Grgich Hills Estate Winery, located within the acclaimed American Viticultural Area of Rutherford, Napa Valley, planted its roots Independence Day 1977. However, its story starts earlier than that. While the Judgment of Paris may have launched the seeds of the winery, the story begins with Miljenko “Mike” Grgich in Desne, Croatia many years earlier where he was born.
Mike is the youngest of eleven children, raised among the vines where his family grew grapes and produced wine. Though Croatia became part of the Soviet Union Communist Bloc after World War II, that didn’t deter him from pursuing his passion for Enology. He studied at the University of Zagreb, Croatia (then Yugoslavia), where he learned about California’s winemaking potential and dreamed of becoming a winemaker in California. Fearlessly and courageously embarked on a trip that brought him from Germany to Canada and finally to the United States to realize his dream.
Mike arrived in Napa Valley in 1958. He started to work for Lee Stewart, owner of Souverain Cellars. Later, he joined Brother Timothy at Christian Brothers, and then André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyard, most knowledgeable winemaker known as “The Maestro,” and Mike’s mentor. Next, joined Robert Mondavi at his new winery where he helped craft the award-winning 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon that put Robert Mondavi on the map. In 1972, he became the winemaker and limited partner of Chateau Montelena, where he brought and applied his knowledge and expertise to produce the 1973 Chardonnay that shocked the wine world.
It is almost 40 years since California wines won the May 24th, 1976 blind tasting that stunned French judges, the 1976 Judgment of Paris. The tasting was organized by Steven Spurrier, a wine expert from England who ran a fine wine shop in Paris, who decided it would be fun to organize a blind tasting to coincide with America’s Bicentennial celebrations in 1976. The results of the blind tasting revolutionized the wine world and established Napa Valley’s reputation as a world-class wine region. To the French surprise the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, crafted by Mike Grgich, scored 132 points, the highest in the competition. California white wines won first, third and fourth places, and first place in the red wines blind tasting.
The Judgment of Paris helped to propel California’s wine industry, and paved the way for Mike to realize his lifelong dream of owning his winery. After his victory, Mike sat down with Austin Hills and his sister, Mary Lee Strebl, from the Hills Bros. Coffee family, and on Independence Day 1977, they gave birth to Grgich Hills Cellars. The Winery began producing wines immediately, and their first crush, of Chardonnay grapes was on September 5, 1977.
In 1995, Mike returned to his native Croatia to receive his degree in enology and viticulture, forty years after deserting the Communist regime to realize his lifelong dream to be a winemaker in California. In 1996 he opened Grgić Vina Winery in Croatia, his homeland, producing Plavac Mali, red wine, and Posip, white wine.
In 2000 and 2001 Mike also contributed to the discovery of the origins of California’s Zinfandel, tracing it back to his native Croatia with the help of University of California Davis Professor and winemaker, Dr. Carol Meredith, and the collaboration of his Alma Mater University of Zagreb. Though originally thought it was related to the Croatian native vine of Plavac Mali, further DNA studies revealed that the Croatian vine Crljenak Kaštelanski is genetically the same as California’s Zinfandel.
Though Grgich Hills’ pride and joy is the Chardonnay, its wine repertoire has grown to include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot and a dessert wine Mike called Violetta, after his daughter, Violet.
Grgich Hills Estate’s vision has grown and now they own 366 acres of top vineyards in Rutherford, Yountville, Carneros, American Canyon, and Calistoga. Organic farming is a staple in all the vineyards, using no artificial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, and relying on wild yeast fermentation in the winemaking production. As Mike often says, “From our vineyard to your glass, naturally!”
Today, Grgich Hill Estate remains committed to making distinctive wines with quality, consistency, and longevity.
Grgich Hills Estate Wines
- 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay
Mike Grgich’s has been called “The King of Chardonnay” for a well-deserved reason. Though the Judgment of Paris planted the seed for his recognition, there was no accident why the 1973 Chardonnay won over French palettes. This wine is crisp wine with aromas of apples and melon, and a delightful nutty hint. With a honey color offers an unforgettable long-lasting luscious finish. Suggested retail price, $43.00.
- 2013 Napa Valley Fumé Blanc
This wine offers tropical notes and a touch of minerality with great balance and bright acidity for a lingering mouth-watering finish. Suggested retail price, $30.00.
- 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is a rich, complex and a distinctive Napa Valley Cabernet coming from Yountville, Rutherford and Calistoga vineyards. It offers aromas of black fruit, violets, cherry and cigar. In the palette offers the notorious Rutherford dust sensation that we have learned to recognize. This is a Cabernet worthy of aging if you have the patience to do so! Suggested retail price, $65.00.
- 2011 Napa Valley Zinfandel
This wine is produced from their Calistoga Miljenko’s Vineyard. It is a sinfully delicious fruit forward wine with aromas of red and black fruit, yet earthy and elegant. It rounds up in your mouth with great balance and warmth. Suggested retail price, $35.00.
- 2011 Napa Valley Merlot
This wine is a Merlot that stands out like a Cabernet! The fruit is mostly from Carneros and American Canyon Vineyards, and it is made in the Cabernet Sauvignon style. It is dry, earthy, textured and robust. It offers black fruit aromas, yet it has savory component. Suggested retail price, $47.00.
- 2011 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is produced from Cabernet vines than 50 years old. It has rich aromas of black fruit, violets licorice, with an incredibly smooth and round finish. A most have! Suggested retail price, $185.00.
- 2012 Napa Valley Late Harvest Violetta
A late harvest wine produced mostly from Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, with some Gewürztraminer. This wine offers a delicate balance of acidity and sweetness. It offers aromas of pear, citrus and honey, and well-balanced finish. This is not a “one-dimension” dessert wine, expect mouth-watering finish that will leave you asking for more! Suggested retail price, $85.00.