Grgich Hills Estate wines have always had a home in our cellar, though it had been many years since Mike and I stopped in for a tasting. Just off Highway 29 in Rutherford, Grgich Hills welcomes visitors into its tasting room against the peaceful backdrop of vineyards and manicured grounds. On July 29, the iconic winery celebrated its 40th anniversary, showcasing its collection of small-lot wines that are made with estate-grown, organic, sustainably grown fruit.
Guests were treated to a red-carpet experience, where a ceremony was held to pay homage to 40 years in business, and stations were set up throughout the winery for food and wine pairings. During the ceremony, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, originally from Croatia, was presented with the American Dream Award from congressman Mike Thompson. Thomson created the award in 2016 to honor immigrants in his district for significant contributions to their community. State Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, also representing state senator Bill Dodd, presented a certificate from the California State Legislature recognizing Grgich and his partner, Austin Hills, for their contribution to the Napa Valley.
At 94 years old, Grgich’s enormous smile was on display throughout the event. He started the Rutherford winery in 1977 with Austin Hills (of Hills Brothers Coffee family). Grgich was catapulted to fame after the historic Paris Tasting of 1976. At the time, he was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena, and crafted the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that took first place at the historic blind tasting of French and Napa Valley wines. The results inspired the movie Bottle Shock; and literally sent shock waves throughout the wine world. Grgich was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame in 2008 for his contributions to the wine industry.
Mike’s daughter Violet Grgich, VP of sales and marketing, recently took over daily operations at the winery. When asked what it was like for her to come up through the ranks and take over in what is still a mostly male-dominated industry, she said, “I was always a tomboy. But I experienced people as humans first. As the only woman in a roundtable of wine industry CEO’s, I saw personalities, not gender. And I was smarter, stronger, faster,” adding that her confidence came from working with her father from a young age. She says the winery focuses on “food-friendly, elegant wines.”
Grgich Hills wines fall into three categories: The Napa Valley selections, the Miljenko selections and the Legacy selections. Among others, these include Fumé Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with eighteen varietals total. Preferring quality over quantity, the family has kept production small at just 70,000 cases per year.
Wending our way through the tour and tastings, we experienced first hand the thought and care that goes into every bottle. As we tasted the wines, thoughtfully paired with delectable small bites that enhanced the flavor of both, we were reminded just how fortunate we are to live near the Napa Valley, and this remarkable winery that continues to reflect the personality, vigor and drive of its namesake.