A Life Full of Miracles (pt 1)
From Farmer to King of Chardonnay
It was an unassuming day in 1925 when, in the small village of Desne, Croatia, Ivka Grgić gave her youngest child Miljenko – who we now know as the famed Mike Grgich – his first taste of bevanda.
While it’s not unheard of in Europe for those as young as eight to casually sip their parents’ wine at dinner, in the small villages of Croatia at the beginning of the 20th century, wine was deeply entrenched in everyday life for even the youngest children. Bevanda, the water and wine mixture that Ivka handed her young son that day was essential, as it made the village’s often non potable water safe to drink. And so, at the age of two, little Miljenko had tasted his first sip of wine. And as if in that moment Ivka could foresee her small son’s entire future, she remarked to the sweet two-year-old, “Someday, you might thank me.”
These formative moments, as well as Mike’s pastoral upbringing as one of a long line of farmers seemed to have a strong hand in steering his interests. But it wasn’t enough for Miljenko just to know the taste of wine. As he grew, he strove to understand it deeply. Excelling in his educational pursuits, he was awarded a coveted spot in the University of Zagreb’s viticulture and enology program, and under the choking rule of communist Yugoslavia, Miljenko’s passion and curiosity grew.
Communist attitudes toward the capitalist US deeply limited Croatia’s academic freedom of speech. Yet Miljenko thirsted to know more about California, where he’d heard stories of the fledgling wine region, and when a professor at the university returned from sabbatical, Miljenko cautiously inquired in a hushed voice just what the professor had experienced. In a furtive whisper, his mentor responded: “Napa Valley is paradise.”
This was all the young man who would eventually come to be known as “The King of Chardonnay” needed to hear. With 32 American dollars sewn into his shoe and every enology book he owned packed into a cardboard suitcase, Miljenko Grgić headed for the border.