LIVERMORE -- Fine wine and Irish heritage don't necessarily go hand in hand, unless you're talking about the Concannon Vineyard of Livermore.
The 129-year-old winery was founded by James Concannon, an Irish immigrant who came to this country when he was only 18 years old. He dabbled in other businesses for many years until the San Francisco archbishop encouraged Concannon to make sacramental wine for the church.
The rest, as they say, is history. Concannon established his winery in the rich Livermore Valley wine-growing region. The company survived the difficult Prohibition years and boasts the distinct honor of being one of the country's oldest wineries.
That long-ago founder was recognized recently by being named to the Irish America Hall of Fame.
"It's a wonderful recognition," said John Concannon, fourth-generation vintner and James' great-grandson. "It means a lot to our family. There are some pretty big names that are in this. It's always nice to get those affirmations from other people. We're very proud of that recognition."
The elder Concannon was honored on July 4 at a ceremony in New Ross in County Wexford, Ireland. Concannon is in good company with the likes of President John F. Kennedy and Commodore John Barry, "father of the U.S. Navy," who were previously honored.
The Irish America Hall of Fame was started two years ago by the New York-based Irish America magazine.
The magazine, founded more than 25
James Concannon is "a perfect symbol of how Irish immigrants came to America, started with so little and built up this path to success and an incredible legacy," said Kate Overbeck, the magazine's marketing vice president. "The Concannon family is a perfect example of that considering the fact that generations of the family have been involved in continuing the vineyards."
Concannon was born on St. Patrick's Day in 1847 on the rural, isolated Aran Islands. He immigrated to this country in 1865, landing in Boston.
"According to his journal, the first thing he saw was a sign that said, 'Irish need not apply,' " John Concannon said.
Concannon found a bride, moved to San Francisco and started a family. He did well in the rubber stamp business, but it was a career that kept him on the road, leaving his hardworking wife at home with 10 kids.
When San Francisco's first Catholic archbishop, Joseph Alemany, suggested Concannon start a vineyard in the Livermore Valley, the young entrepreneur eagerly accepted the challenge, ultimately founding a 220-acre vineyard after traveling to France to learn how to make wine.
"It's a great honor," John Concannon said of the hall of fame recognition. "I often think back to my great-grandfather and wonder if he would've imagined that we'd be where we are today.
What I'm really trying to do is uphold his values. His overall idea was to have good quality wine at a good price. We're trying to do that today."
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