By Anne Ward Ernst.
First they agreed to be partners, then they started their business, and when Miljenko “Mike” Grgich and Austin Hills put shovel to earth at their winery site in Rutherford, they had business at hand on their minds that included making great wine, not a 40-year anniversary celebration.
But on Saturday, July 1, celebrating 40 years in partnership is exactly what they did. Because they broke ground at their Rutherford located Grgich Hills Cellar winery – now called Grgich Hills Estate to recognize that all their wine is made from estate-grown grapes – on July 4, 1977, celebrating on or around the Fourth of July is significant to them.
Hills could also celebrate keeping a trim, youthful physique.
“I’m wearing the same shirt today that I wore then,” he said of the 1977 groundbreaking. Whether he was wearing the exact same shirt or one similar to it is not known.
The men and their families toasted one another before the party got rolling.
To Grgich, a Calistoga resident and immigrant from Croatia who came to America with little more than a dream, passion and drive in his pockets – and maybe a few America dollars hidden away in a shoe — independence is mighty important. For decades the winery has celebrated Independence Day and the Croatian culture – the winery enjoys a loyal following by a large Sacramento-based Croatian community — by holding a party on the first Saturday nearest Fourth of July.
This year’s Croatian Extravaganza was especially meaningful as Grgich, 94, talked about the winery’s legacy passing on to not only the second generation – his daughter Violet Grgich is vice president of sales and marketing, and his nephew Ivo Jeramaz is vice president of vineyards and production – but a third generation is stepping up that will continue the excellence Grgich instituted from the very beginning.
Austin Hills’ son Justin, Ivo’s daughter Maja, are already taking part and Violet’s son Noel, who is still of the tree-climbing age, as was evident at the Croatian Extravaganza when he was caught by his parents up in a fig tree at the Grgich Hills Estate’s Victorian house in Yountville, where the event was held, is suited to become a part of the family business.
The Croatian Extravaganza included Croatian period-dressed stilt walkers and dancers of Croatian Kolo Group, live music – including a sing-along of The Star Spangled Banner and the Croatian National Anthem, the lyrics and score of each were printed and placed at each seat, and Grgich singing of two of his favorite songs, “You are my Sunshine” and “Que Sera, Sera”. A caricature artist, lawn games, photo booth, catered lunch buffet and, of course, Grgich Hills Estate wines rounded out the day.
Among the wines tasted were a 2016 rose, 2014 Napa Valley Essence Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 Merlot, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, a pre-release 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 40th Anniversary Chardonnay, and 2013 Miljenko’s Old Vin Zinfandel.