Mike Grgich…A Legend turns 90

Picture Mike GrgichI recently had the great honor of being invited to have lunch with Mike Grgich.  This year he turned 90, and the one year long celebration of his birth and accomplishments is in full swing.

From humble beginnings in Croatia, he came to America in 1954 with a dream…to make the finest wine in the world.  He arrived in Napa in 1958, practically penniless.  After spending time honing his skills at some of the few established wineries in the Napa Valley (Robert Mondavi, Burgess, Beaulieu Vineyards, Christian Brothers), Mike was hired by Chateau Montelena as their winemaker.  In 1976, Mike’s 1973 Chardonnay was entered into the International Blind Tasting in Paris.  He took first place…against all odds and much to the astonishment of a lot of Frenchmen.  His was the first American wine to ever win this competition, and he put the Napa Valley and its wines on the map for the very first time.005

The next year, 1977, Mike purchased a small plot of land in Rutherford, and he and his new partner Austin Hills (of the Hills Brothers Coffee family) broke ground on their own winery, Grgich HIlls.  018In 1980, the new winery’s first vintage Chardonnay was entered into the Showdown in Chicago…against 221 Chardonnays from all over the world.  Mike took first place again.

Today, Mike is still at his winery almost every day, overseeing the operation, spending time with thousands of visitors from around the world, telling stories of the old days, signing wine bottles, and enjoying the life he worked so hard to make for himself and his family.

004His only daughter, Violet, and his nephew, Ivo Jeramaz, now effectively run the operation, and are also on hand to add their own memories of Mike’s rise to prominence in the world of wine.

Above all, Grgich’s legacy is the most famous white wine ever made: the Chardonnay that brought Napa Valley respect.

“My dream came true,” he says. “Mike Grgich’s American dream came true.”  As I sat beside this humble man from Croatia, I was overwhelmed with respect and admiration.  It was truly an honor to have spent a couple of hours on a beautiful Thursday afternoon with a legend.  He was unassuming, charming, with a wonderful smile and a still strong handshake.  It was a day I won’t forget.

Napa Valley Wine Country Tours is proud to say that when our guests ask us what wineries they should visit while in the Napa Valley, Grgich Hills is almost always one of our recommendations.  That’s where it all began, so why not begin your tour there?  www.winecountrylimos.com, 707-226-3333.