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All winemakers are shaped by their experiences, and the paths that have led them to their love of the grape. My personal journey has certainly shaped my sommelier’s palate, my gentle approach to winemaking, and the restrained, food-friendly style of my wines. I was born and raised in Denmark, and as the son of a chef and hotelier, food and wine have always been a passionate part of my life. I grew up in the service industry, and started working in my father’s kitchen at the age of 12. When I was older, I earned a degree in business sales and marketing, but food and wine were in my blood, and I soon began studying at the Kolding Hotel and Restaurant School. During my four-year apprenticeship there, I was very fortunate to work alongside Orla Farmann, the national champion for the Danish Sommelier World Cup Team. Orla helped me develop my palate, and further deepened my love of wine.Leo Hansen
Over the next several years, my love of wine took me many places, from Alsace, Loire, Champagne and Burgundy to Spain and Italy. Those travels culminated in my certification as a European sommelier, and in 1997, I became the wine director at Kong Hans, Copenhagen’s first one-star Michelin guide restaurant. In time, my work at Kong Hans took me to California to scout out new wines for our list. I felt an immediate connection with California’s vibrant winemaking scene—both the quality of its wines and the freedom given to its winemakers.
In 1999, I moved to California to immerse myself in winemaking firsthand, and spent the next several years working days in wineries and nights as a sommelier. (My grape-stained fingers were part of the inspiration for the sommelier’s print.) At the same time, I complemented my practical experience by studying chemistry, viticulture and winemaking. My journey led me to Stuhlmuller Vineyards an acclaimed, family-run winery in the Alexander Valley, where I ultimately became winemaker in 2004—the same year I founded Leo Steen Wines.
Since then, I have worked to hone my craft, always with an eye towards that place where style and vineyard authenticity naturally meet. My classically trained European palate is a part of that equation. So is my appreciation for the charm and character of great California winemaking. As a result, I have developed a gentle approach that focuses more on natural yeasts, lower alcohols and less new oak. The winemaker in me thinks about the vineyards I am privileged to work with, and what I love about them. While my sommelier side reminds me that great wine finds is most elegant expression served alongside good food in the company of family and friends. I hope you find both sides of this philosophy realized in my wines.
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