Before Gary Figgins founded Leonetti Cellar in 1977, when it grew to become Walla Walla’s first commercial winery, he spent many childhood summers exploring the property’s sprawling acres. His maternal grandparents had settled there after immigrating from Calabria, Italy, in the early 1900s – and when the Leonettis eventually turned their 20-acre garden farm into a vineyard, a young Figgins’ interest was piqued. Now, years after taking his first sips of the homegrown wine as a boy (watered down, of course), Figgins continues to pay tribute to his Italian heritage through the thriving family-run winemaking venture.
As Leonetti Cellar celebrates its 40th year in business, a complete 37-year vertical of the label’s Cabernet Sauvignon will be auctioned off at the upcoming Auction of Washington Wines Gala on August 19. Hank and Nancy Sauer — longtime Leonetti Cellar supporters, with Hank being Figgins’ childhood friend — donated the vertical from their personal collection, which includes the award-winning 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine that launched Leonetti Cellar into the regional and national spotlight.
Leonetti Cellar is one of seven wineries that has participated in the Auction of Washington Wine events since it began 30 years ago, and the Figgins family continues to support the cause each year. All proceeds from the events support Seattle Children’s Hospital and Washington State University’s Viticulture & Enology Program, and the auction has raised over $37 million.
We hear more from Gary Figgins, who was selected as the auction’s Honorary Vintner in 2005, ahead of the August 2017 event.
1) Which of your own current offerings are you digging the most?
Our 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is just singing along right now. The Reserve is awesome as well – it’s built for long-return drinking.
2) Any winemaking pipe dreams you’re dying to make a reality?
We’re just now bottling the ancient wine variety called Aglianico. This was one of the varieties Pliny the Elder wrote about before his death in A.D. 79. It originated in Southern Italy, where the Leonetti family is from, does well in warm regions and produces a rich and tannic wine made for long-term aging. We sourced cuttings from U.C. Davis and are releasing the wine in 2018. I believe it’s going to be the only Aglianico produced and released in the U.S.
We recently tasted the wine, as we’re just getting ready to bottle it, and it’s just awesome. We previewed this one last year at our open house and poured it for our subscription list members, and they were so enthused about it. It’ll be a fun addition to the Leonetti Cellar.
3) What non-wine beverage is in your glass most these days? What is your favorite way to enjoy it and where?
I have a passion for Cognac-style brandies that are made from grapes. My second favorite would have to be very old aged Calvados (brandy made from apples in the Normandy region of France). I like to drink it neat as an after dinner digestif.
4) Favorite song, album or artist to jam out to while throwing a few down the hatch?
Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.”