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.

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