Written by John Concannon
I would like to give you a proud son’s personal insight into the man who many refer to as the “Godfather of Petite Sirah.”—James Concannon.
Throughout 2011, Concannon will be celebrating 50 years as “America’s First Petite Sirah.” My Great Grandfather first planted this varietal in our vineyard back in 1904. It was used in our popular Burgundy blend until 1961 when my father, a winemaker, set aside 354 cases and released it as the varietal Petite Sirah. It also gives me great pleasure to share my birth year with “America’s First Petite Sirah.”
Following in the footsteps of his father, my dad, James Concannon, was a third generation winemaker at Concannon Vineyard. My dad was born and raised in the late 1800s home my Great Grandfather built, the same house I grew up in.
I remember as a small child walking a few short steps from the house to the winery taking breakfast to my dad and helping him with his daily vineyard duties. During harvest time he would sleep on his Army cot in the winery. Because nothing was automated during this time, he would set his alarm to wake up throughout the night, always playing catch up to cool each fermenting tank down one-by-one doing his best to keep them at 50 degrees; he referred to this as “chasing the tanks.”
In the 8th grade, my dad won a prize for being at the top of his class in science—the prize was a chemistry book which he still has! Then, while attending college at St. Mary’s, instead of studying chemistry, he decided to study business and accounting. Upon graduating in 1953, he enlisted with the Army during the Korean War. The very next day following the end of his military service, he came back to the winery to gradually take over the family winemaking business.
Having grown up around the winery, he knew what the physical setup should be, but there was a lot of technical knowledge he did not possess. His mentor was Katherine Vajda, Concannon Vineyard and America’s First Professional Winemaker. She was a tough taskmaster who guided him into the work that winemaking brought. While learning from Katherine, he was also attending wine courses at U.C. Davis. He took over as head winemaker in 1960, the very same year he married my mom; that was 50 years ago.
When special guests would visit the winery, it was common for dad to invite them to our house for lunch or dinner, usually with little notice for mom. Being as accomplished and creative in the kitchen as my mom was, she always met the challenge. Mom always seemed very relieved to find out after the fact when our lunch or dinner guest turned out to be a wine writer or a food critic!
As of today, there are 755 producers of Petite Sirah. Both dad and I are impressed with the many growers and wine makers who have continued the development of this varietal in exceptional ways; releasing premium vintage wines year-after-year has impressed us the most.
Our consumers are looking for a very drinkable wine on its release date while having the staying power to enjoy it twenty years from now, which is what the Petite Sirah offers.
I am honored to represent the advocacy group, “PS I Love You,” which can be found at www.psiloveyou.org/about/about-petite-sirah/. As president of the group and host of the annual Petite Sirah symposium at Concannon Vineyard, I also participate in educational seminars around the country.
“Petite Sirah is America’s Varietal Grape and the last fifty years has proven it can proudly stand on its own.”
A toast to the past and future of this great American varietal…
4th Generation Vintner