When I was hired to be the publicist for Concannon Vineyard in 2003, I came to realize that I had been given a true gem, within the wine business. At the time, Lynn Kirimli, the marketing director, and I knew the challenges. Later, when Laurie Jones replaced Lynn, the challenges were still the same, and we continued with the work at hand.

  • An AVA that hadn’t made it into the hearts and minds of most of the key media players, yet
  • A winery that was hanging its flag on the ship of a variety that was still thought of as a bastard child of France, the lowly (also, at that time) Petite Sirah
  • Publicity for the winery was fairly non-existent at the time
    • After a year of working with Concannon, Lynn told me that within one year, “You were able to get more publicity in one year for Concannon, than the winery had had in its last 120 years.”

I knew why that had happened, and it wasn’t by any stroke of genius or luck. It was from gathering all that I could from the materials given to me, organizing them into important story lines that would hook writers onto why they should care about Concannon Vineyard, and then working with my well-established relationships within the wine writing community. These people all love a good story, and Concannon really had not only one, but many.

In my first press release about the winery, I began by stating that “Concannon Vineyard is Poised for Prominence.”

  • It was the first to ever label Petite Sirah as a variety, under the leadership of Jim Concannon. This was a major contribution to the industry through this cultivar.
  • Joe Concannon worked with Dr. Harold Olmo at UC Davis, giving him his Cabernet Sauvignon clones, which the family had brought from Bordeaux, Clones 7, 8, and 10. Dr. Olmo put the clones through the sterilization process, and the University sold them through their Foundation Plant Management Services Department. Napa Valley is loaded with Concannon’s Cabernet clones.  This was a major contribution to the industry through these clones.
  • James Concannon (Jim’s grandfather, and his son John’s great grandfather) was the first Irish immigrant to establish a winery in the United States. This was a major contribution to the industry through historical significance of an ethnic group.
  • James Concannon brought his Petite Sirah to Mexico, where it is still planted. This is a major international contribution.
  • St. Paddy’s Day was a natural for reminding everyone about Concannon, and having a “Beyond Green Beer” hook… Major contribution for fun.

In the seven years that I worked for the winery as their storyteller, I came to adore Jim and his quiet, salt-of-the-earth wife Helen. Actually, that saying, “Behind every great man there’s a great woman,” couldn’t be more true with this family. I love Helen. I love her so much that I honored her on Mother’s Day in 2009. I wrote of her:

Helen Concannon is a woman of epic devotion and love. Behind every leader is his impetus for getting up each day. Helen is not only Jim Concannon’s heroine, but she’s also one of mine. No matter what the circumstance, Helen goes along for the ride, as evidenced by the Blue Tooth Tour that Concannon Vineyard sponsored. Once the seed money was given [by Concannon], other PS I Love You members signed up for national tours that we’ve done in both a motor home and a luxury train. During those hours of living with the Concannons, I learned intimate details of the Concannons’ lives.”

By 2007, I had come to realized that Jim Concannon had done so much for the wine industry that I wanted the industry to recognize him for those contributions. So, I campaigned the California State Fair to have him recognized. Being kept on board for that extended  period of time gave me the tools I needed to pull this off. The California State Fair actually elevated him from what I was submitting for him, Agricultural Man of the Year, to his Lifetime Achievement Award. (Blew me, and him, away.)

I was there when he was recognized, along with Jerry Lohr and Robert Gallo… A most auspicious group. I wrote in this blog: Lifetime Achievement Awards at the California State Fair ~ Humility Reigns. And it did… really…

So, when I spied in the Tasting Panel magazine last month, “Coming next month, Jim Concannon is the Tasting Panel’s Man of the Year,” I emailed Jim saying, “Congratulations! I’m so pleased for you…”

He didn’t know it yet. I had just broken the news to him. I was so pleased, because I was again there to witness Jim’s humility. I remember how he accepted his award at the California State Fair. I remember how his voice broke as he tried to articulate his appreciation, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

How I love this man, I just can’t begin to write how much, but I do. We’ve traveled far and wide together… his family and mine during our Blue Tooth Tour days.

  • In a motor home, we drove from Livermore to LA, to Phoenix, Santa Fe, Dallas and to Houston.
  • We then drove from Boston to New York City, to Baltimore, Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando, and Miami (you should have seen the yacht we were on in Miami).
  • In a luxury train, we traveled from Seattle, to Portland to Los Angeles.
  • And, leg two of the journey saw us travel from Fort Worth, to St. Louis, and then to Chicago.

I know business is just business… But, every now and then you find a gem along the way, you lose your heart in the process, and you transcend the axiom “Business is just Business.”

When I wrote to him and told him how pleased I was, he thanked me and my family (Diaz Communications) for all we had done for him… Ever the man with humility.

Congratulations, again, Mr. Jim! You’ve so earned this award, and I couldn’t be more pleased for you, Helen, the rest of your family, and Concannon Vineyard.

And, great job to Meridith May and Andy Blue”s Tasting Panel for their acknowledgment of one so worthy.

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