Crisp and rich with the flavors of tropical fruit, the appreciative guests raised their just-poured 2010 Chardonnay as one, and saluted the lone host of the evening, Mike Grgich, in celebration of his 90th birthday.Grgich, the maker of the wine, and many other wines of choice, flashed his famous smile under his iconic French beret and acknowledged the assembled guests with a warm, “Thank you.”
It was not so long ago that he earned his greatest salute when his 1973 Napa Valley Chardonnay was sent to Paris in 1976 to compete with the Chardonnays of France, thought to be the best in the world. It was a blind tasting, and a challenge to European wines on their home ground.
George Taber was the reporter who flashed the shocking news — Mike Grgich’s Chardonnay had beaten the French and other California entries. It was the “Judgement of Paris.”
It was the miracle that Napa Valley had been waiting for. For the hard working wineries of this spirited place, it had the feeling of exuberance equal to that of Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis. It was the singular greatest moment in the history of wine.
We all know that wine improves with age. Some say, jokingly, that the older we get, the better we like it.
With Mike Grgich the older he got, the better he made it. After his huge success in Paris, he founded his own winery with the coffee magnate, Austin Hills, and called it Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford, central to Napa Valley. What got him this far was his strong work ethic. He was the youngest of 11 children in Croatia, where he studied winemaking.
He came to California in 1958 to make wine. Nearly penniless and with little more than the clothes on his back, he kept his big smile and determination to make “elegant wine.”
He made friends with the great wine makers of that era, Andre Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu, Brother Timothy at Christian Brothers and the legendary Robert Mondavi. Eventually the Smithsonian Institute would unveil a display of his accomplishments.
Today, as Grgich passes his 90th year, his winery has won many other awards for outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Fume’ Blanc, as well as other vintages of Chardonnay.
He is now committed to natural winegrowing and sustainability, farming five vineyards using passion and art to handcraft food-friendly, balanced and elegant wines. The goal of a wine maker is not to produce more and more wine, but to reveal the earth, or “terroir,” through the wines, and natural growing does just that.
All of Grgich’s 366 acres follow his rule of: Every day do something just a little better.
This year, he has bottled a special selection 2010 “Paris Tasting” Chardonnay for $90 in celebration of his birthday. Visit the web site for more information at grgich.com.
Le Papagayo in Encintas is the scene for a Support Local Now Launch Party and wine dinner April 8 from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Cost is $45, and includes a five-course dinner with locally grown food and wine, live music and a Support Local Now presentation. Call (949) 302-7012 for an RSVP.
The Grand Del Mar Wine Room is the location for a “Catch of the Day” cooking demo and dinner with wine pairings, April 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. Demo, dinner and wine for $65. RSVP at (858) 314-1996.
A Wine Tasting & Cheese Making Demonstration is featured at Milagro Farm Winery in Ramona April 13 from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. Cost is $80. Details at (858) 384-6566.
Meet the Chefs of Del Mar and taste great food and wine at the 17th annual event at the Hilton Del Mar, April 14 from 1 to 4 p.m. $150, general admission, $200 for VIP. Funds to benefit Casa de Amparo.
SDSU will be offering a wine course featuring Australian wines April 10 to April 24 from 6 to 9 p.m., as part of the Business of Wine program. For more information, call (619) 594-1138.
The 33rd Wine Extraordinaire is being held at the Anaheim Hilton Convention Center April 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. Hundreds of boutique wines will be highlighted with local restaurant sampling. Silent auction. Cost is $50. Call (714) 708-1636.