Taste of Wine – In the Company of Miljenko Grgich


Frank MangioIt is a well known occasion among knowledgable wine consumersthat the beginning of theCaliforniawine revolution began withan extraordinary blind wine tasting of French andCaliforniawines inParisin 1976, known as the Paris Tasting.In it,NapaValleywineswere invited to participate against their most endearing and bestcounterparts inFrance.TheCaliforniawinners were a 1973Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap, and a 1973 Chardonnayfrom Chateau Montelena made by Miljenko ( Mike) Grgich whichscored the most points of the competition. Contrary to the movie aboutthe event, the bottle was perfect and NEVER brown or discolored.

Grgich went on to open his own wineryone year later, withAustinHillsand hissister Mary Lee Strebl, that would be knownas Grgich Hills Cellar, later changed toGrgich Hlls Estate.

Not as well known is the fact that Grgich wasin that victorious year1976, 53 years old and had 50 years ofpreparationin wine for thatmoment. He came toNapaValleyfromwhat was formerlyYugoslavia(nowCroatia) in 1958, virtually penniless but with knowledge ofwinemaking and words from his father “to do better each day.” Heis now 91 as of April 1, 2014 and is still enjoying great recognition asAmerica’s winemaker. In 2008 he was inducted into the VintnersHall of Fame.In 2012, he was honored by the Smithsonian Instituteof American History inWashingtonDCwhen it focused onAmerican wine, displaying the Paris Tasting winning 1973Chardonnay and other Grgich historical keepsakes.The famousChardonnay is now shown in an official book, “the Smithsonian’sHistory ofAmericain 101 Objects, along with the Constitution,Lincoln’s hat, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit.My latest visit with Miljenko was at Mitch’s, his favorite restaurantinPalmDesert. Taste Of Wine had an opportunity to enjoy hiscompany and to ask him some personal, probing questions.

TOW:It’s been said grapes are like children in a family.There isalways one favorite.What is your favorite grape?

MG:Chardonnay is my favorite. ($42.) I drink more because itgoes so well with Mediterranean food, a lighter food that is betterfor you. I have been disappointed that Chardonnay became biggerflavored, but it is now going back to its earlier elegant days.It needs to be naturally presented with food so it doesn’tbecome a cocktail.

TOW:What is left in your”bucket list” that you want todo in your life?

MG:It seems every yearthere is something specialthat comes to me.I do want toauthor a book about my lifeinCroatiaas a young winemakerthen inNapaValleyshowing wineas Art.Art comes from the heart.It is the highest form of creation.

TOW:Is Merlot dead?Will it ever recover from the beating it tookin the movie Sideways?

MG:Merlot will gradually take back its place.Merlot, you know,is still one of the most expensive wines inFrance, on the rightbank inBordeaux.The 2011 Chateau Le Pin from Pomerol ispriced at $1,455.Californiais moving away from the fruit bombsto more mellow wines like Merlot.It’s much more acceptable asa food wine that doesn’t overpower the menu.

TOW:What moment in your life are you most proud of?

MG:The Smithsonian Institute exhibit and recent book honor withJulia Childs kitchen and my exhibit with my wine, beret and travelsuitcase when I first arrived inAmerica, is my most proud moment.Grgich also has been the subject of a Croation TV documentary of hislife, “Like the Old Vine,” which premiered at the Napa Valley FilmFestival in November 2112.For this and other information aboutGrgich Hills Estate, visitwww.grgich.com.