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Sandi and Salvador Moreno take a lot of pride in their wine.
The owners of Leony’s Cellars came to town close to a year ago, setting up shop on Railroad Avenue right across from the Enumclaw library.
But while other wineries can be opaque about their creations, they said, Leony’s revels in not only being transparent, but in allowing their loyal customers to actually be a part of the wine making.
“There’s a lot of mystery behind wine and how it’s made and what you’re drinking. It’s amazing how pretentious wine can be,” Sandi said. “But we are not that type of people at all.”
Neither Sandi nor Salvador grew up around wine culture: Salvador is an immigrant from (where else) El Salvador, and spent the last decade traveling around the U.S. to open his own business, while Sandi was active duty in the Navy until 2017, leaving to be fulfill her dream as a full-time winemaker.
That dream came about in a sudden fashion, a lightning bolt from the blue.
“I was actually searching on Craigslist — I wanted a wine barrel to be a table in the backyard — and I found a little boutique winery for sale, started emailing the guy,” Sandi said. “We never made wine before, and he invited us over to Cashmere and agreed to teach us how to make wine.”
Suffice to say, they were hooked, and bought the winery in 2014. A year later, after their first full harvest and production, they had made 300 gallons of wine.
But they realized they needed to know more about wine making if they were going to make their business a success, which led them to attend the South Seattle Community College’s Wine Academy in 2016.
The first quarter of school was hectic — while Salvador had already begun working full time at Leony’s, Sandi was still full time Navy, and the two had to somehow balance making their wine in Cashmere, attending school in Seattle, and living in Hoquiam, Washington.
They finished their course in 2017, but then a new challenge appeared on the horizon; they had bought the winery, but the lease on the building they were operating out of was expiring in 2018.
Sandi and Salvador then moved their tasting room to downtown Cashmere, but still needed a place to set up production.
Luckily, they were in Enumclaw for one of its numerous wine-focused events when they got a tip about a vacant warehouse on Railroad. They pounced on the opportunity, signing the lease in September 2017 and opening Leony’s Cellars in July 2018.
It appears to be a good fit — a small winery for a small city.
“I’m originally from Hoquiam, which is also a small town, and I get that feel from here,” Sandi said. “It’s more of a community here… I feel like people care about each other in Enumclaw.”
Their personal style has garnered them local popularity, but has also earned them a spot of fame in the winemaker community — most recently, their “Invictus” Syrah and “Ascendant” Cab Franc each earned gold at the 2019 Seattle Wine Awards, while their Gewurztraminer took bronze.
BUCKING TRADITION, UNCOVERING THE MYSTIQUE
Wine culture is heavily steeped in tradition. After all, people have been trying to perfect the alcoholic drink for millenniums.
But Leony’s owners are just as willing to respect tradition as to throw it out with the grape pulp.
“A portion of the business goes with the norm,” Salvador said. “The shape of the bottle we offer the wine with, [based] on the region the wine is coming from, we try to keep that. But other times, we do it the way we want.”
Flavor profiles are more important to the winemakers that tradition — blending together Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, for a tame example, or a mix of Pinot Meunier, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, if you want to get real creative — but Salvador said they also have their traditional staples that continue to be popular.
Of course, taste is objective, so Salvador and Sandi try to cast a wide net to figure out which blends are popular and which are duds.
“We do a lot of barrel tastings, we do a lot of experimenting with blends just out of the barrel, and we let our customers taste that,” Sandi said. “If you come in some day, you might get to taste a brand-new blend that’s not even [being sold], we just made a couple bottles and testing it out on everybody.”
These sorts of events tend to be exclusive to Leony’s wine club members. Membership is free, and come with several perks, including free tastings, access to club member-only events, and personal wine recommendations.
The couple seems to especially enjoy times when their customers are involved in the wine making, something they feel doesn’t get to happen at larger, less personal wineries.
“We’ve had lots of club members help out with our crush, so they’re part of using the crusher and de-stemmer and [become] part of the process,” Sandi said. “There’s a lot of people that are invested in the wine that goes into the bottle, and I think they like that. It takes a little bit of the mystery away.”
Salvador and Sandi mentioned they want to organize blending parties in the near future, where customers come in to blend their own wine mixes to bring home in a bottle as another way to get them involved in the craft.
Leony’s is an intimate business, so it could come as no surprise that its name is, too.
It’s Sandi’s great grandmother’s middle name, passed down to her — including the apostrophe-s.
“‘Leony’s’ is how it’s written on my birth certificate,” she said. “That’s how my dad named me.”
And it just so happened Salvador was intent on having a lion on the winery’s label, so “we just rolled with it,” she continued.
The frame around the bottle is also personal, original artwork by Salvador himself.
“I was a little tired of the classic look,” he said.
Each bottle comes with an individualized name and poem for that particular wine, written by one of the vinters. Sometimes they’re inspirational, invoking the imagery of a powerful lioness, but others are directly related to the owners’ personal, individual histories.
Take their “Honeymoon Riesling” as an example, named thus because they bottled their first-ever vintage Riesling on their honeymoon in 2015, or “Rebellious Son,” named for Salvador’s decision to leave his homeland to come to America.
“This is the story of a defiant son/ who left what was known,/ to seek the inspiring, challenging, yet/ rewarding side of progress and promise./ Find his spirit in this wine./ Dare to stand out, to change the status quo./ Go against the flow of what is established./ Let your rebellious burning flame change the/ world and bring a revolution.”
HOURS, LOCATIONS, AND MORE
Leony’s Cellar’s Enumclaw location is at 1626 Railroad Ave. The tasting room is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 2 to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 2 to 8 p.m.
Their Cashmere location is on 207 Mission Ave, and is open Friday and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
For more information, go to leonyscellars.com, call 360-500-9942, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leony’s Cellars will be at several events around the area and the state, including the upcoming Bellingham, Tacoma, Renton, and Leavenworth wine walks — go to www.leonycellars.com/events for a full list of events and dates.