Patrick Léon, one of France's most influential winemakers and owner of Château Les Trois Croix, in Bordeaux’s Fronsac region, died on Dec. 11. He had been battling cancer for more than a decade and developed an infection a few days earlier. Léon was 75 years old and still an active winemaker.
"He loved people. He never had a job but a passion—wine—and it was a way of living for him around the world," his daughter Karine Léon told Wine Spectator.
The Bordeaux native enjoyed a career that spanned 50 years and four continents, crafting wines at iconic estates like Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Lascombes in Bordeaux, Château d’Esclans in Provence, Almaviva in Chile and Opus One in Napa Valley.
"Patrick was a new type of man for Bordeaux," Tim Mondavi told Wine Spectator. The two men worked as co-winemakers at Opus One for 16 years. "The French wine world following World War II was provincial. Patrick was part of a generation that had a more open perspective."
Léon earned his enology diploma at Bordeaux University in 1964, studying under the legendary professor, researcher and consulting enologist Emile Peynaud. In 1967, Léon started an enology laboratory with Jacques Blouin at the Gironde Chamber of Agriculture. By 1972, he was technical director for Alexis Lichine, making wines at Château Lascombes in Margaux and Château Castera in Lesparre-Médoc.
Léon entered the Mouton-Rothschild group in the early 1980s, taking over as technical director in 1984 and eventually rising to group managing director on the board. He oversaw winemaking at the Rothschilds’ many estates during his two decades working with them.
"On Patrick's watch, Mouton-Rothschild spread its wings to the world, and that appealed to Patrick," said Mondavi. "He was apt technically, active in syndicates in Bordeaux and Burgundy, and he had an interest beyond Bordeaux."
Leon's open-minded approach, combined with a tremendous technical skill, made him one of the forerunners to international winemakers we have today. "He had an insatiable appetite for adventure and exploration in the world of wine," Opus One winemaker Michael Silacci told Wine Spectator. "His curiosity and passion allowed him to make great wines in all colors, from a wide range of grape varieties and in many countries."
Léon retired from the Mouton-Rothschild group in 2004. Throughout his long career, he gained a reputation as a respected mentor. "Patrick’s enthusiasm was contagious. His leadership, caring nature, and deep capacity to share were gifts that allowed his ‘students’ to learn and grow in a challenging, yet safe environment," said Silacci.
Although Léon had retired from Mouton, he didn't retire from winemaking, working as an international consultant. In 2006, he began consulting with Alexis Lichine's son Sacha at Château d’Esclans in Provence, helping to create premium rosés Garrus and Whispering Angel. The brand was one of several that energized the rosé category in the United States.
Léon and his wife Yvette bought Château Les Trois Croix in 1995. The 37-acre estate in Fronsac, looking out over the Dordogne River, was their home. The estate is run today by their son Bertrand. Léon is also survived by his wife Yvette and their daughters Karine and Stéphanie.
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