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Concannon Vineyards and Winery will introduce a fifth member to its four-wine Conservancy lineup this summer to honor family patriarch Jim Concannon. The Conservancy wine grapes come from a land trust the Concannon family helped establish in California’s Livermore Valley.

The wine industry has long been a leader in organic farming, sustainable farming practices, and even biodynamic farming. A group of select vintners have moved beyond taking care of the land while farming and have placed vineyards into a Conservancy to protect the land from its biggest enemy – suburban sprawl.

The Tri-Valley Conservancy takes permanent ownership of the land but the vintners retain the right to farm the land while it’s protected from development. Currently, there are more than 3100 acres of vineyard in the conservancy.

Concannon Vineyards has been a leader in the movement. America’s oldest continuously operating winery, under the same family name, produces a line of wines with Conservancy on the label. The slightly-more than one-year-old project features grapes grown in the Livermore vineyards that have been placed in the trust. Concannon has produced a Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and their flagship Petite Sirah under the Conservancy label.

John Concannon, visiting Indiana this week to work with distributors and retailers, conducted just one media interview and told Grape Sense a fifth wine will be introduced in July. “Crimson & Clover” will become the newest wine joining the Conservancy lineup. The wines all sell for less than $15.

“Crimson & Clover” will honor John’s father Jim Concannon. Jim is the third generation and grandson of Irishman James Concannon who came to the U.S. in 1883 and acquired what is now the family vineyard property. Jim Concannon is best known for planting the country’s first Petite Sirah in 1961. The family is celebrating the intense little wine grape’s 50th anniversary this year.

“Crimson & Clover” is going to be a living tribute to my father; my living tribute to my Dad,” John Concannon told me Monday night. “It’s going to be 50 percent Petit Syrah and he’s the originator of Petit Syrah so I want it to be a living tribute.”

The wine will follow current popular trends of red wine blends. The “Crimson & Clover” Conservancy wine will be 50 percent Petite Sirah with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel as part of the blend. It also will sell for less than $15.

The wine will be released in the distinctive Conservancy bottles but will feature a red label. The red represents the Petit Syrah, Jim Concannon’s signature wine, while the clover represents the family’s Irish heritage.

“He’s a great man and he’s very humble, to him it’s all about family,” John Concannon said. “Family, God and country he says, in that order. His life is his family and his work. I think that’s why he’s still sharp at 80. He loves what he does.”

Jim Concannon is at the winery and in the vineyards each day. In recent years, John has persuaded his father to write about the family history, his years developing Concannon wines and working with some of the state’s best known family wine names.

They’ve produced a beautiful coffee table photo book about Concannon Vineyards. John spends about a third of the year on the road working with distributors, retailers, and press to tell the Concannon story.

Still, John’s tone changes a bit and he struggles a little for the right words to talk about the personal importance of adding “Crimson & Clover” to the Conservancy wine list.

“We’ve got the four Conservancy wines,” he said. “We have the vineyard and the Conservancy and it’s doing good and it feels good. I just want it to be a living tribute.”

Concannon wines are distributed in all 50 states. Look for “Crimson & Clover” later this summer. Meanwhile, the Conservancy wines are outstanding value buys for under $15.

Tasting Notes from Dinner with John Concannon:
2009 Conservancy Chardonnay, $15
– Even as a non-Chardonnay drinker I found the Concannon very nice white wine. You get the hints of American and French oak but its not nearly as overpowering as so many California Chards. It had pleasant hints of pear with a creamy palate texture. A nice soft finish will please most Chard fans, especially those who prefer less oak or stainless steel over oak. Recommended!

2008 Conservancy Merlot, $15 – I won’t drink any “fricken” Merlot may be a thing of the past. I liked the Concannon Merlot more than I ever would have expected. I admit, I’m one of those “Sideways” people. The secret just might be that 10 percent of Cabernet added to give the wine “a little kick,” as John suggested. I got blackberry and something like a caramel hint from this wine. Recommended!

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, $15 – I’ve written hundreds of times it’s hard to find good Cab at $15 and under but add this one to your list of exceptions! The wine had full body, nice tannins on the finish preceded by all the dark fruit and spice you’d expect from a Cabernet. The blend includes a little Syrah and Petit Verdot. Highly Recommended!

2008 Petite Sirah, $15 – Jim Concannon was first to plant this grape in California. They give a large portion of their vineyard land to Petit Sirah – so you’d expect this flagship wine to be pretty darn good and it doesn’t disappoint. Petit Sirah is not for beginners or the faint of heart. But you’ll get big chocolate, coffee and ripe fruit hints from the this big boy! I loved the soft and smooth finish. This is one exceptional bottle of wine for $15. Very Highly Recommended!

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