In 1923 in an obscure village in Croatia, a little boy named Miljenko was born, the youngest of eleven children. Soon enough, their small world was torn apart by war and their home destroyed. By luck, determination, a few miracles, and with the assistance of kind relatives and friends, Miljenko survived the war years and the rise of Communism. Where others gave up hope, Miljenko nurtured a dream: to one day grow wine in California.
It was never easy, but Miljenko arrived at his goal when he was still a relatively young man, carrying with him his trademark black beret and a cardboard suitcase containing the wine textbooks he had brought with him from the Old Country, and little else. Miljenko, now “Mike” Grgich had arrived at a Napa Valley that was on the rise.
In 1976, a blind tasting of California and French wines at the Judgment of Paris sent shock waves through the wine-drinking world. The upstart Californians had triumphed over the best of the established French wineries. And at the center of the hubbub was Mike Grgich, who had crafted the winning 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that beat all contenders.
Mike Grgich went on to co-found Grgich Hills in 1977 with Austin Hills and has been showered with awards and accolades, including inclusion into the Vintners Hall of Fame in 2008. His wines have been served at the White House to presidents, royalty and celebrities. His famous beret and the battered suitcase he carried with him from Croatia now reside in the Smithsonian Institution alongside the winning bottle of 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. The Smithsonian even included that legendary bottle in “The History of America in 101 Objects”! Mike Grgich’s remarkable story and his passion for wine and for life have made him a legend and a true American success story.