By John Concannon
This past Mother’s Day had me thinking about my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Each of these remarkable women made huge contributions to the success of our family winery over the last 128 years, and I thought I’d share some fond memories and a bit of history with you.
Great-grandmother Ellen Rowe Concannon
Born in Castle Comer in Kilkenny, Ireland, Ellen Rowe came to America in 1862 at the age of 13. She lived with her uncle in Maine while the Civil War raged, working at the local weapons arsenal. She met my great-grandfather, winery founder James Concannon, at the age of 17. The next year they moved west to San Francisco, ultimately settling in Livermore where they built their family home, planted 47 acres of grapes, established Concannon Vineyard and raised 10 children.
A petite lady and gracious hostess, my great-grandmother often opened her home to traveling guests, and she even managed the winery herself when my great-grandfather was on the road. She passed away at the age of 73.
Grandmother Nina Ferrario Concannon
Originally from northern Italy, Nina Ferrario came to the United States where she met and married my grandfather, “Captain Joe,” in 1925. Their wedding reception was held at the historic Livermore Ravenswood Estate.
Though she raised six children, my grandmother still frequently entertained guests, whether they were expected or not. Among the notable visitors to her dinner table was Dennis Day, a popular Irish tenor and actor who serenaded guests out on the back lawn one evening until my grandfather finally called from the back door, “Time to go home!” Another famous guest was crooner Rudy Vallee who visited each year with a new car and (usually) a new wife. My grandmother once recalled that he popped a button during one visit and she herself sewed it back on for him in no time at all. And then there was Queen Fredericka of Greece who arrived one day with her entourage while my grandmother was ironing!
Though she passed away in 1972, my grandmother is still greatly missed.
Mother Helen Ziolkowski Concannon
Originally from Minnesota, my mother earned a nursing degree before moving to California where she met and married my father. They raised their four children in our home here on the winery estate.
Preserving and documenting our rich agricultural history was tremendously important to my mother, and she archived documents acquired over four generations that have been instrumental in many projects. Our 2006 book, “Concannon: The First One Hundred and Twenty-five Years,” benefited from her work, as does our tasting room memorabilia wall documenting generations of family history.
The Concannon Family Tradition
All three of these gracious and stylish women – my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother – lent so much to the evolution of Concannon Vineyards. The Gaelic interpretation of the name Concannon means “wisdom without compromise,” and I think it’s fair to say that that’s precisely what these three warm and loving women embodied. During this month of May, I salute all three of them!