Leonetti Cellar's Gary Figgins’ first exposure to the world of wine came as a child when his maternal grandparents—immigrants from Italy who settled in the Walla Walla Valley—served him small portions of diluted wine produced by hand in their dirt floored cellar. Frank and Rose Leonetti never conceived that years after their deaths these first tastes of wine would inspire the birth of a winery that would place their name on bottles of world-class wines: Leonetti Cellar.
Completely self-educated in the art of making wine, Gary discovered a further passion for wines when as a young father and army reservist he made frequent trips to Northern California. Side trips to California’s wine country inspired Gary to begin making wines at home. In the beginning, he fermented numerous fruits and berries from the bountiful Walla Walla Valley—with varying degrees of success.
Soon, Gary’s entrance into wine production would come full circle, when with the help of his uncles, an acre of cabernet sauvignon and a bit of white riesling would be planted on a hillside above the original Leonetti homestead in 1974. After several years honing his skills as an amateur winemaker, Gary would bond Leonetti Cellar in 1977 and produce its first wines in 1978.
What his early wines lacked in quantity—produced in a tiny cellar beneath his home—they made up for in quality. Pouring his wines for anyone who was willing to taste them, Gary and his wife Nancy soon realized they were on to something when demand for the limited bottlings gradually began to outgrow production.
Disregarding the skeptics’ advice otherwise, Gary expanded the winery until it was beyond the scale of an evening-and weekend-project. He then quit his job as a machinist at a local can manufacturing plant to pursue his winemaking passion full-time.
Over the years, Gary’s dream of an architecturally inspiring building to produce Leonetti wines in has been realized. After years of collecting native basalt stones with members of his family, he built a beautiful structure complete with underground barrel cellar. A further addition with subterranean caves was completed in 2000.
Gary’s philosophy of winemaking is to maintain total control over the winemaking process from start to finish. To that end, Leonetti Cellar has recently expanded its vineyard holdings in the Walla Walla Valley to complement its fruit purchased from elsewhere in the Columbia Valley.