Gastronomy |

Jean Leon: 50 years of chardonnay harvesting

jean leon chardonnay

This August we have celebrated the fiftieth vintage of our emblematic estate wine ‘Vinya Gigi Chardonnay’. As you know, our winery was founded in 1963 in Penedés by the Cantabrian -turned successful restaurateur in Hollywood- Ceferino Carrión (popularly known as Jean Leon), who fulfilled his dream of making a wine bearing his own name, using French varieties such as chardonnay.

Chardonnay is one of our most exquisite varieties. At the end of the 1960s, Jean Leon decided to plant this variety in the Penedès, a variety that at that time was unknown in Catalonia. Jean Leon was convinced that the best white wines in the world were made with Chardonnay.

The history of the first Spanish Chardonnay

The Chardonnay variety was planted by Jean Leon himself in 1967 to the bewilderment and surprise of the winegrowers in the area and with the advice of the then head of the Viticulture Department at the University of Davis in California, Dr. Maynard A. Amerine.

Jean Leon replaced the local Penedés vines with grafts from the prestigious French winery Corton-Charlemagne de la Maison Louis Jadot, located in Burgundy. He planted a hectare of these French scions, which settled and adapted well to the soil of the region, so the following year he successfully expanded his plantation.

In the first vintage, in September 1971, Jean Leon launched the first vintage of one of the first Chardonnay wines in Spain fermented in barrel and named after his daughter Gigi. Some 3,000 bottles of ‘Chardonnay Gigi’ wine were produced and Jean Leon destined, in large part, for the American market.

Currently, Jean Leon has 16 hectares of Chardonnay and 5 of them constitute the ‘Vinya Gigi’ estate, destined to produce our most prestigious white wine: Jean Leon Vinya Gigi Chardonnay. A relevant fact is that the first Chardonnay vineyard has remained intact in our vineyards just as Jean Leon planted it 50 years ago.

Jaume Rovira, oenologist and friend of Jean Leon

Winemaker Jaume Rovira joined the Chardonnay project in 1969, 2 years after the French vines were planted and without knowing that it would be a success.

Rovira recalls that Louis Henry Jadot, founder of Maison Louis Jadot and creator of one of the best Chardonnay wines, sent them a letter telling them how to make the wine and showing his eagerness to know how Chardonnay expresses itself in the Penedès.

“We aged the wine on its lees for three months in 225-litre American oak barrels that we bought from a cooper in Barcelona, given the difficulty of acquiring French oak barrels – French oak was introduced in the winery in 1987.

We then kept the wine in stainless steel, with periodic bâtonnages. We bottled it in June 1972 and kept it in the underground cellar for a further six months”, says Jaume Rovira.

The wine was launched on the market in 1973.

Harvest Chardonnay 2021

Over the years, the harvest has moved forward in time as a direct consequence of climate change. This year the harvest took place on 23 and 24 August, two weeks earlier than 50 years ago.

This year, 2021, the grape harvest was marked by drought. The heat wave that we have experienced this August has accelerated the ripening of early varieties such as Chardonnay.

According to the current Jean Leon oenologist, Roser Catasús, “we are satisfied with the balance achieved between sugars and acidity, which will result in very fresh and aromatic wines”.