Grgich Hills Estate Winery
Grgich Hills Estate Premium Winery

Our History

1923

Miljenko Grgić is born in Desne, Croatia to Ivka and Nikola Grgić.

1937

After eight years of school, Miljenko is put in charge of his cousin’s general store in Desne, which he manages for seven years.

1943

Communists take control of the region around Desne and loot the store that Miljenko manages. He escapes to a nearby uncontrolled village.

1946

Miljenko enters business school in the town of Split, graduating in three years and becoming a bookkeeper of a state-owned co-op.

1949

Miljenko enters the University of Zagreb to study viticulture and enology.

1954

As a way of leaving Communist-control Yugoslavia, Miljenko takes a United Nation’s fellowship to study in West Germany. After the fellowship ends, he stays in Germany with the hopes of immigrating to the United States

1956

Miljenko receives a Canadian visa and eventually arrives in Vancouver, British Columbia. His name is anglicized to Mike Grgich and he works at various jobs before doing quality control at a paper mill.

1958

Mike puts a position-wanted ad in the Wine Institute Bulletin for a winemaker position. Lee Stewart of Souverain Cellars answers the ad and gives Mike a job offer that allows him to get an American visa. Mike arrives in Napa Valley on August 15th.

1959

Mike works for Brother Timothy of the Christian Brothers and then joins André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards.

1962

Mike marries Tatjana Čizmić in St. Helena, CA.

1965

Daughter Violet Grgich is born.

1966

Mike’s winemaking qualifications are recognized when he is invited to join the American Society for Enology and Viticulture.

1968

Mike joins Robert Mondavi at Robert’s new winery in Oakville.

1972

Mike becomes winemaker and limited partner at a new winery called Chateau Montelena

1976

The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, crafted by Mike, takes first place at the famed “Paris Tasting,” beating France’s best white Burgundies.

1977

Mike and Austin Hills break ground on July 4, 1977 for their new winery in Rutherford, in the heart of Napa Valley.

1978

Due to requests from customers, Grgich Hills starts its Pre-Release Club and starts what is now an annual celebration the weekend closest to July 4th.

1979

Winery crafts its first Fumé Blanc (dry Sauvignon Blanc).

1980

In a blind tasting of 221 Chardonnays at the Great Chicago Showdown, the 1977 Grgich Hills Chardonnay is proclaimed the winner, solidify Mike’s reputation as a master of Chardonnay.

1981

The Grgich Hills’ 1979 Chardonnay is served at a White House dinner for King Juan Carlos of Spain

1982

President Reagan takes the 1979 Grgich Hills Chardonnay to the American Embassy in France for dinner with French President Mitterrand.

1983

Queen Elizabeth II is served the 1978 Grgich Hills Chardonnay at the home of Stanford University President Donald Kennedy.

1984

The inaugural release of our Cabernet Sauvignon, which is from the 1980 vintage.

Winery purchases 79-acre vineyard in Yountville.

1986

Ivo Jeramaz, Mike’s grandnephew, joins the winery.

1988

Violet Grgich, Mike’s daughter, becomes a full-time employee.

The 1984 Grgich Hills Zinfandel wins a Gold Medal and is named Best California Zinfandel and Best American Zinfandel.

1989

The winery buys 101 acres in the Carneros region of Napa Valley to plant Chardonnay.

American Wine Competition awards the 1984 Zinfandel “Best American Zinfandel” and a Platinum Medal.

1991

President and Mrs. George H.W. Bush are served the 1988 Chardonnay at The White House.

Winery breaks ground for addition of 18,000 square foot temperature-controlled warehouse.

1992

Wine & Spirits magazine names Grgich Hills as Winery of the Year for wineries producing 40,000 cases or more.

Mike Grgich appears on the cover of Wine Spectator magazine, “California’s Old World Master-Few Can Challenge Mike Grgich in crafting World-Class Wine.”

The University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library publishes the book “Miljenko Grgich, A Croatian-American Winemaker in the Napa Valley” in recognition of Mike’s contributions to the wine industry.

1993

President Clinton and Vice President Gore are served the 1989 Grgich Hills Chardonnay during a dinner held at the California Café in Los Gatos, California.

1994

The 1989 Grgich Hills Zinfandel receives the Zinfandel trophy and is named “Best Zinfandel, Worldwide” at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London, England.

1995

Forty-one years after he left Croatia, Mike returns to the University of Zagreb at age 72 and receives his degree in enology and viticulture.

1996

Mike opens Grgić Vina winery in Croatia, his homeland, producing Plavac Mali, a red wine, and Posip, a white wine.

The Napa Valley Wine Train makes its first stop at Grgich Hills on July 16.

Display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC commemorates the importance in American wines of the 1976 Paris Tasting.

Winery purchases 203 acres in Napa Valley’s American Canyon.

1997

The inaugural release of late harvest Violetta (named after Mike’s daughter, Violet) is the 1994 vintage. The Wine Spectator awards it 95 points.

The 1994 Grgich Hills Zinfandel receives a Gold Medal plus the Zinfandel trophy as “Best Zinfandel, Worldwide” at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London, England.

Mike purchases a 110-year-old Zinfandel vineyard in Calistoga and renames it “Miljenko’s Vineyard, using his given Croatian name.

Wine & Spirits magazine selects Grgich Hills as Winery of the Year (multisource category)

1998

The 1995 Grgich Hills Chardonnay is served at a dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton at The White House.

Wine writer Jerry Mead names Grgich Hills “Winery of the Year.”

1999

Violet Grgich attends a State Department dinner that honors Roots of Peace and its efforts to replace landmines with vines.

Violet and other California vintners present a symbolic vine to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Mike receives the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at Florida WineFest.

Two wines from Grgić Vina, Mike’s winery in Croatia, are chosen to represent the country at the United Nations for a month. Mike presents the wines to delegates at a dinner featuring traditional Croatian food.

2000

Mike and other California vintners attend Vino Vitae (Wine is Life) in Zagreb, Croatia, celebrating the first mines to vines effort in Dragalić, Croatia.

Grgich Hills plants Cabernet Sauvignon on vineyard surrounding the winery, which is located on the famous “Rutherford Bench” of Napa Valley. Grgich Hills begins organically farming all of its vineyards.

2001

Gala event commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Paris Tasting, held at Domaine Chandon, benefits Roots of Peace. Inaugural release of Miljenko’s Old Vine Zinfandel is the 1998 vintage.

2002

Miljenko’s Wine Club is introduced. Inaugural release of Merlot is the 1999 vintage.

1999 Grgich Hills Chardonnay receives 94 points and is named one of the “Top 10 Chardonnays” in Wine & Spirits magazine.

DNA testing proves that the Crljenak vine is genetically identical to Zinfandel and that Plavac Mali is one of its offspring. This confirms Mike’s long-standing belief that Zinfandel originated in Croatia.

2003

Violet Grgich marries Colin Shipman.

Mike receives the inaugural Ho’okele Award for lifetime achievements in the wine industry at the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival in Hawaii.

2004

The Society of Wine Educators honors Mike with its Grand Award for his innovation, leadership and industry achievements. The Croatian Chamber of Commerce recognizes Mike’s exceptional contributions to Croatia with its highest honor, the Zlatna Kuna award. The president of Croatia personally presents the award to Mike.

2005

Mike’s grandson, Noel Grgich Shipman, is born.

The American Wine Society presents Mike with its Award of Merit, the highest honor given by the organization, for his achievements in the wine industry.

2006

Mike’s life and achievements are honored at a gala held at the Culinary Institute of America. The proceeds establish the Miljenko “Mike” Grgich Scholarship for Professional Wine Studies at the CIA.

On the 30th anniversary of Mike’s Chardonnay winning the Paris Tasting, Gov. Schwarzenegger in a letter recognizes Mike’s achievements and his contributions to the California wine industry. The United States Congress passes Concurrent Resolution 399 recognizing Mike’s role in wining the Paris Tasting, the California legislature passes a resolution honoring Mike’s accomplishments and the Consul General of the Croatian Consulate in Los Angeles sends official congratulations on Mike’s success both in the US and Croatia.

All 366 acres of the winery’s estate are certified organic.

Winery switches to solar power, installing 860 photovoltaic panels that produce up to 142 kilowatts.

2007

In recognition that all of its wines now come from its own vineyards, the winery changes its name to Grgich Hills Estate.

Roots of Peace presents Mike with its Global Citizen Award for his leadership and unique contributions in raising landmine awareness around the globe.

Grgich Hills celebrates its 30th anniversary with the release of the limited production 2004 30th Anniversary Chardonnay and throws a 1970s-themed party on July 7 to thank everyone for their support over the last thirty years.

The winery releases Napa Valley Essence, a limited-production Sauvignon Blanc only available at the winery.

Mayor Milan Bandić of Zagreb, Croatia presents Mike with the Golden Medal in recognition of his significant contributions to Croatia.

The University of Zagreb presents Mike with a Diploma of Honor in recognition of his contributions to the university and his homeland.

Wine & Spirits magazine names Grgich Hills Estate one of its wineries of the year.

Mike presents a $50,000 check to Roots of Peace in support of its efforts to de-mine his home country of Croatia.

The US Department of State presents Mike with a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of his leadership role in replacing mines with vines.

Grgich Hills wins the Best of Wine Tourism award for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices presented by the Great Wine Capitals.

2008

Mike celebrates his fiftieth harvest in Napa Valley.

In honor of his contributions to the wine industry, Mike is inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame on March 7th.

The California State Fair presents Mike with its Lifetime Achievement Award

2011

To mark the 35th anniversary of the Paris Tasting, friends and family join Mike for a special dinner at the winery on May 28 to celebrate this milestone in the wine world.

2012 

“Like the Old Vine,” a documentary about Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, premieres at the Napa Valley Film Festival. The movie was filmed by Croatian Radiotelevision and describes Mike Grgich’s extraordinary life, achievements and how his “American Dream” became a reality.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History featured Mike Grgich in its first major exhibition on food history—“FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000” on November 20. A major section of the exhibition focuses on the revolution in American wine in the second half of the 20th-Century and the exhibition features the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Mike handcrafted that won the 1976 Paris Tasting, which sparked a wine revolution. 

2013

Mike Grgich turns 90 years old on April 1st. To celebrate his nine decades of accomplishments, the winery hosts a special Gala on April 13th, which includes the inaugural release of the Paris Tasting Chardonnay, crafted by Mike in the same style as the Chardonnay that won the 1976 Paris Tasting. The winery commemorates Mike’s birthday with events throughout the year.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts presents Mike Grgich with the esteemed “Thomas Jefferson Award” during its annual Bacchanal Wine Gala on November 9. The Academy celebrated Napa and the historic 1976 Paris Tasting during its gala and auction by presenting awards to Mike Grgich and Warren Winiarski, who crafted the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that won the Paris Tasting, and George Taber, author of the Judgment of Paris, which chronicled this historic tasting that revolutionized the wine world. Violet Grgich accepted the award in Philadelphia for her father and introduced Grgich Hills’ 2010 Chardonnay and 2009 Zinfandel at the awards dinner.

Documentary of the origins of Zinfandel features Mike Grgich’s contributions. Mike’s life story is so intertwined with Zinfandel that he was interviewed for a new documentary film about the popular grape, called Dossier Zinfandel, which premiered at the 2013 Napa Valley Film Festival in November.

The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay crafted by Mike Grgich is named to Smithsonian’s “101 Objects That Made America. The Smithsonian magazine publishes a list of “101 Objects That Made America” and a book, History of America in 101 Objects, drawn from the 137 million artifacts held by the 19 museums and research centers of the Smithsonian Institution. Among such priceless historical objects as Abraham Lincoln’s hat, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit are the two bottles of wine that triumphed at the 1976 Judgment of Paris: The Chardonnay made by Mike Grgich, then working at Chateau Montelena, and the Cabernet Sauvignon made by Warren Winiarski, founder of Stags Leap Wine Cellars.

“Like the Old Vine (Kao Stara Loza),” the documentary about the life of Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, was presented the Grand Jury’s Special Award from the 20th annual Oenovideo International Grape & Wine Film Festival. Oenovideo is the oldest wine and vine film festival in the world.