Leonetti Cellars, the story
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
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
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.
Always an innovator in the wine industry, Gary utilizes an
aggressive regimen of oak barrels to complement his intensely
flavored wines. He has even gone so far as to hand-pick oak logs
from throughout the nation, which have been air-dried for years
at the winery and then sent away for cooperage.
All of this attention to detail has brought enormous demand for
the consistent quality of Gary’s wines, and made Leonetti Cellar
wines among the most sought-after in the world. Gary remains
humble about his winery’s successes, choosing to resist the
temptations for increased production and remain a truly hands-on
The Walla Walla Valley is a viticultural area of superlatives,
not just in the sense of the wines it produces, but in terms of
the geologic events in which it and its soils were formed. Our
climate could not be better suited to world-class red wine
production, as our growing season is long, warm, and virtually
devoid of rainfall thanks to the rainshadow effect of the
Cascade mountain range, which divides Eastern Washington from
its soggy Western half. This allows us to carefully control the
growth of the vines through judicious irrigation of our deep,
well drained soils. These soils were formed rather recently -
geologically speaking - around thirteen thousand years ago.
During this time, as glaciers retreated toward the poles at the
end of the last ice age, a series of enormous floods, known as
the 'Bretz' or 'Spokane' floods inundated the Walla Walla Valley
to an elevation of 1200 feet as water draining from the
ice-dammed Lake Missoula down the Columbia River, backed up at
the Columbia gorge and into the Walla Walla Valley. The silt
deposits left behind were picked up by the prevailing winds and
blown into what are now beautiful rolling hills of 'Loess'
(pronounced 'luss") which surround the Walla Walla Valley on all
sides. At the same time, Mt Mazama in Oregon was repeatedly
erupting, and the fallout from these explosions gives our soils
a high percentage (10-15%) of volcanic glass, which contributes
to fertility and excellent water drainage. We are so blessed to
be working in the soils and climate of the Walla Walla Valley,
and believe that it is growing, and will continue to grow, some
of the finest wine grapes on earth.
Wineries and vineyards are popping up like mushrooms! We never
would have believed that when we started Leonetti Cellar in 1977
as the Walla Walla Valley’s only winery, it would be one of only
6 as late as 1995, but is now one of over 30 and counting! The
acreage under vine here in the valley has grown to over 1,000
acres as the reputation and demand for our world-class grapes
and wine has grown tremendously. We are proud and humbled to see
the growth of the wine industry here in our sleepy little town,
and only hope the next decade brings great prosperity to all.