Concannon Vineyard: A Tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Livermore Valley History

Concannon Vineyard has a long history in California’s Livermore Valley. Their history is closely connected to Cabernet Sauvignon (and Petite Sirah, but that’s a story for another time.) We recently had the opportunity to taste three Concannon Cabernet Sauvignons during a virtual tasting with Concannon winemaker, James Foster. The International #CabernetDay tasting offered the opportunity to dig into the history of the winery, the development of Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon clones and taste three expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon, which were provided as tasting samples.

Concannon Vineyard in the Livermore Valley

James Concannon was born in County Galway, Ireland in 1847. He came to Boston in 1865 and then on to San Francisco in 1878. By 1883 he was financially successful enough to purchased 47 acres in the Livermore Valley. He planted his vineyard with cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc from Château d’Yquem and Cabernet Sauvignon from Château Margaux. James Concannon was a contemporary of Louis Mel, Charles Wetmore and Carl H. Wente in the Livermore Valley, all of whom were wine pioneers there. It was through these connections that James obtained the Bordeaux vine cuttings to plant his vineyard.

Joseph Concannon became the second generation to lead Concannon Vineyard after his father’s death in 1911. He is credited with keeping the winery open during Prohibition by making sacramental wine, thanks to his family’s close connection to the Catholic Church. Keeping the winery viable meant the vineyards established using those Bordeaux vine cuttings also survived. During this period many wineries removed wine grapes in favor of table grapes to remain financially viable. Joseph was the first to varietally label Riesling, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon according the the winery website.

Jim Concannon, the third generation of the Concannon family, recognized the quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the family’s vineyard. He worked with UC Davis in identifying Cabernet Sauvignon of superior quality. The result of his collaboration with the University’s clonal selection program, beginning in 1965, was the identification of three Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon clones (7, 8 and 11) in the early 1970s. All are sourced from one vine, the mother vine, planted in the Concannon vineyard. That vine still stands in the Concannon vineyard today just outside the tasting room. Concannon estimates that 80% of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in California is one of the Concannon clones. Jim was also the first to bottle and release a varietally labeled Petite Sirah in California.

It has been under the guidance of fourth-generation Concannon family member, John Concannon, that Concannon Vineyard became one of the earliest wineries in California to become Certified Sustainable. John has worked to preserve the history of Concannon Vineyard as well. 

In 1982 the winery and its 250 acres of vines sold for the first time since it was established by James Concannon. It was held by several interests before being purchased in 1992 by Tesla LLC, a partnership of three Wente family members. The Wente family made the purchase to preserve the historic estate in its entirety.

In 2002 The Wine Group purchased Concannon Vineyard from Tesla LLC and then in March 2020 announced the winery and vineyard were again for sale.

A Tasting of Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon

2017 Concannon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles photo
2017 Concannon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles

2017 Concannon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Roblesbright ruby in the glass with aromas of raspberries and blackberries with hints of dried herbs. Flavors of red and dark cherries, blackberries and earth combine seamlessly. The body is medium with bright acidity and drying tannins. 13.5% abv. 45,000 cases made. Average price: $14

Extremely aromatic, lively, bright flavor profile. This wine is available nationwide and has 10% Petite Sirah and 5% Cab Franc blended into the Concannon clone Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are sourced from Creston, Estrella and Geneso Districts in Paso Robles and brought to the winery in Livermore. 

James uses open-top fermenters with gentle punchdowns and a basket press in winemaking. Aging takes place in French and American oak – 40% new, 60% used. 

2017 Concannon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Mother Vine, Livermore Valley photo
2017 Concannon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Mother Vine, Livermore Valley

2017 Concannon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Mother Vine, Livermore Valleymedium ruby in the glass with aromas of warmer, dark fruit, dried herbs and dusty earth. Flavors of dark berries and plums with a bit more body finish with drying tannins and nice acidity. 14% abv. SRP $45. Only 728 cases made. Available at the winery curbside or online.

Flavorful and elegant, this Cabernet Sauvignon is a taste of history. Sourced from the 2.5-acre Mother Vine Vineyard. These 60-year old, head trained vines are from cuttings propagated from the original vines brought from Margaux. These old vines produce only 1.5 to 2 tons per acres.

Beginning with hand harvesting, James treats these grapes gently in the cellar with gentle punchdowns, a 14-day fermentation, time on the skins and aging in 50/50 French and American oak for 20 months.  

2017 Concannon Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley photo
2017 Concannon Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley

2017 Concannon Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valleymedium ruby in the glass with aromas and flavors of raspberry, red and black currants and blackberries backed with a bit of earth and lively acidity. Tannins are a bit grippy and well integrated. 14% abv. SRP $60. Only 319 cases made.

Youthful, complex, bright. This is the first harvest from the recently planted “Block 7”, a 15-acre parcel on the estate planted to Concannon Clone 7. All Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 7, 100% new oak, 54% French/46% American oak for 20 months. In spite of all new oak used in the aging, fruit flavors come through nicely in this Cabernet.

Winemaker James Foster uses oak effectively in winemaking and in all three wines the result is a pure expression of fruit flavors with nice balance, bright acidity and tannins that are well integrated with the flavors. 

September is always a big month for Concannon Vineyard with Cabernet Day kicking off their annual celebration of the variety that is so dear to them. This year’s celebration will be a bit different due to COVID-19, but the winery recently re-opened for wine tastings (by appointment only) and curbside pickup continues to be available. Please consult the Concannon website for wine club information and all the details for planning a visit to celebrate Cabernet Sauvignon with Concannon Vineyard!

Thanks to Double Forte for organizing the tasting and inviting us to enjoy these lively, flavorful Concannon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons.

Cheers!

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