Last week, my friends Dolores and Dan invited me to their house for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner of beef and Guinness stew. When I told Dolores that I had brought an “Irish” wine for the dinner, she looked at me as if I had two heads. Even to my Irish friends, the idea of Irish wine seems like a joke. Not many of them know that one of the first families of California wine making is descended from an Irish immigrant. I had just read about pioneering winemaker James Concannon on the Daily Sip blog. What a great story. He was born in the Aran Islands on St. Patrick’s Day, 1847, and, like many young Irishmen, left Ireland at 18 in search of adventure and better opportunities. He made his way to Mexico and California and was engaged in all kinds of business endeavors. In 1883, he purchased a property in the Livermore Valley, California, initially to make communion wine for the Catholic Church. Four generations later, the Concannon family is still producing wine at that same vineyard and is very proud of its Irish heritage. In 2012, John Concannon produced an Irish whiskey aged in Concannon Petite Sirah casks as a tribute to his great grandfather.
When President Ronald Reagan — a former Governor of California — visited the birthplace of his parents in 1984, he presented a Methuselah (6 liter bottle) of Concannon Reserve Petite Sirah 1979 vintage to Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald as an official gift from the United States. I doubt that James Concannon could ever have imagined that one day his family’s wine would be presented to the Prime Minister of an independent Ireland by an Irish American President of the United States.
I love this story so much and since Concannon is close enough to my own surname, I think Concannon Vineyards is going to be my new “house” wine.
For more information about the history of Concannon family, their wines and family recipes go to the Concannon Vineyard web site.
(For a fascinating history of Irish winemakers around the world, read “A Kingdom of Wine” by Ted Murphy published by the Ireland Fund Winegeese Society.)