Words can hardly express how excited I was to hear that PrimeCellar would be representing the iconic Napa Valley wines from Grgich Hills Estate in Asia.
You don’t often get the chance to sell an estate whose wine literally changed the entire landscape, industry and perception of California wine around the world and forever.
That is exactly what happened when the 1973 Ch. Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay made by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich was judged by 9 esteemed France palates to be the best white wine beating out 4 of Frances greatest Chardonnays from Burgundy and 5 other California Chardonnays in the now famous “Judgment of Paris”.
The tasting put on by British wine merchant Steven Spurrier stunned the wine world; no one expected this result and the French experts were not happy. Mr. Spurrier invited numerous members of the press but they showed no interest, obviously feeling that the French wines were clearly superior and it would be a waste of time. Only one member of the press showed up to cover the event, Mr. George M. Taber from Life magazine and the rest is history!
(I heavily recommend his book “Judgment of Paris-California vs France, the Historic 1976 Tasting that Revolutionized Wine)
Mike Grgich quickly moved on from Ch. Montelena and in 1977 along with Austin Hills started Grgich Hills Winery, now called Grgich Hills Estate.
In 1985 I was a young wine lover working in a retail wine shop and we wanted to have the great Grgich Hills Chardonnay available for our customer to buy so we went to see Mike Grgich to ask him if he would sell us his wines. He came out of his office with his blue beret on to see us, he was aware of our company (K&L Wine Merchants) and quickly told us that we were discounters! We told him that yes our prices were aggressive, but we had incredible selection of the world’s best wines and showed him the list. He said he would think about it and to come back in one year!
Mr. Grgich was quite surprised to see us exactly one year later, he agreed to sell us the wine and we have been selling it ever since. When I walked into the Grgich Hills tasting room a few weeks ago I realized it was the same room and Mikes office was in the same place off to the left; and it had been 30 years since I had last been here and Mike is still kicking at 92 years old!
We tasted the brilliant new releases with Ivo Jeramaz, Mike’s nephew who came to Grgich hills in 1986, he has performed every job at the winery and is now Winemaker and VP of Vineyards and Production.
Mike’s passion shines brightly thru Ivo at this “real” family winery. Ivo explained to us that the foundation of the winery and its success is firmly rooted in its vineyards and sustainable agriculture. Grgich Hills Estate owns 100% of its five different vineyards located in American Canyon, Carneros and Napa Valley that encompass a total of 363 acres and are 100% organic. Ivo keeps yields down to 3.5 tons an acre and this clearly shows in the strong concentration of fruit, focus and tension in his wines.
The Grgich Hills wines feature the ripeness of California fruit with the freshness, structure and acidity true to their European wine heritage. This means there are no soft, flabby wines here at Grgich and they are so confident in the strength of their wines that all wines are held in bottle at the winery in cool storage for 1 full year before they are released. This was common practice 20-30 years ago as wineries wanted their wines to be “set” and ready to show their best when released; in today’s immediate satisfaction world wines are rushed to market to not lose any label recognition, ready or not!
While the Chardonnay is indeed the superstar the Fume Blanc has for decades now carved out its own reputation for greatness being a staple at fine restaurants and selling out every year. The 2013 shows great perfume of lemon-lime and white flowers enhanced by that year in the bottle and is strong wine with rich fruit while being bone dry, reminding me of the great white Bordeaux, Domaine de Chevalier from Pessac-Leognan.
The 2012 Chardonnay is the WOW wine, No malolactic fermentation going on here! Very strong fruit with hints of yellow apple and flinty minerals; full flavored with a long dry finish. This Chardonnay has a dual personality reflecting the flintiness of great Chablis and the powerful finish of a great Puligny Montrachet.
The Mike Grgich style of wine that made California Chardonnay famous is now ready for you to experience in Hong Kong and I invite you to taste the greatness!
Cheers to the everlasting legacy of Mike Grgich and the wines of Grgich Hills Estate!
Prime Cellar Consultant