The SOMM Journal

June / July 2015

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6 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2015 first press WINEMAKING WAS AN UNLIKELY VOCATION FOR AN urban Irish-Catholic family man in the 1880s. But it was that religious affiliation—plus his track record of entrepreneurial successes and fearlessly remaking himself—that led James Concannon to found this iconic winery that has operated continuously under the same family label since 1883. Among many contributions to the wine industry, the Concannon Cabernet Clones 7 & 8 are certainly among its most signifi - cant—an estimated 80% of all California Cabernet Sauvignon is currently planted to the Concannon Clones. Born in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day, 1847, Concannon landed in New York at 18—eager for opportunity but speak - ing only Gaelic. He rose quickly: Singer salesman in Boston, then bellhop, then hotel manager in Maine only to head west for bigger opportunities. He sold books and he sold rubber stamps—a new-fangled, time-saving device—in a territory that ran from the Mississippi River to the Pacific, from the Canadian border into Mexico. Soon fluent in both English and Spanish, he even met with Mexico's President to discuss impoverishment in the capital and was immediately granted a ten-year franchise to implement the first urban sanitation program in Mexico City history. He married and began rearing a close-knit family that grew to five girls and five boys. Settled in San Francisco's Mission District, he became well-acquainted with the city's first archbishop. The Spanish-speaking Alemany recommended Concannon move to Livermore and begin producing wine. The rural valley would be better for a large family and—according to land surveys the Catholic Church had been assembling for more than a century—it featured deep, gravelly soils perfect for excellent Bordeaux-variety wines. In 1883, with a commitment from the diocese to purchase sacramental wine, Concannon purchased a 47-acre vineyard in Livermore Valley. He traveled to Bordeaux with Clarence Wetmore and imported his Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (from Château d'Yquem), Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varieties (from Château Lafite and Château Margaux), and soon after, Petite Sirah. He crafted his first vintage, 1886, in the basement of his house and the 1887 in a new winery. One of the first to craft Bordeaux-style wines in California, James produced his wines for both the church and private consumers. Only a decade later though, phylloxera ravaged every last vine on the property. Undeterred—and using funds he'd earned selling millions of vines, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, to Mexico for their incipient wine industry which he had founded and led—Concannon made two arduous steamship voyages to France. Rumor had it, Château by Fred Swan, Certified Sommelier Joe's California Cabernet, one of the first varietally-labeled Cabernet Sauvignons. These bottles date from the early 1930s. For historic preservation and education, these Prohibition-dated bottles are now at home in the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian collection.

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