Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In Photos: Mike Grgich's 90th Birthday - Media Wine Tasting and Luncheon

Wine press can be a jaded bunch - they've seen a lot of "events." But I think April 8 was a day to remember for many of them, for this occasion was a chance to witness and honor something historic.

Grgich Hills rolled out all the stops to celebrate Mike Grgich's 90th birthday with a memorable tasting of his 41-year-old 1972 Chardonnay, which he generously shared with about 30 press, bloggers and tweeters in attendance.

The Judgment of Paris judges didn't know they picked
California wines as the best in the famous 1976 Paris Tasting.
One of the winning wines was the 1973 Chateau
Montelena Chardonnay made by Mike Grgich.
The esteemed audience in attendance at yesterday's tasting, tasting
Mike Grgich's 1972 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay
along with and Grgich Hills'  2010 Paris Tasting Vineyard Chardonnay
"I want to thank you all for coming," Mike said "I see old friends here; there's two who have been tasting my wines for more than 30 years."

The event kicked off with a brief video, highlighting the span of his life, from fleeing Croatia under Communist rule to getting an honorary degree from the University of Croatia a few years ago. His lifetime of fine winemaking started under the tutelage of Lee Stewart at Souverain then on Howell Mountain (now Burgess) and Andre Tchelistcheff of Beaulieu. 

In 1973 his Chateau Montelena Chardonnay won the top spot in the historic Tasting of Paris, a feat repeated in many other international, blind tasting competitions under his own winery brand started a year later with Austin Hills. (A brief timeline of his life and accomplishments can be found here.)

Mike Grgich, 1972-3 Chateau Montelena winemaker
Following the tasting, guests enjoyed a lovely catered lunch of salmon, lamb and chocolate-covered strawberries accompanies by the 2010 Paris Tasting Chardonnay (I had already bought two cases a month ago - for posterity's sake) and the Croatian zinfandel relative Plavac Mali, grown at Grgich's Croatian winery on the Adriatic.

The tasting line-up starting from left to right: 2010 Paris Tasting Chardonnay
($90, current release, winery only or wine club), 2002 Chardonnay,
1972 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay  (the uncovered one)
The reds (left to right): a variety of Zinfandels, dating back to 1987
Mike on the right, with his winery partner Austin Hills (left) and Mike's nephew Ivo (center)
Tasting in honor of Mike Grgich's 90 birthday (which was April 1)
Panoramic shot of the event
I have to admit - I was a virgin: this was my first 1970s Chardonnay -
look at the color! (The 2010 Paris Tasting Vineyard Chardonnay
is on the left and the 1972 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay is on the right). 
Mike tasting the 1972 Chardonnay
(the vintage before his Judgment of Paris award-winning 1973)
He had saved 5 cases of it and decided this was the time to open it.
Mike says his proudest accomplishment in life is his
daughter, Violet; here savoring both his wine and Violet.
Under the direction of Mike's nephew vineyard manager, Croatian-born Ivo Jeramaz (his official title is vice president of vineyards and production), all of Grgich's 366 acres of vineyards are farmed biodynamically and all of its wines made only with certified biodynamic grapes, easily making it the largest Napa winery to follow these practices. Even more reason to celebrate.

Croatian television's special on Mike Grgich will screen Monday night in St. Helena. The winery will also make DVDs of the film available to wine club members.

NOTE (ADDED 4.14.55) In addition, for more on the particulars of Chardonnay and Grgich's approach to it, see Dan Berger's article in the Napa Valley Register here.

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