Biographical / Historical
Miljenko Grgich, born April 1, 1923 in Desne, a small farming village in the Croatian region of Yugoslavia, was one of eleven children. His father, along with other agricultural activities, kept a small vineyard where the children helped in cultivation and winemaking. As a young man Grgich worked in a store in his hometown. He was drafted and served a year, 1944-1945, in the Yugoslav army.
Grgich entered the University of Zagreb in 1949, studying a range of science subjects and taking brief courses in English and Russian. In 1954 Grgich entered West Germany on a student visa but soon declared himself a refugee and "stateless" person. Unable to secure an American visa, he was quickly approved by Canada where he arrived in February, 1956.
Grgich lived for two years in British Columbia holding a variety of jobs while seeking admission to the United States. He began to use the name "Mike" during these years. In 1958 the pioneering wine maker Lee Stewart at Souverain Cellars responded to an "employment wanted" ad that Grgich placed in a California wine industry newsletter and on the basis of that offer Grgich was able to enter the country. Grgich has remained in the Napa Valley since that time. He married Tatjana Cizmic in 1962 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1964.
Between 1958 and 1972 Grgich worked at Souverain, the Christian Brothers winery, Beaulieu Vineyard, and Robert Mondavi winery. At Beaulieu Grgich worked under Andre Tchelistcheff, Napa's best known winemaker in this era. The two developed techniques for malolactic fermentation and microfiltration that became standards in the industry. As Grgich developed his technical skills and winery experience he also nurtured an ambition to become head winemaker and co-owner in a winery. In the spring of 1972, Grgich joined Los Angeles attorney James Barrett, commercial real estate developer Ernest Hahn, and Napa Valley businessman Lee Pasich in forming Chateau Montelena winery. Passich and Grgich were "limited partners" while Barrett and Hahn were major investors. Barrett regularly visited the winery and was closely involved in its management. In three hectic months Grgich oversaw conversion of a nineteenth century winery building into a fully equipped modern facility which crushed its first grapes, purchased from various growers in the region, in September. Chateau Montelena also began to replant its vineyards in vines that would produce premium wines, a process that would take several years.
Chateau Montelena and Mike Grgich achieved international celebrity in May, 1976 when their 1973 Chardonnay wine topped a list of French and American wines at a highly publicized blind tasting in Paris. (The red wine winner was made by Warren Winiarski at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars about twenty-five miles further south in the Napa Valley.) Staged during the bicentennial year of the American Revolution, the Paris tasting confirmed and further contributed to the rise of premium winemaking in California and to changes in American wine consumption. In 1996, the National Museum of American History recognized the 1976 event with a symposium on the history of winemaking and the addition of wines from the winning vintages of the two wineries.
In the fall of 1976 Grgich began discussions leading to the creation of a new winery, Grgich Hills Cellar. In this venture he joined Austin Hills, grandson and great nephew of the founders of the Hills Bros. coffee business and a Columbia Business School MBA. Hills already owned a vineyard, and on July 4, 1977, they broke ground for the new wine production and storage facility in Rutherford. Grgich Hills at first specialized in white wines but added Cabernet Sauvignon in 1984. In 2006 the entire estate was certified organic, making it "the country's largest biodynamic winegrower." In 2007 the business was renamed Grgich Hills Estate ("in recognition that all of its wines now come from its own vineyards"). Today Mike Grgich remains involved in the business while his daughter, Violet, and nephew, Ivo Jeramaz, are active in day-to-day management.
Grigich never lost interest in his homeland, and in 1990 he returned there for the first time. In 1995 he received his degree in enology and viticulture from the University of Zagreb and the following year established a new winery, Grgić Vina, in Croatia. He has been a generous supporter of Roots of Peace, an international organization dedicated to the removal of landmines.
George M. Taber,
Judgment of Paris: California vs
France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine
(Scribner: 2005). Taber covered the Paris Tasting in 1976 for
magazine. He interviewed Mike Grgich at length, and Grgich's annotated revisions of Taber's drafts about him are in this collection.
, a 2008 feature film, a highly fictionalized version of the story of Chateau Montelena and the Paris Tasting, is not based on this book.
Miljenko Grgich, "A Croatian-American Winemaker in the Napa Valley," an oral history conducted in 1992, in
The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series
, Regional Oral History Office, University of California, Berkeley http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/food_wine/wine.html .
Mike Grgich Oral History Interview, September 7, 1997, American Wine Documentation Project, Archives Center, National Museum of American History (ACNMAH#817).
Mike Grgich: 50 Napa Valley Years
(Grgich Hills Estate, 2008) (Series 3: Grgich Hills Cellar, box 8, folder 11) A twenty-seven page booklet published by the winery to celebrate Grgich's fifty years in Napa Valley, 1958-2008.