Our Estate Vineyards – American Canyon
By Melissa D. Baxley
When a professor at the University of Zagreb in Croatia mentioned that Napa Valley was paradise, it’s likely he wasn’t aware this would strike a chord in one of his brightest students. This mere mention would change Miljenko “Mike” Grgich’s life and the reputation of New World wines throughout Napa wineries. Hailing from a Croatian winemaking family, Mike Grgich was inspired and determined to live out his American dream of being a winemaker in California. He immigrated to the United States in 1958 and established himself as a major player in the Napa Valley wine industry in the 1960s. In 1977, Mike joined forces with Austin Hills to create Grgich Hills Cellar in Rutherford, the center of Napa Valley.
Our Rutherford property is the home to nearly 18 acres of vineyards, our production facility and our beautiful hospitality center. However, we actually source grapes from all around Napa Valley, from our five estate vineyards in Calistoga, Rutherford, Yountville, Carneros and American Canyon. Our largest vineyard is located in American Canyon, on the southern end of Napa. This 164-acre property is known as Ivo’s Vineyard, named after Mike’s nephew and our current winemaker, Ivo Jeramaz. We purchased Ivo’s Vineyard in 1996 and have since planted nearly 160 acres of vineyards, mostly Napa Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as well as smaller amounts of Merlot, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
The Mediterranean climate in Napa Valley is characterized by hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters. These ideal winegrowing conditions are rare and are one of the reasons Napa Valley is a world-renowned wine region and a must see vacation destination to visit Napa wineries. The small sub-region of American Canyon in southern Napa Valley has a more moderate climate than northern regions in Napa. Its mountainous terrain and proximity to the Pacific Ocea provide the region with a col maritime breeze. The strong evening winds welcome cold nighttime temperatures. Vines exposed to this constant wind velocity are subject to reduced vine vigor and in turn provide a lower yield of fruit. Stressed vines produce top quality grapes with highly concentrated flavors.
Napa Chardonnay and some other varieties produce wildly different wines depending on their terroir. When grown in a cooler climate like American Canyon, Chardonnay grapes exhibit more crisp, complex flavors than when grown in warmer regions. Cool-climate grapes typically ripen slower, resulting in less natural sugar and in turn lower alcohol. Ultimately, climate plays a pivotal role in a wine’s expression and Chardonnay is one of the grape varieties most affected by its terroir. For this reason, all of our Chardonnay is grown in this area; about 98 acres in American Canyon and 73 acres in Carneros.
At Grgich Hills, we pride ourselves on the measures we take to use sustainable, organic and regenerative farming techniques. Our American Canyon property is home to gardens, an olive orchard and a variety of animals, including chickens, guinea fowl, ducks and cows, We use the egg whites from the freshly laid eggs in the fining process; natural fining creates wines of sophistication and elegance that are a pure expression of each varietal and of Napa Valley.
We’re forever grateful for Mike’s incredible ambition and decades of hard work setting the standard for winemakers in the new world. Our location in Napa Valley allows us to plant each variety in its ideal growing conditions to produce authentic wines of exceptional quality that are a true representation of each varietal and of Napa Valley.