Saturday, January 13, 2024

Grgich Hills Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Grgich Hills Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

We had left over beef bourgogne for dinner so I pulled from the cellar this premium Napa Cabernet for pairing. This is the flagship estate wine from Grgich Hills, one of the most storied legendary producers with a historic past. 

Founded by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich in 1977 with Austin Hills, the winery has been family-owned and operated since

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich was born and raised in Croatio in a winemaking family. He came to American and Napa Valley in 1958. He worked for Lee Stewart, founder of Souverain Winery and an early Napa Valley pioneer, then Christian brothers before Beaulieu Vineyard where he spent nine years working alongside the legendary Russian winemaker André Tchelistcheff. 

In 1968, Mike became chief enologist at Robert Mondavi Winery, considered the most innovative winery at the time. “In 1969, I made my first Cabernet for Robert Mondavi,” Mike recalls. “In an important blind tasting, fifteen California winemakers proclaimed ours to be the best Cabernet in all of California.”

In 1972, Mike joined Chateau Montelena as winemaker and limited partner.

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich first gained international recognition at the epoch “Judgement of Paris Tasting” of 1976 when, in a now-historic blind tasting, a panel of eminent French judges blind tasted a flight of fabled white Burgundies of France and a small sampling of upstart Chardonnays from the United States Napa Valley. When the scores were tallied, the world was shocked to learn the French judges had chosen the 1973 Napa Valley Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, crafted by Mike Grgich,  as the finest white wine in the world. The results stunned the international wine establishment and put US and California wines on the map, and earned winemaker Mike Grgich a reputation as one of the greatest winemakers in the world.

Austin Hills of the namesake coffee company, founded Hills Vineyards and developed his own label in 1975. After the Judgement of Paris in 1976, Austin contacted Mike Grgich with a proposal to join forces to produce world class wines in Napa Valley.

Austin Hills had broad business experience and money to invest, since he and his sister, Mary Lee Strebl, had just sold the coffee company. Austin wanted to produce world-class wines and was looking for a winemaker to do that. Mike had extensive winemaking and management experience and now had the reputation as the American winemaker who beat the French.

Austin grew up in the Hills Bros. Coffee company family, founded by his grandfather and grand uncle in 1878 in San Francisco. Austin acquired a business background, earning a B.A. degree from Stanford University and M.B.A. from Columbia University, before working at Hills Bros. Coffee, Inc. Starting as an assistant coffee buyer, he worked his way up to Vice President and finally Chairman of the Board.

Today, Austin is Chairman of Grgich Hills Estate, and also president of Hills Vineyard, and an active member of San Francisco society, serving on a wide variety of boards. 

The Hills Vineyard should not be confused with Hill Family Vineyards of Napa Valley, long time Napa Valley grape growers and vineyard owners who produce a portfolio of wines often featured in these pages.   

The two men were an ideal match for success with their combined complementary business and viticulture and winemaking skills, so Mike Grgich joined forces with Austin Hills in a partnership in 1977, forming Grgich Hills.

The Grigh Hills winery and vineyard was established in Yountville in the center of Napa Valley on the valley floor. Mike first discovered the property in 1958 as an ideal site to produce quality grapes due to its ideal sun exposure and excellent drainage. 

Today, the 63-acre Yountville vineyard is planted to classic Bordeaux varietals - 53 acres Cabernet Sauvignon, 5.4 acres Petit Verdot, and 5.1 acres in Merlot. A 25-acre plot is the second oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines, planted in 1959. These vines are showcased in a vineyard designated latbel, "Yountville Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon".

Grgich Hills expanded the Yountville Appellation vineyards in 1984. 

In 1992, Grgich Hills was selected Winery Of the Year by Wine & Spirits magazine, and, Mike Grgich appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator magazine, “California’s Old World Master-Few Can Challenge Mike Grgich in crafting World-Class Wine.”

By 2007, Grigh Hills had grown to 366 acres spread across five vineyards throughout Napa Valley - 34 acres in Calistoga, 18 in Rutherford, 163 in American Canyon, 88 in Carneros, and the original 63 in Yountville.

Able to use estate grown grapes exclusively in the production of their wines, they changed the name to “Grgich Hills Estate” to recognize their wines as 100% estate grown. 

In 2016, Miljenko "Mike" Grgich released his long-awaited autobiography, A Glass Full Of Miracles. At 94 years of age, Mike Grgich retired as president and passed on the baton to his daughter, Violet. He remains active in winery operations as Founder and Winemaker Emeritus, and is a Vintners Hall of Fame Inductee and James Beard Award Winner.

A Croatian TV documentary about his life, “Like the Old Vine,” won the Grand Jury’s Special Award from France’s Oenovideo Film Festival. 

Violet Grgich grew up accompanying her father in the vineyards and cellar. She spent her summers at the winery, doing everything from bottling line work to laboratory analysis and working in the tasting room.

She attended the University of California, earning a BA in music while taking classes in biology, chemistry, and enology. After graduation, she returned home to Grgich Hills to continue her education in the wine business, learning beside her father.

After a period to receive her Master of Music in harpsichord at the world renowned Indiana University School of Music, Violet rejoined the winery fulltime in 1988. Today, she is responsible for daily management of the winery, as well as sales and marketing. 

Ivo Jeramaz serves as Winemaker and VP of Vineyards & Production,  responsible for the day-to-day operations in the cellar and the vineyard, including naturally farming Grgich Hills’ 366 acres. 
Ivo was born in Grigh's home country Croatia to a family of grape growers and was involved in making family wine from boyhood. After earning a masters degree in engineering from the University of Zagreb in 1986, he came to Napa Valley to join his uncle, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich,  Over the ensuing three decades at Grgich Hills Ivo learned the classic style and art of winemaking from his uncle, supported by the science and technology, and from what he gained from enology and viticulture courses at University of California, Davis.
Joining Mike’s daughter, Violet Grgich as President, and Ivo Jeramaz, Mike’s nephew as Winemaker/VP, the next generation of the Hills family has also found a home in grapes, rather than coffee beans: Austin’s youngest son, Justin, and Ivo's oldest daughter Maja Jeramaz have joined Grgich Hills continuing the family legacy.
Today, Grgich Hills Estate produce a portfolio of Bordeaux varietals, Chardonnay and Zinfandel. Mike was intrigued about the Croatian origins of Zinfandel and obtained a single Croatian Crljenak Kastelanski cutting, taken from one of the last nine Crljenak plants in existence. It is planted and continues to thrive in Grgrich's Calistoga Vineyard.
In April, 2023, Mike Grgich reached centenarian status. The winery celebrated with the release of two “Centennial Wines;” the 2020 Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay, and the 2019 Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon.
Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
This is 100% estate grown fruit, a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc, sourced primarily with grapes from the Grgich Yountville vineyard supplemented from Grgich Rutherford and Calistoga vineyards.
This release was awarded 93 points by James Suckling, 92 points by Wine Advocate and 90 points by Connoisseurs Guide and Vinous. 
Bright garnet-purple in color, medium full bodied, expressive ripe blackberry and blackcurrant fruits with floral, cassis, tobacco, licorice, cedar and earthy notes, with a hint of clove spice turning to tight crisp acidity and grainy tannins on the finish. Still young at five years, this might benefit from a little more time to settle and integrate.
RM 91 points.