux beginning as a purchasing manager for its French wines. Additionally, he held positions as a technical manager and general manager of Chateau Lascombes Crus classe in Margaux and Chateau Castera in Lespare-Medoc.

These passions went throughout the mid-1980s at which point Mr. Leon began to work as director of winemaking at Chateau Mouton Rothschild through the 2004 vintage.

He said when it was finally time to retire about 13 years ago, he realized after just about six months, he simply could not. He needed to make more wine, he said, and be involved in the process of winemaking.

Mr. Leon went on to manage his own property, Chateau Les Troix in Fronsac, Bordeaux, as well as make the world-class Roses of Chateau D’Esclans in Provence, including Whispering Angels, bottles of which he signed during the opening of the reception at Cuffs.

He explained the story behind the name “Whispering Angel,” prior to the start of dinner, noting that he and a friend sat in a very old chapel, sipping wine and “whispering.” They looked up at a statue of an angel, which is the same angel with spread wings that adorns the bottle.

“At 6 a.m. the next day, my friend called me to ask if I was up,” Mr. Leon said. Then his friend said, “I found the name for our first rose – whispering angel.

“It’s a true story,” Mr. Leon added. “Not a marketing story.”

Mr. Leon shared this story and more during the evening at Cuffs, which featured dinner for about 25 prepared by Zack Bruell in the Cuffs Coach House.

The menu included a three-course dinner of Salad Nicoise, served with a Chateau D’Esclans Rose Trio of Rock Angel, Les Clans and Garrus; Torchon D’Foie Gras, date and almond toast paired with Chateau Les Trois Croix from Mr. Leon’s Fronsac property; Braised short rib with Bordeaux Sauce and Potato Galette and Caponata with Chatue Mouton Rothschild, Retrospective from 1989, 1994 and 2001 vintages of St. German Petit Gateau.

“It’s totally unbelievable,” Mr. Leon said of his first impressions of Cuffs. This was also his first visit to Ohio.

“I cannot imagine finding a boutique like this,” he continued of the custom clothier located on E. Orange St. in Chagrin Falls. At first he didn’t know what to expect, he continued.

He immediately realized the store had a European feel, something found in London, perhaps, until he visited the Hermes room and exclaimed “now we are in Paris!”

In his spare time, Mr. Leon enjoys playing golf while on holiday, visiting Mauritius Island in the month of March each year. He also enjoys collecting old books about vineyards.

He and his wife Evette have three children and seven grandchildren. He said he is proud of all he has accomplished in his life, he said.

“I’m very proud,” he said. “I was working very hard and I was lucky.”

Mr. Leon said he enjoys sharing all his knowledge, especially with young people. He consults all over the world, including Israel, Morocco, Mallorca, Switzerland and Spain, among other countries.

Among the lessons he teaches and the advice he imparts to those learning about wines, he said to “not listen to the specialists. That is because, as a winemaker, it is responsibility to produce “quality of life,” Mr. Leon said, “and you as a consumer, you have to enjoy it. Drink what you like.”

“Wine is to give pleasure and to share pleasure,” he concluded. “I am a pleasure maker.”

 

 

 

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