John Leo grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York, studied Journalism and International Relations, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Lauda from Syracuse University.
After traveling around the world after college and visiting wine regions he reconnected to his Italian grandparents’ respect for wine and home winemaking efforts and gravitated toward the wine business. In between backpacking trips to South and Central America, Europe and Asia, John worked in the Napa Valley at Louis Martin Winery, in New York City at wine bars and The River Cafe restaurant gathering experience and information about the world of wine.
He met his future wife in Guatemala, and since she was from Japan their travels together brought them to her Japanese home where they were married and had a child. They then returned to the States where he dove into the wine business as a career.
John and his family moved to the East End of Long Island in 1994 and started their new adventure as part of this small, welcoming wine community. He worked in the vineyard at Sagpond Vineyards (now known as Wolffer Estate) for three years before moving to Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue. When Premium Wine Group opened in the year 2000 he moved there with winemaker/owner Russell Hearn and has been there ever since. He began consulting with Clovis Point in 2004 and has enjoyed each vintage helping Clovis achieve a place as one of the highest quality producers on the East End. He also consults with Onabay Vineyards and produces his own wine, labeled Leo Family Red.
What John has learned from working day in and day out in the vineyard is that this region of the world has great potential to make superlative wines. We have learned to manage the vineyard and ripen grapes better each year; we’ve learned to improve our winemaking techniques and stop making mistakes in the wine cellar. We have learned to craft wines of the very highest caliber.
What are the unique characteristics of your winemaking style?
Manage the vineyard to maximize the chance for uniformly, fully ripe grapes. This means focusing attention on getting each vine balanced with the right amount of fruit, exposing the clusters to sunlight, and waiting to harvest until the grapes are at their peak of ripeness. Harder than it sounds… In the winery, quality means recognizing the potential of each batch of grapes and choosing fermentation and pressing methods that get the best flavors out of the batch. Easier than it sounds…
What Long Island wine would you recommend to someone just discovering the region?
Clovis Point 2013 Merlot; Onabay Vineyards Cabernet Franc; Clovis Point Barrel Fermented Chardonnay; Leo Family Red
What are your passions outside of wine?
Outside of wine, my passions are baseball, tennis, reading history and current events, discussing politics, traveling and learning about the world, eating my wife’s excellent creative cooking
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