100th birthday of legendary Croatian-American winemaker Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich
- by croatiaweek
- in News
The La Quinta Historical Society, a hotel and gated community of the same name in Southern California, is preparing to celebrate the 100th birthday of the legendary Croatian winemaker Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich. This respected community is the main residence of Grgich during the winter period.
On the occasion of this exceptional anniversary, representatives of the American-Croatian Congress, president Nada Pritisanac Matulich and member of the Executive Committee Damira Bačić, visited the legendary winemaker at his home in La Quinta.
Nada Pritisanac Matulich, president of the American Croatian Congress (ACC) and member of the Executive Committee of the Association of Croatian American Experts (ACAP) had the special honor of presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award to Grgich on behalf of both organizations.
Nada also conveyed a congratulatory message – a poem that arrived for the occasion from Austria by the Croatian poet, and member of the American Croatian Congress, Vlado Visković, which was dedicated to Grgich’s 100th birthday.
With a lot of emotion, Grgich thanked the Croatian organizations American Croatian Congress (ACC), Association of Croatian American Professionals Foundation (ACAP) and the Croatian poet Vlado Visković.
Visibly emotional and in a good spirits, Grgich sang to his guests “Lijepa naša Domovino” and his favorite song, “I nikom nije lepše neg je nam samo da je tako svaki dan”.
Along with the best chardonnay in the world from the Grgich Hills Estate vineyard in Napa Valley, there was also a specially designed birthday cake with the trademark of all Grgich wines, created for this special occasion by Damira Bačić.
The kind and proud hosts, Grgich and his hostess, Maria Luisa Moreno Reyes, then took their guests on a tour of their community, where at every step you could see how much the winemaker was respected and valued.
The historic La Quinta resort hotel named one of the conference halls after Grgich in honor of his achievements. It was an impressive site inside the hall. Family photos, one of the first photos from Grgich’s childhood, Grgich’s book “A voice full of miracles”, the legendary Chardonnay from the Grgich Hills winery, a hand-signed congratulation from U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama for Grgich’s 93rd birthday, the Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 objects and lots of other special details.
The Smithsonian Institution selected the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay created by Grgich, who was the 1976 Paris Tasting champion with the same wine, to be part of an exhibit selected by the Smithsonian Institution as one of the “101 Items That Made America ” selected from among the 137 million artefacts in the Smithsonian collection.
The guests and friendly hosts parted after several hours of socializing with a farewell, see you soon in Napa Valley during the summer, for when the American Croatian Congress wants to prepare another surprise for Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich and his family at the Grgich Hills Estate winery.
Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich was born on April 1, 1923 in the town of Desne in the Neretva valley in Croatia, in a rural family that owned a small vineyard and winery.
He learned the skills of winemaking by helping his family from his earliest childhood. He graduated in 1954 from the University of Zagreb, majoring in oenology and viticulture. In the same year, he went to Germany and 18 months later to Canada, to Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1958, he managed to get an American visa and came to Aberdeen in the state of Washington and shortly afterwards to California, to the Napa wine valley.
Grgich’s first job in California was at Souverin Winery owned by winemaker Lee Stewart, then he worked for Christian Brothers and then joined Andre Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards where he spent 9 years as Chief Quality Control Chemist. With Andrea Tchelistcheff he worked on research into the application of the first induced malolactic fermentation in California. Grgich and Andre managed to find a special yeast extract that complemented the Beaulieu wines well.
In 1968, Grgich accepted the position of Winemaker and Quality Control Chemist at Robert Mondavi Winery and as Chief Oenologist worked with Michael Mondavi and oversaw wine production.
In 1972, Grgich accepts the offer of James Barrett and his partners Paschich and Hahn and start the Chateau Montelena winery. They won the first prize in 1972 at a wine test in Los Angeles, and at a blind tasting with a two-hundred-year tradition in Paris in May 1976, Grgich won with a chardonnay from the ’73 vintage ahead of other six Californian and four prestigious French wines, at the now legendary blind tasting known as the “Judgment of Paris”, and then went on to win a number of first prizes and gold medals.
In 1977, Grgich realized his lifelong dream and founded his own Grgich Hills Estate winery with his partner Austin E. Hills. The wines of Grgich Hills were impressive from the very first harvest, and in 1977 his Chardonnay was declared the best in the world at the Great Chicago Chardonnay Showdown.
A 1979 vintage Chardonnay from Grgich Hills Estate was served at the White House in October 1981 and a 1978 vintage Chardonnay was served to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the White House in 1983.
Grgich became the king of chardonnay and Grgich Hills Estate chardonnay became the standard by which all other wines from this prestigious grape variety are judged.
In 1994, at the International Wine and Spirit Competition Zinfandel, Grgich Hills was chosen as the best Zinfandel in the world, as well as in 1998, when it was declared the best in the world for the second time.
Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich showed his true love for his homeland already in the early 1990s, when he responded to the call of the first president of the Republic of Croatia, Dr. Franjo Tuđman, to be among the first to invest in the homeland of his ancestors and be an example to all as one of the most recognizable and successful Croatians in the diaspora who dreamed of their own state for centuries.
Thus, in 1996, in Trstenik on the Pelješac peninsula, he founded his new modern winery “Grgić vina” with the aim of producing top quality wines as a combination of decades of experience and tradition with the most modern technology. With this, he once again showed great patriotism and patriotism.
Thank you to the giant of Croatian and world winemaking for making his Croatian nation proud and better in its first 100 years of life. I thank him for once again proving that a patriot and a patriot cannot be made. You are simply born that way.
by Nada Pritisanac Matulich