By John Concannon
As we celebrate our 128th consecutive year producing wine under the Concannon family label, I am reminded of the remarkable Katherine Vajda, our winemaker from 1950 to 1960.
Katherine was the first technically-trained, professional woman winemaker in the United States. Highly respected for her knowledge, skill and training, she served as an active participant on the Technical Advisory Board of the California Wine Institute.
Interestingly, Katherine was born in Hungary, where after studying chemistry and dance, she became an accomplished ballerina in Budapest. At the beginning of WWII, however, her dance career abruptly ended as fascism was overtaking Hungary. In 1940, Katherine and her husband, Julius, fled to America, making their way to California where she worked as a lab assistant for Cresta Blanca winery. There, Katherine trained under Professor Edmund Twight, a highly respected wine authority responsible for significant improvements in the overall standards of California winemaking. Two years later, Katherine became winemaker when Dr. Twight retired.
In 1950, while my uncle and father were completing their education and military service, my Grandfather, “Captain Joe” Concannon, hired Katherine to lead the winemaking at Concannon Vineyard. She handled the laboratory analysis, oversaw production, and introduced among other things, a very popular Moselle. She was also my father’s mentor for several years until he became lead winemaker in 1960. Of that time and Katherine’s numerous contributions, my father has said that “working with Katherine was an exceptional opportunity to learn from one of the most talented people in the business.”
From a family that gave America its First Irish Wine Estate, it seems fitting that their winemaker would be America’s first female winemaker as well as one who migrated from Hungary. My father is often fond of saying: “It’s not a matter of nationality; it’s a matter of application.”