Saturday, March 13, 2010

Concannon Founder’s Day 2010

I had a fun time today observing St. Patrick’s Day in Irish style at Concannon Vineyards for their Founder’s Day Celebration. The event was in honor of founder James Concannon’s birthday, on St. Patrick’s Day, in March 17, 1847.

I met a few friends there who are Livermore wine fans and we mingled in the new tasting room that Concanon built last year in a classic style out of brick. The tasting is room much bigger than it was and features special event rooms. Wine was poured, not beer, so I enjoyed a run through their offerings, which included Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Cabernet and a few others. They have quite a wide selection of wines and there were some bargains going for about $7 a bottle, but their small lots, which are quite tasty get in to the $50 range.

After a bit we meandered outside to enjoy music on the lawn with The Cooltones, a Big Band Jazz. They played songs that took me back to when I was quite young and listened to my Dads music, like “Days of Wine and Roses.” The grounds are nicely manicured in a park-like setting and fresh flowers that make it a pleasant place to relax on a sunny day. This day was still quite cold though with a chill breeze blowing so I wrapped up in a blanket like an old guy. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my 1992 Petite Sirah magnum for the bottle signing with 3rd and 4th generation vintners Jim and John Concannon, but I did get a chance to say hi to Jim, who is a regular in the tasting room and at Livermore Valley events held by the Livermore Wine Growers Association.

With a legacy dating back to 1883, Concannon Vineyards is known for its award-winning wines, as well as its historic role in the Livermore Valley wine industry. James arrived in Livermore after crossing the country in a covered wagon first settling his family in Oregon, then later in California. He planted the country’s first Petit Sirah vines in 1911. For half a century they were used primarily for blending. The winery bottled its first Petit Sirah in 1964 at the suggestion of a wine distributor who liked the flavor. Concannon is a supporter of this varietal and they hosted the Petite Sirah event in 2009. There are some nice old vine Petite Sirah vines behind the tasting room. Concannon also hosts the summertime Livermore Shakespeare Festival, which is featuring “Romeo & Juliet” this season.

James Concannon probably realized that the gravelly soil of Livermore provided the drainage needed for growing grapes with concentrated flavors and that the ocean breezes coming from the Golden Gate would deliver the cooling necessary to retain good acidity. Livermore Valley is one of the few regions with an east west orientation and favorable climate characteristics for wine growing and wines have been made since the 1840s, when California pioneers looking for outstanding vineyard sites began planting grapes in the region starting with Robert Livermore and later C. H. Wente, and Charles Wetmore who along with Concannon founded their wineries in the early 1880s. Concannon survived Prohibition by making sacramental wine for the Catholic Church and the vineyard has been designated a California Historical Landmark.

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