In 1977 Hollywood created the enduring classics Annie Hall and Saturday Night Fever. At the same time, in the heart of Napa Valley, another classic was born. Out of a dusty spot in the Rutherford appellation, Mike Grgich was breaking ground for a new winery, and like the movies, this enterprise has endured through time.
The story of Grgich Hills Estate, like the narrative of a perfect screenplay, follows a protagonist with passion, courage, and a dream. Roll the camera, and slowly zoom in on a Google Earth image of Eastern Europe. Miljenko “Mike” Grgich was born in a tiny village in Croatia, the youngest of 11 children. He learned winemaking from his father and then at the University of Zagreb. Under communist rule, Mike yearned to go somewhere he could be free. After a long four-year journey that took him through West Germany and Canada, he finally arrived in Napa Valley in 1958 just in time for harvest.
There, Mike was met with the heartwarming assistance of Souverain Cellars owner Lee Stewart, who gave him the job he needed to get a visa. After his time at Souverain Cellars, Mike worked for some of the icons of Napa Valley: Brother Timothy at Christian Brothers, André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu and Robert Mondavi.
In 1972 the owners of Chateau Montelena asked Mike to join them as winemaker and limited partner. This is where Mike first gained international recognition as a result of the celebrated “Paris Tasting” of 1976. It was with a 1973 Chardonnay that Mike crafted and beat the best of France. Winning the Paris Tasting allowed Mike to make his dream of owning a winery a reality, and in 1977 he partnered with Austin Hills to create the world-renowned Grgich Hills Estate.
Today, at age 94, Mike continues to guide the winery team, which includes his daughter Violet Grgich, who leads sales and marketing, and his nephew Ivo Jeramaz, who also emigrated from Croatia and manages the vineyards and cellar. All the wines are made from certified organic fruit from the family’s estate vineyards.
As Mike celebrates the 40th anniversary of the winery, take in the view of Grgich’s 336 vineyard acres running the length of Napa Valley, absorb the monumental journey he made from Croatia to being inducted into the Vintner Hall of Fame, and celebrate a true Napa Classic.