The Coast News Group
Mike Grgich, center, the Napa Valley King of chardonnay, with long-time Croation friend Nikola Vrdoljack, left, and wine columnist Frank Mangio, right. Photo courtesy Frank Mangio
Community Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Mike Grgich turns 93 — makes more wine history

The evening of April 2 at La Quinta Resort will always be a special time and place.  Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, my wine hero and world renowned Napa Valley winemaker, considered to be the pioneer of Napa Valley wine excellence, invited me to be with him for his gala celebration.

He was being honored for several milestones: his new biographical book launch “A Glass Full of Miracles,” the 40th anniversary of his smashing victory over French chardonnays at the Paris Tasting of 1976, (of which there are plans for a major movie on this event) and most importantly, to celebrate his 93rd birthday.

He has been a close friend and mentor since I first started TASTE OF WINE in 2005.

Grgich came to Napa Valley from Croatia in 1958 with just a few dollars in his pocket but with dreams of making great wine. His 1973 Chardonnay he made at Chateau Montelena that won the Paris Tasting, will always be treasured for bringing Napa Valley to the world stage is a classic American story of hard work, determination and faith in the American dream of success.

“I count my blessings as miracles,” he would tell his biographer/writer.

“Meeting and making great award winning Cabernet Sauvignon for Robert Mondavi in 1969 was the first miracle.  The next was the “Judgment of Paris” for my 1973 Chardonnay.”

On July 4, 1977, Grgich broke ground in Rutherford Napa Valley for his own winery, along with partner Austin Hills. He named it Grgich Hills Winery, later renaming it Grgich Hlls Estate in recognition that all its wines now were coming from Grgich-owned vineyards.

Over the years Grgich has added to his miracles, his wine being acclaimed and served to dignitaries by several U.S. presidents and British royalty.  In 2008 he was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame and in 2012, he was honored when the Smithsonian National Museum of History opened its exhibition of the Paris Tasting.

It featured Grgich and his Chardonnay, plus his suitcase that he traveled to America with, and finally the famous beret he is known for.

All this and more is documented in the new book “A Glass Full of Miracles,” now available at

It traces his childhood in Croatia, his arrival in the U.S. to make wine in the Napa Valley 50 years ago and the miracles and fame that followed.

Grgich continues his journey in wine as he guides Grgich Hills Estate and plans for its future with his daughter Violet Grgich and his nephew Ivo Jeramaz.

“My father had a rule he taught me,” Grgich said.  “Every day do your best, learn something new, and make a friend. The winery keeps improving.  It now farms 366 acres from the original 18 in Rutherford.

“It is now organic, farmed naturally with no artificial fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides.

All of the wines are estate grown, produced and bottled. Occasionally I will run across a reader or two that declares winemaking should only concentrate on what is happening now in the industry, and bypass the legacy.  I say, those that ignore or mock history, are least prepared for the future.

Congratulations Miljenko “Mike” Grgich.  Keep showing us more miracles.


Wine Bytes

Tres Amigos el Tres de Mayo Winemaker Dinner is planned at The Patio on Lamont in San Diego May 3 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.; cost is $70. The event features five courses of authentic Mexican cuisine along with wines from Guadalupe Valley near Ensenada. Tickets available at the restaurant at (858) 312-4648 or at brown Search “the Patio.”

A Batasiolo Piemonte Wine Dinner is happening at Solare Ristorante in San Diego’s Pt. Loma Liberty Station, May 5 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Cost is $89. RSVP by calling (619) 270-9670.

Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside has its fifth annual Night at the Mission Wine Beer and Food event May 6 from 5 to 8 p.m.; $40 in advance; $50 at the door.  Wine and beer will be sold by the glass or by the bottle.  Call for details and tickets at (760) 576-4161.

A Prisoner Wine Company dinner is being staged May 6 from 7 to 9 p.m. at WineSellar & Brasserie in Sorrento Valley; $59 Highlight pour will be the Prisoner Magnum 2014.  Call (858) 450-9557 for more information.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View his columns at and reach him at  Follow him on Facebook.