A Life Full of Miracles (pt 2)

May 26, 2023 | In the News


Miljenko waited with bated breath as border security officers analyzed his paperwork, certain that he was only moments away from being discovered and sent back to Yugoslavia- or worse. It was a criminal offense to abandon one’s country under the ruling Communist Party, and many of those who had attempted to do so had been whisked away, never to be seen again. 

In the weeks prior to his departure, Miljenko suspected that he was being followed by the secret police. He made it a point to leave as quickly as possible, not even informing his family of his plan, for their safety as well as his own. Fortunately, his documentation was in order, and he made it into West Germany, the first sojourn on his journey to paradise. 

After spending two months interning at a family-owned grain farm and seeing the pride and freedom that came from working one’s own land, Miljenko’s resolve was hardened: he would not return to Yugoslavia. But where to next? California was his dream of course, but West Germany was filled with millions of Eastern Europeans, all vying for the highly desirable American visas. He continued to do hard labor for the grain farm, waiting for news of his American immigration status. As days turned to weeks, and weeks to months without a word, Miljenko felt his dream slipping through his fingers in a moment of uncharacteristic despair. Yet, an ineffable feeling in his heart told him that there was a way forward: America may have been unattainable at the moment, but Canada was not. Soon, Miljenko would find himself nestled just above the American border on the Pacific coast of British Columbia.  

heidi and violet sittin on the fountain
portrait of guy<br />

In Vancouver, Miljenko was thousands of miles away from everything and everyone he’d known, but there, he’d found a sense of freedom that he’d never experienced before. Though vineyards in Canada were few and far between, Miljenko had settled into a high-paying job at a paper factory, made friends, and had even chosen to go by a new, Anglicized name: Mike Grgich. He’d found a sense of peace, and as two years rolled by, he began to wonder if this was the end of his journey. Still, he continued to reread the enology books that had accompanied him across the Atlantic, and though his life had improved, he had bigger dreams to pursue. Fortunately, the burgeoning wine industry in California was in desperate need of educated winemakers, a rare skill at the time that ensured Mike a visa and a job at Souverain Cellars in the Napa Valley. At long last, Mike was headed to Paradise.