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Friday, December 4, 2009

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A popular 35-year-old tradition, Bordeaux by the Bay, implemented by Concannon Winery in Livermore, CA, allowed for a new component this Thanksgiving – a blending seminar, open to the public. Becoming a winemaker for a day appeals to the best of us, as became clear from the attendance numbers.

Facing four bottles of different reds, this reporter felt tempted to impress Julian Halasz, the official Concannon’s winemaker, originally from Hungary, who usually blends tannic cab sav, soft merlot, intense malbec, and dark petit verdot all on his own. This time, he had a roomful of giddy assistants, ready to create a cabernet sauvignon masterpiece. Our only requirement was to stick to the cab sav definition, and use at least 75% of it in our blends. Other wines were supposed to soften, complement, or intensify the taste of the pure product. Seated in a cozy brick cellar, armed with empty glasses and beakers, my classmates were blending away, using a cheat sheet that showed milliliters in percentages, and making short runs to the table served with cold cuts, cheeses, nuts, and dried fruit. “There are two schools of thought about food and wine pairing,” shared with the audience Jim Ryan, C.S. C.W.E. – Concannon Estate Manager, who conducted the seminar. “Personally, I don’t subscribe to the ‘sweet foods for sweet wine’ notion. It’s just taste matching. I prefer contrasting flavors, like salami, pastrami, and cheeses. Each has a different fat content, and can be perfectly paired with tannic reds.” Ryan explained that while nuts have their own tannins, walnuts are the highest in content, cashews the lowest, and pecans in the middle, so they can be paired with different wines for added enjoyment. Dried and fresh berries as well as chocolate/nuts confections provide complementary flavors to wines. After the trial and error session, all participants took home bottles of their own signature blends.

The winery never shied away from bold experiments. It won its first gold medal at the 1936 California State Fair for Sparkling California Burgundy, and it briefly produced a signature wine of Georgia (Former USSR) – Rkaziteli, favored in the past by Dictator Stalin. (“They put Cyrillic letters on the label and couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t sell in the middle of Cold War,” joked Ryan).

One of the oldest wineries in California, Concannon (1883) is a Registered Historic Landmark, and its renovated tasting room is over 100 years old. This year, the winery had its 126th consecutive harvest, as it stayed open even during Prohibition, producing ritual wines for multiple local churches.
America’s first Petite Sirah was developed here and first released in 1961. Three to seven percent of it add more intense color, blackberry/blueberry flavor, and earthy quality to Concannon’s famous cabs.

Today, Concannon completed a multi-million dollar renovation. It enlarged the tasting room, nearly doubling its capacity. Its new patio is equipped with the outdoor fountain made from historic Livermore stamped brick and grants a spectacular view of the vines and surrounding nature.
Very popular especially during Fall and Winter holidays, thanks to its tradition of great holiday wines, Concannon plans to continue blending seminars and educate the public on winemaking and food and wine pairing. The winery is located at 4590 Tesla Road in Livermore. For more information, visit Photography by Yuri Krasov.


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