The SOMM Journal

June / July 2015

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{ }  7 Margaux was now home to virus-resistant Cabernet and was experiencing one of its most remarkable harvests in its history. He directly imported back scores of Château Margaux vines, planting them in 1893. When Prohibition began, the U.S. government wanted those vines torn out. But Captain Joe, James' son, successor and a former cavalry officer, drove the agents off with determination and the power of the Catholic Church. Sacramental wine was the only legal justification for a large vineyard. Because of Joe's fortitude, and those contracts, Concannon's Bordeaux vines were kept alive— including one extraordinary vine that would form the basis of the future Concannon Clones. In the early 1930s, when California Cabernet Sauvignon acres numbered just 200, Captain Joe became one of the first propri - etors in the state to release it as a varietal wine. And, roughly 40 years after he fended off the Feds, Concannon Vineyard was per- haps the only site in the state with Cabernet vines still free from any type of virus. Consequently, U.C. Davis's Dr. Harold Olmo and Curt Alley went there to isolate a single, perfect vine for observa- tion, heat treatment and eventual propagation in the university's Oakville vineyard. Its progeny were released in the early 1970s as Cabernet Sauvignon clones 7, 8 and 11. Because these clones demonstrated outstanding virus resis - tance and consistently produced high yields of the best quality fruit for making exceptional wines, they quickly became the most widely planted. According to Dr. Deborah Golino of U.C. Davis's Foundation Plant Services, "These dynamic clones were an essen - tial asset to the enormous expansion of Cabernet Sauvignon plant- ings in California and Napa Valley from the 1970s to the present, but also played an invaluable, distinctive role in helping California and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon achieve national and interna- tional recognition." There were fewer than 2,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in California at the time of their release. Now there are 88,000 with the Concannon Clones by far the most widely planted. Today, James Concannon's grandson, Jim, the third-generation winemaker who helped develop the Concannon Clones and also introduced "America's First Petite Sirah," still greets guests at the winery. His son, John, who has taken over the helm from his father, is currently Managing Director and is as determined as his forefa - thers. He's especially focused on sustainability and environmental stewardship, creating a world-class visitor experience at the winery and preserving the historic brand and property. About the famous clones, John remarked, "The Concannon Clones represent a truly amazing story of generations of family across time who together ended up making an extraordinary contribution to the California and American wine industry. In this case, clearly all the right people came together at the right times, even generations apart—and, they all got it right." The house where James made his first wine—and in which Captain Joe, Jim and John grew up—still stands at Concannon Vineyard. The original winery, much renovated, houses the tasting room and highly enjoyable Underdog Wine Bar. Adjacent to the parking lot lies the historic, 122-year-old "Mother Vine Vineyard" of non-heat-treated vines propagated from James's 1893 Château Margaux Cabernet. Amazingly, 50- to 70-year-old vines are still producing lovely Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2010 Concannon Vineyard Reserve "Mother Vine" Cabernet Sauvignon shows traditional character with medium-plus body and flavors of crisp black currant, spice, bay leaf and oak, all backed by fine, slightly firm, tannins. Another tie to Concannon Vineyard's legacy of Bordelais varieties is the lovely 2013 Assemblage Blanc. Made from 60% Semillon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc, it's smooth but juicy and features long-lasting flavors of guava, peach, white blossoms, citrus pith and spice. Despite the history with Bordeaux varieties, most wine enthu - siasts know Concannon Vineyard best for Petite Sirah. One of the grape's first American proponents, Concannon also produced the nation's first varietally labeled Petite from the 1961 vintage. Their 2013 Reserve Petite Sirah is inky ruby in color and deliciously loaded with black currant, tart blackberries, black pepper and toasted oak. Rich, long and plush with fine-grained tannins, it's a model for the variety. James and Ellen Concannon with their ten children, 1900. Jim Concannon teaching sons John and Paul about winegrowing and respect for the land, 1971.

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