makes the Grgich Hills Chardonnays and Cabernets so special, so enjoyable? As
the wine maker, I'll point to ten key factors, but I'm leaving a few secrets untold.
1. VINEYARDS. We have four beautiful vineyards. First, there is the Rutherford
vineyard with 20 acres of Chardonnay that sits adjacent to the winery. Second,
there is a Yountville vineyard surrounding our Victorian home. Adjacent to Dommus
vineyard, and not far from the famed Martha's Vineyard, this plot accounts for
all of our Cabernet Sauvignon fruit and 25 percent of our Chardonnay. (It was
here in Yountville 150 years ago that the first vines were planted in the Napa
Valley by settler George Yount.)
Third, at Olive Hills vineyard on Olive Hills Road in Napa, we grow Chardonnay
along with some Sauvignon Blanc and Johannisberg Riesling. Finally, our newest
vineyard location, in the cool Carnerous region (across the road from Saintsbury),
has been planted to Chardonnay vines.
2. PEOPLE. Counting myself, we have six wine makers at Grgich Hills everyone
with a degree in ecology. I began making wine with my father more than 50 years
ago, and I obtained my ecology degree from the University of Zagreb (Croatia,
Yugoslavia). I have been in the Napa Valley for three decades, working at Beaulieu,
Robert Mondavi, and Chateau Montelena before starting at Grgich Hills Cellar in
I participated in making many of the famed Beaulieu "Georges de Latour Private
Reserve" wines, the highly touted Robert Mondavi l969 Cabernet Sauvignon, and
the 1973 Montelena Chardonnay which won the highly publicized Paris tasting of
1976. My first Chardonnay at Grgich Hills, made in 1977, was named "The Best Chardonnay
in this World" by New York wine writer, Craig Goldwyn, when it placed first in
a huge Chicago tasting organized by Goldwyn.
Despite all the accolades, I do not feel that I have yet made a "perfect" wine
. . . but I'm working on it!
3. OAK AGING. This is a very important factor in the overall quality of
our wines. All of our wines are aged in oak barrels. We primarily use French Limousin
oak for our Chardonnay and Fume Blanc. The red wines are aged in Nevers, with
some American oak. (Remember that Beaulieuls Reserve is aged in American oak.)
Technically wines extract oak phenols and flavors while maturing in the barrels.
When fruitiness from the grape and oakiness from the barrel come into balance,
it is time to bottle the wine.
4. BOTTLE AGING. This is also important. Prior to release, we put aside
our wines in bottles for a year or two in our own temperature-controlled cellar
right here at the winery. As wine ages in the bottle, the components of fruit
and oak come together to form a more complex 'bouquet" (as opposed to the more
youthful simple fruit aroma).
5. BALANCE. Here, I'm talking about balancing the grape components in the
vineyard where all wines start. It's quite an art to bring fruit into the winery
with the best balance of sugar acid, varietal character and depth of flavor. If
you can get everything into proper balance, you have a chance of making harmonious,
6. COMPLEXITY. The greatest wines show new nuances every time you taste
them. A good deal of that complexity comes from the blending. With our Chardonnay,
we blend the wines from all the vineyards each adding its own character to the
whole. In Cabernet, blending complexity comes from the use of different varieties,
namely Merlot and Cabernet Franc. After the wine is made, oak aging adds its own
imprint upon color, smell, taste, and body. Then, bottle aging brings all of these
components into complete harmony.
7. BABY-SITTING. I was taught to treat grapes and wines as if they were
living things, like our children. For me, the wine maker's job is to create conditions
and an environment that allow the wines to develop by themselves with as little
interference from me as possible. Wine making, you see, is a natural process,
and the less we do to disrupt it, the better our results will likely be. So, working
here as constructive baby-sitters (in the manner of the baker who uses the whole
grain to make whole wheat bread), we try to retain everything that the grape gives
us. We try to make "whole" wines.
8. CONSISTENCY. If we are to be thought of as a great winery, we must have
great wines from one year to the next. Thus, we are working to create a "Grgich
Hiils" style/ a trademark that we can improve upon with each vintage as we learn
more about our vineyards and our wines. Just as our Chardonnays have been used
as a standard by which to judge other California Chardonnays, we hope, too, that
our Cabernet Sauvignons will rise to equal heights.
9. CONFIRMATION. Even though we are the sternest judges of our wines, it
is nice to see our quality confirmed in regal places and royal palaces. President
Reagan served our 1979 Chardonnay to President Mitterrand of France in Paris.
Our Chardonnay was also served to King Juan CarIos of Spain and Queen Elizabeth
II of England, and it continues to be enjoyed by wine knowledgeable people all
over the world.
10. SUPPLY. I know that our wines have been hard to find in the past due
to our low production and high demand. However, we have increased our production
with the acquisition of new vineyards, so we can now supply old accounts with
more wine and open some new accounts. If you could not get Grgich Hills wines
in the past/ please try again. Above all, we hope that you will continue to enjoy
our wines every bit as much as have enjoyed making them for you.
Please contact our sales and marketing staff (Bob Hattaway, Joy Kagele, and Violet
Grgich) with any questions that you may have concerning our wines.
Miljenko "Mike" Grgich
GRGICH HILLS CELLAR / P.O. Box 450, 1829 St. Helena Hwy. / Rutherford, CA 94573