Leo Steen

California, USA


Leo Hansen was born and raised in Denmark. His father was a chef and hotelier, food and wine have always been a part of his life. Leo’s first career was as a sommelier in some of Europe’s best restaurants including Kong Hans, Copenhagen’s first one-star Michelin guide restaurant. Having caught the wine bug, Leo came to the United States in 1999 to check out the food and wine scene, and never went back! He migrated to the Sonoma wine country, and soon got a job as a waiter and sommelier and ultimately a wine buyer at the wine-centric Dry Creek Kitchen and Cyrus restaurants in Healdsburg. He later began working at Stuhmuller winery in the Alexander Valley, and started making a bit of his own wine, at the Stuhlmuller facilities, in 2004.

From his years as a buyer, he noticed there was a decided lack of food-friendly, energetic wines from California. So, it was fitting that the centerpiece of Leo’s winemaking efforts was a bone-dry Chenin Blanc. Steen is also his family’s middle name and it is the South African word for Chenin Blanc. Leo has long been fascinated by this sleek and elegant varietal, and sought out the oldest Chenin Blanc vines in Dry Creek Valley to work with. In 2006, he made his first vintage of Chenin from the Saini Farm Vineyard which was planted in 1981. The vineyard is dry farmed and situated on an old riverbed. The stony soils help to give a nice mineral underpinning. There are only 2 acres of the old block left for which Leo has a long term contract and also helps to farm.

Hansen also makes a small amount of a Rhone-style blend from 50-60 year old Carignane and Petite Sirah called Calpella from a certified organic vineyard up in Mendocino County (in the town of Calpella). Like many great old-vine vineyards, it was planted by Italian immigrants. The vineyard is situated in a location where there is significant diurnal shift between day and night. So, like the Chenin Blanc, this allows him to get good ripeness at lower sub-14% alcohols, while maintaining good acids as well.

All Leo Steen wines are from hand-harvested grapes fermented with indigenous yeasts. The Chenin Blanc ferments in stainless steel tanks, and then ages for 3-4 months in neutral barrels and is bottled with only about 20-25% malolactic completed. The Calpella ferments in tank and then is aged for 8-9 months in 25% new French oak and the rest in neutral puncheons.

All of Leo’s wines are great values, and great food wines. Perfect for by-the-glass, or everyday drinking!