Today, Napa Valley is known for its wine roads, A-class wines, and a nice retreat. But, over 40 years ago, the situation with Californian wines wasn’t as great as it is today. Californian and, therefore, American wines haven’t had their cult status until the mid-70s and what happened then, changed the whole game in the American wine industry and all that started with one man from Croatia – Miljenko Grgich!
The 91-year-old Miljenko, a native of the Desna village in the Neretva Valley, is still today the owner of the Grgich Hills winery, stretching to nearly 400 acres in the Napa Valley in northern California. Grgich Hills Vineyards stretches into 5 carefully selected vineyards in the Rutherford, Calistoga, Carneros, Yountville and American Canyons and Grgich wines are still to this day a synonym for luxurious and tasty wines.
So how did it all started?
Miljenko Grgich was the youngest of eleven children from a very poor family. After graduation from the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb, he went to West Germany. There he resided for 18 months and then emigrated to Canada and afterward moved to California where he worked at several wineries in the Napa Valley, including the Souverain Winery, Christian Brothers Cellars, Beaulieu Vineyard and Roberto Mondavi. Working for four years at Mondavi, he was introduced to the state-of-the-art technology and after four years, Grgich decided to go and start wine business by himself. As he worked hard and used his deep knowledge of the techniques, Miljenko Grgich wrote a new page in history in Paris on the most intriguing tasting of wines which was held in 1976.
Steven Spurrier, editor of Decanter’s encyclical magazine and then the owner of the Cave de la Madeleine wine-cellar, has organized tasting white and black wines blindly. Of course, there were unmarked bottles of 4 Burgundy white and 6 Californian Chardonnays and 4 Grand Cru blacks from Bordeaux and 6 Californian Cabernet Sauvignons. What made this tasting is known by surprising results published by nine of France’s most highly regarded tasters: California has “defeated” the best French wine! Of the most noteworthy points among white wines, despite all expectations, the best was proclaimed the one of Miljenko Grgić, Chardonnay Chateau Montelena from 1973, for which 6 out of 9 judges gave a maximum of 20 points! Of what importance Parisian tasting was? Well, in California, a real wine revolution has exploded. This American wine renaissance was a powerful wind in the back with a large number of small winemakers, today renowned world producers, as well as people who play an outstanding role in marketing their wines. For Miljenko Grgich, this tasting was just a confirmation that Napa Valley could equally compete with the best French wines. The healthy competition was created and that was what mattered in the end. Mr. Grgich still holds the title of “King Chardonnay” and runs his winery, with the help of his family.