LEGACY | CULTIVATION | PASSION
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Miljenko “Mike” Grgich first gained international recognition at the celebrated “Paris Tasting” of 1976. Then, in a now-historic blind tasting, a panel of eminent French judges swirled, sniffed, and sipped an array of the fabled white Burgundies of France and a small sampling of upstart Chardonnays from the Napa Valley. When their scores were tallied, the French judges were shocked: they had chosen the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, crafted by Mike Grgich, as the finest white wine in the world. Mon Dieu! The results stunned the international wine establishment and immediately earned Mike a reputation as one of the greatest winemakers in the world.
The Paris Tasting served notice to the world that the California wine industry was on the move, and it laid the groundwork for the creation of Grgich Hills Cellar. After his victory in Paris, Mike sat down with Austin Hills and his sister, Mary Lee Strebl, from the Hills Bros. Coffee family, and on Independence Day 1977, they gave birth to Grgich Hills. It was an ideal partnership. Austin owned premium vineyards in Rutherford, in the heart of the Napa Valley, and with his extensive background in business, he put the winery on its financial feet. Mike, with his fierce commitment to making wines of the highest quality, began producing what immediately became our signature wine: the exquisite, richly complex Chardonnays that win awards and delight wine lovers across America and throughout the world.
The Paris Tasting- May 24, 1976
When Miljenko “Mike” Grgich joined forces with Austin Hills in 1977 to form Grgich Hills Cellar, the original label design proposed a rearing horse clenching a baton in its mouth, a colorful feature of the Hills’ family crest. After some friendly debate over the label and how it should be redesigned to reflect the philosophy of the newly formed winery, the winning argument concluded with the point that “Horses do not make wine. Grapes make wine!” and thus, the current design was agreed upon.
Produced by Wine Country artist Sebastian Titus, the highly recognizable label features a prominent cluster of grapes. White wine labels feature yellow Chardonnay grapes and red wine labels feature red Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. In the lower right and left hand corners the partners share equal billing through the depiction of the red and white checkerboard crest of Croatia, Grgich’s homeland in former Yugoslavia, and the familiar rearing horse of the Hills’ family crest.
By 2005, Grgich Hills purchased enough vineyard acreage to source entirely from its own vineyards. The label was amended to add the word “Estate” in recognition of this important milestone and in 2007 the name was officially changed from Grgich Hills Cellars to Grgich Hills Estate.
With 366 acres under our control, we source all of our grapes from our five estate vineyards. As an “Estate Grown” winery, we are better able to control the farming and can utilize our organic farming practices for all of the grapes. Our goal is to create a balanced ecosystem in our vineyard and allow the grapes to thrive with our natural farming.
In 2013, the Legacy tier was introduced with the inaugural vintage of the Paris Tasting “Commemorative” Chardonnay. This tier celebrates our rarest and most highly acclaimed wines and was introduced at Mike Grgich’s 90th birthday party on April 1, 2013.
The Chardonnay is joined by our Miljenko’s Old Vine Zinfandel, Yountville Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, and Violetta Late Harvest. These bottles boast this unique label based on a woodcut image of Mike Grgich and a traditional Croatian gold braid design.
In 2014 we introduced our Miljenko’s Selection which features single vineyard wines which truly express the Napa Valley’s unique microclimates and terroir. The first wine in this tier to be released was the 2012 Miljenko’s Selection Carneros Chardonnay followed by our Skin-Fermented Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, and Crljenak Kaštelanski.
These wines are exclusively sold at the winery and many are reserved just for members of our wine club.
The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay crafted by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich that was the champion of the 1976 Paris Tasting is part of the exhibit selected by the Smithsonian Institute as one of “101 Objects That Made America.” Chosen from 137 million artifacts in the Smithsonian collection, the Chardonnay is joined by other iconic American objects such as Abraham Lincoln’s hat, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit.
The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects chose Julia Child’s Kitchen, which includes the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay crafted by Grgich, in a major exhibition on the revolution in American wine in the second half of the 20th Century, and the book features a photo of the winning wine. The author, Richard Kurin, is the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture, selected objects from the entire collection held by the 19 museums and research centers of the Smithsonian Institution.
Looking over the list of 101 treasures from the Smithsonian’s Collection, Grgich commented: “When I was growing up in the little village of Desne in Croatia, I never would have dared to dream that my wine would be in the same book as America’s “Declaration of Independence,” or in the same museum as Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor who is also from Croatia. When I arrived in the United States, I thought I was the luckiest man alive to have my dream come true of making wine in California, but this recognition far exceeds my American Dream.”
Ivo on Farming Practices
Flavors from Soil
The flavor of wine captured in the wine glass starts with the grapes which are fed by the nutrients found in the vineyard soil.
Organic Farming and Terroir
The concept of terroir is rooted in the idea of place. Organic farming allows the land to be unadulterated, thus the wine will show the true essence of the vineyard.
Fighting Diseases with Healthy Soil
Only healthy soil can promote healthy vines. Farming organically ultimately helps prevent against disease in the vineyard.
Great wine begins in the vineyard. As a farmer you want to do right by the land and be proud of what you grow and produce.
Long term vineyard health
A healthy, organically grown vineyard is far more profitable in the long-term. Vineyards that are not chemically farmed can survive longer, providing fruit for decades.
Healthy Microbes, healthy Plants
Healthy microbes in the soil prepare necessary nutrients that feed the vines. Happy, healthy vines reward us with wonderfully tasting grapes.
We see pollution everywhere these days. Organic farming reduces contaminated water runoff as well as CO2 emissions.
Feeding and Encouraging Microbes
You have to feed cows every day, it’s a no brainer, but we never think about feeding microbes. So you have to feed them and in return they work with plants.
The Paris Tasting
The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, crafted by Mike, takes first place at the farmed "Paris Tasting", beating France's best white.
Mike and Austin Hills break ground on July 4, 1977, for their new winery in Rutherford, in the heart of Napa Valley.
The Great Chicago Showdown
In a blind tasting of 221 Chardonnays at the Great Chicago Showdown, the 1977 Grigch Hills Chardonnay is proclaimed the best Chardonnay available in Chicago.
1979 Chardonnay at White House Dinner
The Grgich Hills' 1979 Chardonnay is served at a White House dinner for King Juan Carlos of Spain.
Chardonnay For the Queen
Queen Elizabeth II is served the 1978 Grgich Hills Chardonnay at the home of Stanford University President Donald Kennedy
Grgich Hills Expands Vineyards into Yountville Appellation
From the first time Mike Grgich laid eyes on our historic Yountville vineyard in 1958, he knew that the quality of grapes produced there would be phenomenal due to its ideal sun exposure and excellent drainage. 25 of the 63 acres that comprise this property consist of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1959.
1984 Zinfandel Wins a Gold Medal
The 1984 Grgich Hills Zinfandel wins a Gold Medal and is named Best California Zinfandel and Best American Zinfandel.
Grgich Hills Expands Vineyards into Los Carneros Appellation
Mike Grgich firmly believed in the value of owning your own vineyards as a way to ensure quality. The diversity of soils and climates throughout the Napa Valley means that each area is uniquely suited to growing different grape varietals. Mike acquires 88 acres in Los Carneros for its cooler average temperatures and shallow, dense soil that made it ideal for growing Chardonnay.
Grgich Hills Labeled Winery Of the Year
Wine & Spirits magazine names Grgich Hills as Winery of the Year for wineries producing 40,000 cases or more. Mike Grgich appears on the cover of Wine Spectator magazine, “California’s Old World Master-Few Can Challenge Mike Grgich in crafting World-Class Wine.”
"Best Zinfandel, Worldwide"
The 1989 Grgich Hills Zinfandel receives the Zinfandel trophy and is named “Best Zinfandel, Worldwide” at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London, England.
Founding of Grgic Vina
At the request of newly-elected Croatian President Tudman, Mike Grgich works with his daughter Violet and grandnephew Ivo to establish a winery on the Peljesac Peninsula of Croatia- only a short distance from Mike’s birthplace of Desne.
Grgich Hills Expands Vineyards into American Canyon
With the success of the Carneros vineyard in growing Chardonnay, Mike is eager to acquire more land in the cooler, southern region of Napa to expand the production on our most well-known varietal. The acquisition of our American Canyon property added 164 acres to our operation, making it our largest vineyard.
Release of Wine Spectator Awarded 1994
The inaugural release of late harvest Violetta (named after Mike’s daughter, Violet) is the 1994 vintage. The Wine Spectator awards it 95 points. Mike purchases a 110-year-old Zinfandel vineyard in Calistoga and renames it “Miljenko’s Vineyard”, using his given Croatian name.
Gold Medal, Trophy and Winery Of the Year
The 1994 Grgich Hills Zinfandel receives a Gold Medal plus the Zinfandel trophy as “Best Zinfandel, Worldwide” at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London, England. Wine & Spirits magazine selects Grgich Hills as Winery of the Year (multisource category).
Grgich Hills Expands Vineyards into Calistoga Appellation
The addition of our 34-acre Calistoga vineyard marks our fifth and final vineyard acquisition. The long, sunny days and reddish, gravelly soil make for a perfect place to grow sun-loving Zinfandel, 3 acres of which was planted in 1889.
Grgich Goes Organic
Grgich Hills plants Cabernet Sauvignon on vineyard surrounding the winery. All Grgich Hills vineyards become certified organic in 2006.
Origins of Zinfandel
Confirming theories Mike Grgich had upon his arrival to California, researchers prove that the origins of Zinfandel lie in Mike’s homeland of Croatia
One of The "Top 10 Chardonnays"
1999 Grgich Hills Chardonnay receives 94 points and is named one of the “Top 10 Chardonnays” in Wine & Spirits magazine.
Grgich Goes Solar
Winery switches to solar power, installing 860 photovoltaic panels that produce up to 142 kilowatts.
With 366 acres spread across five vineyards throughout Napa Valley, Grgich Hills is able to use exclusively our own grapes in the production of wine. Our name is changed to “Grgich Hills Estate” to reflect that we are 100% estate grown.
Winery Of The Year
Wine & Spirits magazine names Grgich Hills Estate one of its wineries of the year.
Crljenak is Planted in Calistoga
Years after Mike’s hunch on the Croatian origins of Zinfandel are proven to be correct, Grgich Hills receives a single Crljenak Kastelanski cutting, taken from one of the last nine Crljenak plants in existence. It is planted and comes to thrive in our Calistoga Vineyard.
Mike Grgich is represented in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, when it opens its first major exhibition on food history. The exhibition contains the 1973 bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won in the Paris Tasting, as well as Mike’s suitcase, 10 of his winemaking books, and his signature beret.
A Glass Full Of Miracles
Miljenko "Mike" Grgich releases his long-awaited autobiography, A Glass Full Of Miracles.
Grgich Hills 40th Anniversary
To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the winery, Grgich Hills released the exclusive 40th Anniversary Chardonnay from the 2014 vintage.
Violet Grgich Named President of Grgich Hills Estate
At 94 years of age, Mike Grgich retires as president and passes on the title to his daughter, Violet. He remains active in winery operations as an advisor and winemaker emeritus.
Miljenko “Mike” Grgich celebrates his 100th Birthday
On April 1st, Mike Grgich reaches centenarian status, and the winery celebrates with the release of two “Centennial Wines;” the 2020 Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay, and the 2019 Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon.
Grgich Hills Attains Regenerative Organic Certification
Continuing in the tradition of natural farming that Grgich Hills has always believed in, Regenerative Organic farming began to be implemented in our vineyards in 2019, with certification by the Regenerative Organic Alliance attained in 2023.