Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich: A Century of Wine, Triumph, and the Legacy of Grgich Hills Estate


Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich, the visionary winemaker synonymous with Napa Valley’s global acclaim, peacefully passed away at 100 in Calistoga last Wednesday. Napa Valley is now mourning the loss of a legend.

Born on April 1, 1923, in the idyllic village of Desne, Croatia, Mike Grgich, the youngest of 11 children to Nicola and Ivka Grgić, was deeply rooted in the world of winemaking. His remarkable journey, from stomping grapes in his father’s vineyard to becoming a pioneering force in Napa Valley and beyond, is a tale of resilience, passion, and a lifelong pursuit of excellence.

Mike’s Early Years and Education

Mike’s early memories were of harvest, grape-stomping, and the aroma of fermenting wine in Desne. At age 10, he left for further education, driven by his mother’s aspirations. However, the tumultuous times of World War II and the advent of communism in Yugoslavia steered Mike towards a different path. Despite his initial inclination towards becoming a shopkeeper, the call of winemaking became undeniable.

Escape to Napa Valley

Fleeing communist Yugoslavia via an agricultural exchange program with Germany, Mike found his way to Napa Valley in 1958. His journey led him to Chateau Souverain in St. Helena, where he crossed paths with the influential winemaker André Tchelistcheff. Working together at Beaulieu Vineyards, Mike honed his craft, catching the attention of Robert Mondavi.

Napa Valley Legacy

Hired by Robert Mondavi, Mike crafted a legendary Cabernet Sauvignon in 1969. His winemaking mastery continued to shine at Chateau Montelena, where, in just his second vintage, he created the iconic 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that triumphed in the historic 1976 Judgement of Paris. This moment catapulted American wine to unprecedented heights, etching Mike’s name in Napa Valley’s history.

Grgich Hills Estate

In 1977, Mike realized the American dream by founding Grgich Hills Estate. The winery became a symbol of his dedication to quality and organic viticulture. His great-nephew Ivo Jeramaz, trained under his mentorship, carries forward the legacy, ensuring that Grgich Hills continues producing excellent wines. The winery, nestled in the heart of Napa Valley, is a testament to Mike’s commitment to crafting wines that reflect the region’s unique terroir.

Legacy Beyond Napa

Mike’s commitment extended beyond Napa Valley. Following the fall of communism in 1989, he returned to Croatia, establishing Grgić Vina. His efforts played a pivotal role in rejuvenating the Croatian wine industry. His name resonates in Napa’s vine rows and the rebirth of Croatia’s winemaking heritage.

A Century of Legacy

As Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich leaves behind a century of rich experiences, relationships, and a commitment to teaching, his legacy lives on. Synonymous with Napa Valley and the revival of Croatian wines, Mike’s story is celebrated as one of the 101 Objects that Made America, immortalized in the Smithsonian Institute of American History.


In the realm of winemaking, Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich’s journey remains an inspiring narrative of passion, perseverance, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. As we raise a glass to honor his legacy, we salute a centenarian winemaker whose contributions have left an indelible mark on the world of wine, echoing through the vineyards of Napa Valley and beyond. Grgich Hills Estate stands as a living testament to his vision, crafting wines that continue to captivate connoisseurs and embody the essence of Napa Valley’s winemaking heritage.

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