ON THE 4TH OF JULY,1977, in the Napa Valley, Miljenko (Mike) Grgich and Austin Hills launched their joint-venture winery, today internationally recognized as one of the finest producers of Chardonnay wines in the world. One of 11 children, Mike Grgich (that seemingly difficult-to-spell-and-pronounce name is really rather easy: grr , like a dog growling, and gitch ) was born in Croatia, now Yugoslavia. His father had a vineyard, and all the children helped with the vineyard and the wine making. He migrated to the United States in 1958, heading directly to the Napa Valley.
Several years ago he was sitting on the balcony terrace of his California winery, sipping a golden Chardonnay, lyrically rich and opulent, and looking out across acres of vines reaching to the benchlands of the Mayacamas in Rutherford. "Cabernet Sauvignon has always been my first love," he said. It was late September, 1982, and lugs of those midnight-blue-black grapes were tumbling into the crushes below to become Grgich's third Cabernet. "I was lucky," he said. "My first job was with Lee Stewart at Souverain Cellars." Stewart, a former meatpacker from Chicago, "taught me the pragmatic arts--cleanliness and sanitation." The late Lee Stewart had emphasized red wines and had produced prize-winning vintages of Zinfandel. "And then, for nine years, I worked with Andre Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu. I joined Robert Mondavi in 1969, the year of that famous Cabernet that literally launched his new winery. He taught me the vital meaning of experimentation. In 1972, I moved to Chateau Montelena."