By Tom Stockwell.
Grgich Hills Estate held its 40th annual blessing of the harvest Friday at the Rutherford winery before a large audience of visitors and workers. The celebration included live music and a blessing from Father Gordon Kalil from the St. Helena Catholic Church.
Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, winemaker, proprietor, president and CEO of the famous winery was unable to attend the celebration, but – the audience was told – he was witnessing the event via a cellphone held in the crowd.
His daughter, Violet Grgich, who is vice president of operations and sales, acted as the hostess of the event, with remarks recalling her father’s fabled journey from Croatia to the United States in 1958, arriving with a single small suitcase in the Napa Valley.
According to Violet, her father believed that all he needed to do was have the opportunity that the United States offered to build a winery for his wine. And – after the 1976 “Judgement of Paris” blind tasting in which a chardonnay he crafted for Chateau Montelena beat the very best wines in France – he joined forces with Austin Hills with sister Mary Lee in a partnership in 1977 to create Grgich Hills Estate.
Austin Hills was present at this event, along with Grgich nephew Ivo Jeramaz, vice president of vineyards and production. Jeramaz spoke at length of the challenges of the 2017 harvest. He recalled that the previous years of drought had been relieved this year by the plentiful spring rains with just three heat spikes which, according to Jeramaz, toughened the skins of the grapes.
The grapes on the crush pad, according to Jeramaz, would be perfect for sparkling wine and he said that the coming weeks with the cooler temperatures would bring a bountiful harvest with the perfect balance of acidity and sugars for their wines.
He reminded the attendees that the tradition of blessing the first fruits of the harvest can be traced back to Old Testament times and that this ceremony represented a four decades-long tradition at Grgich Hills Estate.
The winery, according to Kalil, has held a blessing of the grapes every year starting when it was founded 40 years ago in 1977.
Then, asking the attendees to assist, Kalil led the visitors to raise their right hands in a communal blessing of the grapes. Violet Grgich, Hills, and Jeramaz then joined Kalil in using olive branches to sprinkle the holy water over the bins of grapes.
Afterward, attendees were invited to a glass of Grgich Hills’ wine paired with cheese during this age-old celebration of the start of the harvest. Then the Grgich Hills team hosted a reception on the patio and the winery’s daily Grape Stomp officially began.