Tradition with Innovation

by John Concannon

What’s new is old and what’s old is new – Tradition with Innovation

It’s 2011 and everything is different. Different jobs, challenges, and opportunities. So why would a winery stay the same?

Back in the late 1800s, the success of the Livermore wine region was accomplished by farmers, like my Great Grandfather (GGF) James Concannon, working together. The sharing of knowledge and farming equipment was the only way they were able to accomplish all that they did. We have always been a community backing our valley’s preservation efforts; Livermore is a “wine community” with family names who continue to represent their labels, 128 years later.

Today, Concannon Vineyard blends tradition with innovation in its grape-growing, winemaking and estate management practices. What has been most striking to me is how modern day technology has evolved from practices my GGF practiced; what’s new is old and what’s old is new!

Sustainability – Yesterday and Today: In 1883, my GGF farmed the land without the use of modern day chemicals. Today, our philosophy remains the same: we work with “Mother Nature” by supporting her efforts naturally and staying out of her way.

In 2009, Concannon Vineyard became one of the first wineries to receive third-party certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s (CSWA) Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) program. Launched in January 2009, the CCSW program recognizes and fosters best practices in environmental stewardship, conservation of natural resources, and socially equitable business management.

Energy Management – Yesterday and Today: Back in 1883, electricity was just being introduced, with the first commercial power station going into operation on September 4, 1882 in Manhattan. Therefore, my GGF continued to utilize horse, mule, and human power until electricity became available to him.

Today, as part of our cost and carbon reduction and efficiency measures, Concannon has installed a solar system on the rooftop of its new winery building that produces approximately 270,000 kilowatt hours a year, supplying between 15-30% of energy depending on production needs. Energy efficient refrigeration and tank temperature control systems are also in place, with computer controlled tanks ensuring that unnecessary cooling is not used. All production tanks are insulated or jacketed, which translates into energy savings, and our energy efficient HVAC systems meet or exceed local standards. Motors, drives and pumps are all selected for maximum efficiency and minimal energy usage.

Basket Press – Yesterday and Today: In 1883, my GGF purchased a “cider press.” We used this for 70 years until we changed to a Swiss bladder press in the 1970s only to travel full circle back to a modern day low force, light yielding, high quality (150 gallons per ton) basket press. While the materials have changed, the actual process is still the same. I actually operated this original press for the last time in the harvest of 1976.

Peristaltic Pumps – Yesterday and Today: In 1883, the juice from grapes was gently transported by hand pumps, which work on the same principals as our modern day peristaltic pumps. Similar in style to the human heart, a recurring vacuum is created through the hose rather than the pump itself. While this is the latest technology, it was utilized by my GGF 128 years ago.

Old School Wine Making – Current Day Technology: The secret of Concannon is that we don’t have any secrets! We bridge traditional wine making techniques with modern day technology. One example of this approach is evident in how we produce our Conservancy Petite Sirah:

We ferment it for 6 months in stainless steel, then 6 months in small oak barrels, and then age the wine for an additional 6 months prior to bottling in one of our 16 French oak vertical casks, which are more than half a century old. The key is to control the oxidation of the wine by going from air tight tanks to more porous barrels, then to giant French oak casks where the wines can literally breathe. It is a practice common in France, but virtually unheard of in California, yet we have been doing it for over 50 years.

While many practices of production still reflect the ways of yesteryear, we have successfully juke-boxed traditional techniques with modern day innovation. By using the finest equipment to process our wines, we can ensure that the wine quality will continue to be premium.

Since 1883, Concannon has pursued the creation of world-class wines that respect and nurture the natural resources of the Livermore Valley; it was my GGF’s vision to produce Grand Cru quality wines. With the completion of our 10 year, $30MM revitalization program, we have achieved his goal. I think my GGF would be very proud to have his name on our current vintages.

John Concannon

4th Generation Vintner

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