Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Concannon Celebrating 50 Years of Petit Sirah

There’s nothing better than a glass of wine with a great background story. Concannon of Livermore, Ca., offers both to consumers with an eye on the environment and great wine.

The Concannon family arrived in California in 1883 and has been operating continuously by the ensuing generations down to John Concannon today. John’s father Jim Concannon is a California wine pioneer. Jim is also widely credited for America’s first 100 percent Petit Sirah.

“This is our flagship wine,” John Concannon said during a recent Indianapolis visit. “My father was the first to make Petit Sirah in 1961 as a varietal. For years before, it was a blending grape used in Burgundy. We’ve actually trademarked ‘America’s first Petit Sirah.’ So, we’re celebrating 50 years.”

Besides the bold, rich Petit Sirah, Concannon is also known for helping lead a conservancy movement in the Livermore region, which is just east of San Francisco. Concannon and other area vintners have placed their vineyards in an independent trust that assures urban sprawl will never take over the historic area’s farm ground.

Concannon makes four wines, soon to add a fifth, from the Conservancy properties – Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Sirah, and Chardonnay. They retail at $15 and represent some of the best value varietals you’ll find at the price point.

But Concannon is best known for the small purple grape with all the big flavor. “This is actually a very sacred process how we make our Petit Sirah,” Concannon said. “We harvest the fruit at night, let it cool down, we bring it in and throw it on the sorting table. We sort out the berries, throw them through the rubber impalers and release the juice. We add some yeast and we’re making wine like the Egyptians did.”

The grape can be difficult to work with for a 100 percent varietal wine. “This wine is a little devil,” Concannon said. “What we’ve learned in 50 years it’s all about controlling the oxidation rate. During the first six months we lock it down in stainless steel and then the next six months we’re putting it in American oak, medium toast (that’s our spice rack). This is where the old school winemaking comes in because during the last six months we’re putting the wine in these 55-year-old vertical, upright barrels. They are French oak from Bordeaux. The wood is inert so it’s not giving off any flavor but the porousness of the wood accelerates the oxidation rate, speeding up the aging process. That gives it a nice soft mid-palate.”

The end result of all that hand crafting is a wine that’s anything but petite. “This wine is the St. Bernard that wants to sit in your lap,” John laughed. “It’s a very friendly wine but it’s big.”

And while many people shy away from big red wines it’s easy to recommend Concannon’s version because of the roundness. Concannon shared recent A.C. Nielson statistics showing Petit Sirah as the second-fastest growing varietal in California behind Pinot Noir.

He suggests pairing the wine with any food that has spice or pepper along with steak, barbeque, or Asian food. “If you have heat in the meal, bring it on. This wine can keep up with it.”

I love this wine with a nice charred steak.

Howard’s Picks:
Concannon Conservancy wines
– At $15 each, you can’t go wrong with these wines distributed in all 50 states. The Cabernet and Petit Sirah are big flavored wines with a nice smooth mid palate and finish. The Merlot shocked me with its hint of spice. The Chardonnay doesn’t clobber you with oak. These are great wines. Concannon is about to release a new addition to its Conservancy lineup – “Crimson and Clover” to honor Jim Concannon. The crimson stands for the red wines and clover for the family’s Irish heritage. The red blend is expected in stores later this year.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Great Story Behind Colby Red Wine

Few industries have proved more generous in recent years than the wine industry. Wine auctions across America raise millions of dollars for great causes annually.

But the story of 13-year-old Colby Groom touches the heart in a way different than corporate charitable efforts. When Colby was barely 10 years old he had back-to-back open heart surgeries. His remarkable recovery and generous spirit now drives his father and others to raise money for charities that promote heart health.

After recovering from the life-threatening challenges, Colby now promotes a red wine blend bearing his name – Colby Red. The boy asked his famous winemaking father if they could make a wine to help raise money for Heart Disease charities.

Daryl Groom is certainly no doting father humoring his ill son. Groom is a world class Australian winemaker who worked for Penfolds before coming to the U.S. in 1990 to work for Geyser Peak and Beam Wine Estates.

The project really took off after a February appearance on NBC’s Today Show. With Walgreen Drugstores on board as a national corporate partner, suddenly 20,000 cases of a California red wine blend didn’t seem like enough.

“Honestly we have been blown away and are quite humbled by the tremendous support Colby Red has received from consumers, trade and media,” Daryl Groom told Grape Sense. “People love the wine and they really want to support the cause. We get lots of emails and Facebook messages daily.

“Because of the support so far this year we have raised $115,000. This is a far cry from the $500-$1,000 my son and I were hoping to raise when he first conceived the idea. Of the $115K raised we have donated $72,000 and quite an additional amount of product to heart related charities across the country.”

The wine, with a suggested retail price of $12.99, can be found in wine shops, liquor stores, and in Walgreen stores across the nation. Of course with a “suggested” retail price, don’t be surprised if you find the wine at a lower cost.

All of the project’s profits go to Colby’s charity. But for a proud dad, there’s more to this project than selling a lot of wine for a good cause.
“Aside from raising the money for worthy charities, which puts a huge smile on our faces, my family has been rewarded immensely in watching our son Colby grow with the process,” Groom said. “From being so fragile post-surgery to a young man who gets on stage at heart benefit balls around the country and confidently and proudly tells his story to help others.”

You can learn much more about Colby Groom, the wine, and the project at and on Facebook at Colby Red Wine.

Howard’s Pick:
Colby 2009 Red Blend, $12.99
– There are no excuses not to try this fruit-forward red wine if you live near a Walgreens. The wine is a cuvee of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Merlot and Petite Sirah. It’s big fruit with soft edges and very enjoyable finish. And by the way, it’s a very smooth and wonderful glass of red wine!