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University of California Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series 

Miljenko Grgich 

With an Introduction by 
Zelma Long 

Interviews Conducted by 

Ruth Teiser 

in 1992 

Copyright 1992 by The Regents of the University of California 

Miljenko Grgich, 1992 

Photograph courtesy of The Wine Spectator 

Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading 
participants in or well -placed witnesses to major events in the development of 
Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral history is a modern research 
technique involving an interviewee and an informed interviewer in spontaneous 
conversation. The taped record is transcribed, lightly edited for continuity 
and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The resulting manuscript is typed 
in final form, indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and 
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and 
other research collections for scholarly use. Because it is primary material, 
oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete 
narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in 
response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved, 
and irreplaceable. 


All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement 
between The Regents of the University of California and Miljenko 
Grgich dated April 14, 1992. The manuscript is thereby made 
available for research purposes. All literary rights in the 
manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to The 
Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley. No part 
of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written 
permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the University 
of California, Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be 
addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, 
University of California, Berkeley 94720, and should include 
identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated 
use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal 
agreement with Miljenko Grgich requires that he be notified of the 
request and allowed thirty days in which to respond. 

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows: 

Miljenko Grgich, "A Croatian- American 
Winemaker in the Napa Valley," an oral 
history conducted in 1992 by Ruth Teiser, 
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft 
Library, University of California, 
Berkeley, 1992. 

Copy no. 

Cataloging Information 

GRGICH, Miljenko (b. 1923) Winemaker 

A Croatian- American Winemaker in the Napa Vallev. 1992, ix, 60 pp. 

Childhood in Croatia; working at California wineries: Souverain, Christian 
Bros., Beaulieu, Robert Mondavi, Chateau Montelena; Grgich Hills Cellar: 
startup, ideals, people, business methods, vineyards; changes in California 
wine industry since 1958. 

Introduction by Zelma Long, President and CEO, Simi Winery. 

Interviewed in 1992 by Ruth Teiser for the Wine Spectator California 
Winemen Oral History Series, The Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft 
Library, University of California, Berkeley. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS-- Mi Ijenko (Mike) Grgich 


INTRODUCTION- -by Zelma Long vi 





WEST GERMANY, 1954-1956 7 

CANADA, 1956-1958 8 


TO CALIFORNIA, 1958-1977 11 

Working for Lee Stewart, 1958 11 

Christian Brothers, 1959 13 

Beaulieu Vineyard, 1959-1968 15 

Advances in Frost Protection 16 

Improvements in White Wines 17 

Sterile Bottling 17 

Induced Malolactic Fermentation 18 

Quality Control 18 

Robert Mondavi Winery, 1968-1972 19 

Experimenting 22 

Chateau Montelena, 1972-1977 23 

The 1976 Paris Tasting 26 


Making a Beginning 28 

Ideals and Implementation 31 

"One Cannot Mention Care Too Often" 35 

Winery Personnel 38 

Business Goals and Methods 39 

Pre -Release Club 41 

Labels and Vineyard Blends 43 

White Riesling 45 

More on Improvements in White Wines 47 

Financing the Winery 48 

Changes 50 

Grgich Hills Vineyards 52 





The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the 
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated in 1969 through the action 
and with the financing of the Vine Advisory Board, a state marketing 
order organization which ceased operation in 1975. In 1983 it was 
reinstituted as The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series 
with donations from The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation. The 
selection of those to be interviewed is made by a committee consisting of 
the director of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; 
John A. De Luca, president of the Wine Institute, the statewide winery 
organization; Maynard A. Amerine, Emeritus Professor of Viticulture and 
Enology, University of California, Davis; the current chairman of the 
board of directors of the Wine Institute; Ruth Teiser, series project 
director; and Marvin R. Shanken, trustee of The Wine Spectator 
Scholarship Foundation. 

The purpose of the series is to record and preserve information on 
California grape growing and winemaking that has existed only in the 
memories of wine men. In some cases their recollections go back to the 
early years of this century, before Prohibition. These recollections are 
of particular value because the Prohibition period saw the disruption of 
not only the industry itself but also the orderly recording and 
preservation of records of its activities. Little has been written about 
the industry from late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real 
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933), although 
some commercial winemaking did continue under supervision of the 
Prohibition Department. The material in this series on that period, as 
well as the discussion of the remarkable development of the wine industry 
in subsequent years (as yet treated analytically in few writings) will be 
of aid to historians. Of particular value is the fact that frequently 
several individuals have discussed the same subjects and events or 
expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from his own point of view. 

Research underlying the interviews has been conducted principally in 
the University libraries at Berkeley and Davis, the California State 
Library, and in the library of the Wine Institute, which has made its 
collection of in many cases unique materials readily available for the 
purpose . 


The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record 
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed 
significantly to recent California history. The office is headed by 
Willa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of The Bancroft 


Ruth Teiser 
Project Director 

The Wine Spectator California Winemen 
Oral History Series 


Interviews Completed July 1992 

Leon D. Adams, Revitalizing the California Wine Industry. 1974 

Leon D. Adams, California Wine Industry Affairs: Recollections and Opinions. 

Maynard A. Amerine, The University of California and the State's Wine 
Industry. 1971 

Maynard A. Amerine, Wine Bibliographies and Taste Perception Studies. 

Philo Biane, Wine Making in Southern California and Recollections of Fruit 
Industries. Inc. . 1972 

John B. Cella, The Cella Family in the California Wine Industry. 1986 

Charles Crawford, Recollections of a Career with the Gallo Winery and the 
Development of the California Wine Industry. 1942-1989. 1990 

Burke H. Critchfield, Carl F. Wente, and Andrew G. Frericks, The California 
Wine Industry During the Depression. 1972 

William V. Cruess, A Half Century of Food and Wine Technology. 1967 

Jack and Jamie Peterman Davies, Rebuilding Schramsberg: The Creation of a 
California Champagne House. 1990 

William A. Dieppe, Almaden is Mv Life. 1985 

Making California Port Wine: Ficklin Vineyards from 1948 to 1992. interviews 
with David, Jean, Peter, and Steven Ficklin, 1992 

Alfred Fromm, Marketing California Wine and Brandy . 1984 

Louis Gomberg, Analytical Perspectives on the California Wine Industry. 1935- 
1990. 1990 

Miljenko Grgich, A Croatian- American Winemaker in the Naoa Valley. 1992 
Joseph E. Heitz, Creating a Winery in the Naoa Vallev. 1986 

Maynard A. Joslyn, A Technologist Views the California Wine Industry. 

Amandus N. Kasimatis, A Career in California Viticulture. 1988 

Morris Katz, Paul Masson Winery Operations and Management. 1944-1988. 1990 

Legh F. Knowles, Jr., Beaulieu Vineyards from Family to Corporate Ownership. 


Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi, California Grape Products and Other 
Wine Enterprises. 1971 

Zelma R. Long, The Past is the Beginning of the Future: Simi Winery in its 
Second Century. 1992 

Richard Maher, California Winery Management and Marketing. 1992 

Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, Wine Making in the Napa Vallev. 

Louis P. Martini, A Family Winery and the California Wine Industry. 1984 

Eleanor McCrea, Stony Hill Vineyards: The Creation of a Napa Vallev Estate 
Winery. 1990 

Otto E. Meyer, California Premium Wines and Brandy. 1973 

Norbert C. Mirassou and Edmund A. Mirassou, The Evolution of a Santa Clara 
Vallev Winery. 1986 

Peter Mondavi, Advances in Technology and Production at Charles Krug Winery. 
1946-1988. 1990 

Robert Mondavi, Creativity in the Wine Industry. 1985 

Michael Moone, Management and Marketing at Beringer Vineyards and Wine World. 
Inc. . 1990 

Myron S. Nightingale, Making Wine in California. 1944-1987. 1988 
Harold P. Olmo, Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties. 1976 

Cornelius Ough, Researches of an Enologist. University of California. Davis. 
1950-1990. 1990 

John A. Parducci, Six Decades of Making Wine in Mendocino County. California. 

Antonio Perelli-Minetti, A Life in Wine Making. 1975 

Louis A. Petri, The Petri Family in the Wine Industry. 1971 

Jefferson E. Peyser, The Lav and the California Wine Industry. 1974 

Lucius Powers, The Fresno Area and the California Wine Industry. 1974 

Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, Perspectives on California Wines. 1976 

Edmund A. Rossi, Italian Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry. 1971 

Edmund A. Rossi, Jr., Italian Swiss Colony. 1949-1989: Recollections of a 
Third- Generation California Winemaker. 1990 

Arpaxat Setrakian, A. Setrakian. a Leader of the San Joaquin Valley Grape 
Industry. 1977 

Elie Skofis, California Wine and Brandv Maker. 1988 

Andre Tchellstcheff , Grapes. Wine, and Ecology. 1983 

Brother Timothy, The Christian Brothers as Wine Makers. 1974 

Louis (Bob) Trinchero, California Zinfandels. a Success Story. 1992 

The Wente Family and the California Wine Industry, interviews with Jean, 
Carolyn, Philip, and Eric Wente, 1992. 

Ernest A. Wente, Wine Making in the Livermore Vallev. 1971 

Albert J. Winkler, Viticultural Research at UC Davis (1921-1971). 1973 

John H. Wright, Domaine Chandon: The First French- owned California Sparkling 
Wine Cellar, includes an interview with Edmond Maudiere, 1992 


INTRODUCTION --by Zelma Long 

Mike Grgich is truly an American success story. A Croatian 
immigrant, his California wine work in the 1950s and 1960s built upon his 
youthful experience and education in winemaking to create a solid 
foundation for his technical and business success. During the 1970s and 
1980s, he grew into one of California's top winemakers, achieving great 
professional recognition and the personal success of his winery, Grgich 
Hills. Mike, at 54, was not a young man when he started Grgich Hills, in 
partnership with Austin Hills, and his success illustrates the American 
dream of rewards for perseverance, dedication to a goal, and plain hard 

When I came to work for Mike at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1970, 
Robert Mondavi was a small winery crushing 1,700 tons of grapes. Mike's 
own domain, the laboratory, was a tiny room in the winery's renowned 
tower. At my first meeting with Mike, I found him tasting wine in 
barrels, stacked in the winery barrel room, a small room that is 
currently the Oakville facility's office! I worked with Mike in 1970, 
1971, and 1972 as an apprentice winemaker and have since followed, with 
respect and admiration, his career. As I look back, Mike was a special 
and unusual combination of artist and scientist. He had done pioneer 
work with malolactic fermentation while working with Andre Tchelistcheff 
at Beaulieu Vineyard and was at home with a microscope, whether he was 
tracking the behavior of yeast or bacteria. I was fresh out of the 
University of California, Davis, after several years of studying the 
various aspects of technical winemaking and found Mike was easy to talk 
to about technical wine issues such as wine stability and wine 
composition, although he didn't express himself in the same way a 
scientist would. Mike always retained his European way of communicating 
about wine. He seemed to understand wine, not only from an analytical, 
technical sense but also from an intuitive sense. 

Mike was a good teacher. He treated the grapes from each vineyard, 
and each wine, individually. As we would taste the fermenting wines and 
then the young wines, Mike would discuss their evolution from the 
perspective of the whole life of the wine: what he thought the 
particular personality of the wine was, its strengths and weaknesses, 
likely behavior, and the approaches to create or coax out a complex and 
harmonious wine. 

At that time, California winemaking, in the modern sense, was just 
beginning. When I first came to Robert Mondavi, Mike was supervising the 
bottling of the 1969 Cabernet that became so famous when it won the Los 
Angeles Times tasting of California wines. Mike had laid his 


professional imprint strongly upon this wine. Malolactic fermentation 
was a new concept in winemaking. The use of stainless steel tanks with 
temperature control was still a tool that was appreciated and not yet 
taken for granted. Neither skin contact nor barrel fermentation were 
part of the winemaking process for Chardonnay; and the use of French oak 
barrels in the aging of the wine had just begun. In this regard, Mike 
was a perfect complement to Robert Mondavi, bringing to the winery his 
own vision of oak aging as essential for fine wines. 

As I look back on Mike's winemaking skills in the early 1970s, it's 
easy to see now that he had an unusually strong base on which to build 
the success he has achieved. At a time when most winemakers in the 
business were young and inexperienced, when there were very few older 
winemakers knowledgeable about fine European winemaking techniques, Mike 
had acquired through years of education and experience the technical 
skill and understanding and the artistic approach to winemaking that 
enabled him to produce refined, balanced, and expressive wines. 

In the intervening twenty years, the California wine industry has 
boomed, expanded. A wine public capable of evaluating and appreciating 
California's efforts has emerged. California's international reputation 
for wine had changed. In the 1970s, Europeans viewed California wines as 
rustic; now they see them as fine, sophisticated, quality wines, 
important competitors in the world market. Mike's decisions to leave 
Robert Mondavi Vinery for a lead winemaker position at Chateau Montelena, 
and ultimately to open Grgich Hills Winery in 1977, were timed to take 
advantage of this growth and development and reflected Mike's 
determination and personal evolution. 

Since the birth of Grgich Hills Winery, Mike has not attempted to 
cast his net widely in activities; he has focused his time and effort on 
his wines and winery. His greatest reputation rests with his Chardonnay, 
a wine widely respected by both the wine trade and the consumer. It is 
one of the most popular Chardonnays of California, despite a relatively 
high bottle price for this varietal. His winery is solid, thoughtfully 
designed, well located, but not flashy. His vineyards surround his home 
and the home of this partner, Austin Hills. A prominent wine 
publication, The Wine Spectator, recently acknowledged Mike as one of 
California's premier winemakers, appreciated not only for his Chardonnay 
but his Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc. He has a 
master's touch, and his success has been well earned and well deserved. 

Zelma Long 

President, SImi Winery 

May 1992 

Healdsburg, California 


INTERVIEW HISTORY--Miljenko (Mike) Grgich 

The interview with Miljenko (Mike) Grgich was held in two sessions, 
the first the afternoon of March 3, 1992, the second the following 
morning, March 4, both at his home near Yountville. The gracious house, 
built in 1885, with high ceilings and tall windows, is flanked by vines 
and an attractively landscaped garden where he often entertains. 

The interviewer, who knew Mr. Grgich by reputation and through 
articles in the press, had met him earlier in 1992 on a shuttle bus ride 
en route to a preview of the Opus One winery in Oakville. Cheerful and 
outgoing, he responded to my inquiries, giving in effect a brief preview 
of his interview. As the interview itself attests, he proved to be an 
informative narrator, cooperative in speaking about the subjects 
suggested in advance, and in adding relevant information. 

He was similarly responsive in reading over the interview 
transcript. Both he and his daughter, Violet Grgich, made some changes. 
Although he speaks English very expressively, Mr. Grgich' s conversation 
is still renminiscent of the fact that his native language is Croatian. 
Some of his untraditional English expressions were reworded by his 
daughter, still retaining their meaning. He himself clarified other 
statements by replacing words and phrases with more exact ones. There 
were no extensive changes. 

The frontispiece photograph of Mr. Grgich is through the courtesy of 
The Wine Spectator. The rest of the photographs were chosen from an 
assortment very kindly supplied by Violet Grgich. 

Thanks are due to Zelma Long, who contributed the informative and 
appreciative introduction to this interview with her fellow winemaker. 

Ruth Teiser, 

July 1992 

Regional Oral History Office 

The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office i x University of California 

Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 94720 

(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 

Your full name Miljenko Grgich _ 
Date of birth April 1, 1923 _ Birthplace Desne, Croatia 

Father's full name Nikola Grgich _ 
Occupation Winerraker _ Birthplace Desne, Croatia 

Mother's full name Ivka Batinovic _ _ _ ^ 
Occupation _ Housewife _ Birthplace Desne, Croatia _ 

Your spouse _ single _ ^ 
Your children _ Violet Grgich _ 

Where did you grow U p? Desne, Croatia _ 

., California 
Present community 

Education University of Zagreb, Yugloslavia 

Occupation (s) . Winemaker 

Areas of expertise Wine Chemist, Wine Microbiologist , Vineyardist, Winemaker, 
Marketing, Specializing in Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Fume 
Blanc _ 

Other interests or activities Bocce Ball, Bowling, Fishing, Walking 

Organizations in which you are active American Enologists, Knights of the Vine 

[Interview 1: March 3, 1992 J//// 1 

Teiser: When were you were born? 

Grgich: April 1, 1923. 

Teiser: And you were born at Desne in Croatia? 

Grgich: Yes, it's a village of about a thousand people. My father was a 
farmer and was growing grapes and making wine. He was growing 
wheat, corn, and lots of vegetables, and he had sheep and cows. 
It was a little farm. 

Teiser: You grew up on the farm? 

Grgich: Yes, very luckily, because as a child I started to learn about 

life, working on the farm. I was a shepherd when I was six years 
old, taking care of sheep, and I was stomping grapes when I was 
two or three years old. I remember that stomping grapes was the 
first job I had. When it was the harvest, everybody works, even 
children, and the children learn skills little by little every 
year. When you start at two or three years old, by ten years old 
you know everything your father knows; not that you have physical 
power, but you have experience. 

Unfortunately, in the towns in civilized countries, children 
go to school and go to school, and they have no experience. They 
study something, but they don't have a real touch with Mother 
Nature or with real facts, with life, or with the climate --rain, 

1 This symbol (//#) indicates that a tape or a segment of a tape has 
begun or ended. For a guide to the tapes refer to the page following this 







wind, snow- -the horses, the cows, the sheep, vegetables, the river 
and the floods, the mountains, lakes, fish. So I was fortunate to 
live among these things. It was a great experience. 

What kind of area was it? 

It was a coastal region, about five miles from the coast. At the 
same time, there was a river and a lake pretty close. My house 
was about five hundred yards above the lake, where we fished. And 
there was a river we fished in, and we fished in the ocean. 
Fishing, fishing, fishing! [laughs] 

Did you have any special interests as a kid? 

I was always interested in doing a good job. Even if I was a kid 
of six years old, I had an interest in my sheep coming home full. 
Every day I would find someplace where I could fill their tummies, 
so when I got them home I knew they had the best that I could give 
them. So from the very beginning, it was my urge to do the best. 

Did your father make you think that way? 

Yes, ray father always said, "Don't worry if you're not rich, and 
don't worry if you have no college degree. As long as you do what 
you are doing today better than yesterday and a little better 
tomorrow and every day forward in one year, in 365 days you will 
acquire a noticeable amount of improvement, knowledge which will 
keep you going toward success." 

How did your father make a living? 
the open market? 

Did he sell his products on 

He made a living mainly by producing food that he needed and then 
selling wine. He would drink half and sell half --drink the best 
and sell the rest. He was very smart. In our country, you give 
the best product to your family and friends, and then you sell the 
rest. When I came abroad, I found the opposite; they sell the 
best, and they eat the rest. What a different philosophy between 
the countries. [laughs] 

The political climate in Croatia when you were young- - 

It was Yugoslavia then. 

When you were growing up there, was it an open, free market? 

It was a semi -free market. It was still a kind of dictatorship by 
the Serbian king. We did suffer under the dictatorship of the 
Serbian king. Yugoslavia was established in 1918 as the Kingdom 

of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. These were to be equal, but when 
the country was established, only Serbs were at the top, and the 
others were below. That lasted until some Croatian politicians 
started to complain, and in 1928 in parliament in Belgrade, the 
Yugoslavian capital, they killed Stjepan Radid , a Croatian leader, 
and three other Croatian representatives who were asking for 
equality and democracy. On his dying bed he gave recommendation 
to other Croatian leaders: "Never to Belgrade again!" 

But the Serbian king, instead of giving equality, established 
a dictatorship in January 1929, and he transferred the Kingdom of 
Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes into YugoslaviaYugoslavia did not 
exist until 1929 --and it was even more dictatorial than before. 
That situation never has been improved until about 1938, when war 
was roaming around; everybody knew there would be a war. Then 
Croatia was given a partial independence. Policemen could then be 
Croatian, whereas they were mainly Serbian before. Policemen and 
local officers could be Croats, and the country really started to 
bloom emotionally, because we finally felt we were human beings 
with the rights of human beings. 

But that didn't last long, because the war started, and there 
were five years of war. Italy occupied Dalmatia, Germany occupied 
the rest of Yugoslavia, and it was five years of guerilla war all 
around Yugoslavia. At the end, the Communists won, with the 
support of the West and the Russian army. You see, they never 
would have won without the support of the West. Churchill sent 
his own son to Yugoslavia to organize these partisans, but when he 
came back to London, he said, "Pa, all those people over there in 
Yugoslavia are Communists; they are Red." Churchill told him, 
"Are you going to live there?" In other words, who cares what 
Yugoslavia will become, as long as Britain is being helped by it. 
That's how small countries have always been treated, not for human 
rights but just to be of some use. 

Teiser: You went to the University of Zagreb? 

Grgich: Yes, I graduated from the business college first. After the war 

there was a need for bookkeepers, and they were well paid. I went 
to business school and was a bookkeeper for one year. 

Teiser: What year was that? 

Grgich: It was long ago. [thinking] From 1948 to 1949 I was a 

Six-year-old Miljenko Grgich photographed at his family 
farm at Desne, Yugoslavia, 1929. 


Grgich: In 1949 I entered the University of Zagreb and graduated in 1954. 
I was studying enology and viticulture. 

Teiser: When you were working on your family farm, did you make wine? 

Grgich: Yes. I stomped the grapes. I don't think I would have been born 
if my father didn't need my feet to stomp the grapes, because they 
didn't have machinery in those days. I remember that, ever since 
I was three or four years old, every year never missed harvest. 

Teiser: Did you particularly like winemaking? 

Grgich: Yes. I liked the wine. My mama kept me on breast milk until age 
two and a half, because I was the last kid- -the eleventh. One day 
I misbehaved, and I knew she would punish me. She said, "No more 
milk," and I thought I was going to die. She said, "No, you are 
not going to die. I'll switch you from milk to wine." So I 
always had diluted wine at the table --half water, half wine-- 
because in those days they didn't have chlorine to sanitize water. 
But they knew that if they mixed wine into the water, the wine 
would sanitize it and kids wouldn't have a stomach ache. So I 
started to drink wine as early as I can remember. I liked it, and 
I still like it. 

Teiser: Wasn't it unusual for someone from a family like yours to go to 
the university? 

Grgich: It was unusual because none of my ten brothers and sisters went to 
the university. I was the only one, but I think I had something 
in my genes to improve every day and do something better every 
day. I'm not stopping yet; I'm still learning. 

Teiser: Was it expensive to go to the university? 

Grgich: It wasn't expensive because I ate very little; I worked and 

studied. I had no mother or father [to help support me] when I 
was at the university. I worked. I worked at an institute in 
genetics. 1 was learning about genetics, and at the same time I 
was making some money. My room was built a hundred years ago for 
the maids. It was a little room, maybe three yards wide and ten 
yards long. So my expenses were very small. I didn't have a car 
or a bike. Nowadays even people on welfare have a car, everybody 
has a bike. I was not on welfare; I was making my own living. If 
you have to, you can live with little money. 

Teiser: I suppose you were willing to. 

Grgich: I knew that I had to suffer. The only lucky thing I have in my 

life is that I know that in life one has to suffer, and I accepted 
suffering as a part of life. One poet says, "The spoon of the 
honey asks for the spoon of the bitter," and the mixture of bitter 
and sweet is best to drink. Fortunately, I accepted that, and I'm 
still accepting suffering. When I make my wines and have to get 
up at three o'clock in the morning, I get up. Many people say, 
"Oh, it's cold outside," but not for me ; I am used to suffering, 
and I don't suffer in suffering. I knew that after rain must come 
the sunshine . 

Teiser: What did you study at the university? 

Grgich: General agricultural subjects for two years; organic, inorganic, 
analytical chemistry; physics, mathematics, biology, genetics, 
botany, biology, microbiology, soil microbiology- -lots of subjects 
which are helpful to me now. One day I was at a doctor's office 
in San Francisco, and he noticed that I understood microbiology. 
He asked me if I had studied to be a doctor, and I said, "No, I 
studied agriculture." There are bugs wherever you are, which are 
an important part of life. 

Teiser: Were there any outstanding teachers you had who influenced you? 

Grgich: One of them was a chemistry professor, Marko Mohacek. He was a 

guy who had enormous energy. He was teaching us chemistry, but he 
had his own experimental farm where he was selecting the different 
kinds of potatoes, tomatoes, wine selections. He was an expert in 
wine. We had Professor Stefanich in enology, but if we needed 
something really serious, we would go to Marko Mohacek. He had 
such good taste. I remember one time I brought him some wine, and 
he tasted it and said, "Mike, it seems good to me. I can't find 
anything wrong with it." Ten minutes later he came back to me and 
said, "Mike, I have an aftertaste of something. Did you ever put 
sugar in the wine?" I said yes, and he said, "I feel it on my 
tongue . " 

And he loved students. At that time there were no books 
published in the subjects; the professors would just teach you, 
and you would catch as much as you could. But he had a book for 
all his subjects, written by him- -in organic chemistry, inorganic 
chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry. He was also 
knowledgeable in pedology and microbiology. He was a tremendous 
person, with a sharp, energetic mind. He could take anything; he 
was well educated. 

And, you know, the Communists laid him off two months before 
retirement just so he wouldn't get full retirement. That may be 
the reason why I came to America, because I was one of those 
students who went to the dean to ask that he be kept on until we 
passed our examination with him. Five of us students went to the 
dean, asking that they let him stay another six months so that we, 
who were learning from him, could pass our examinations. After 
that the secret police started to follow me around. I was very 
much in danger, and I was scared to death. So I got out of the 
country to West Germany. 

WEST GERMANY, 1954-1956 

Teiser: What year did you leave college? 

Grgich: In 1954. 

Teiser: What did you do next? 

Grgich: I went to West Germany. 

Teiser: What did you do there? 

Grgich: I went to West Germany to get to America. I was an exchange 

student for two months, but I never came back to Yugoslavia from 

Teiser: What did you study then? 

Grgich: I was on a farm in Germany. I studied mainly genetics- -production 
of new varieties. 

Teiser: Andre Tchelistcheff was involved in a somewhat similar 
international education program. 

Grgich: We have been involved in many of the same things, because we did 
not have a home; we have been just shuffled with the wind. You 
can only be in one place at a time. 

Teiser: How long did you stay in Germany? 

Grgich: Eighteen months. I found out that getting a visa for the United 
States was very hard in those days. There was a very small quota 
for Yugoslavia, so you had to wait until your quota opened up. I 
thought it might take a long time, and somebody suggested that I 
go to Canada. 

CANADA, 1956-1958 





The Canadian consulate gave me a visa immediately, so I went to 

What did you do there? 

Oh, anything to make my living. I had some connection with 
Vancouver College. They gave me a job as a dishwasher and waiter, 
[laughs] I apologized, saying, "I didn't study to be dishwasher 
or a waiter," because in Europe you have to study for six years to 
be trained to be a waiter. They said, "Never mind. Show up 
tomorrow morning," and gave me an apron. 

Did you like Vancouver? 

Yes, it is a very nice climate. It's on the ocean and is very 
interesting. It's more American than any other Canadian town. 

Did you feel free? 

Was it a place where there was freedom for 

I knew it was not the last destination for me; I knew it was 
temporary. But I had found freedom, and I had found progress. In 
the evening I would go up in the hills and look down at all the 
lights in the business district. In the old country there were no 
lights, and how many lights you see in Vancouver by night. And 
nobody is there working; it's just the lights. 

I noted that productivity in Canada was much better than in 
the old country. When I started to dry a glass, I would take the 
glass and a rag, and I would look at the glass, dry it, look at 
it. While I dried one glass, the other waiter dried twelve. He 
would just take the glass and wipe it [demonstrates a quick swipe, 
taking another glass, a quick swipe, etc.]. I remember I wrote a 
letter to my friend in the old country and said, "People are paid 
here much more than in our country, but they produce much more." 


Teiser: Were you hoping to get to California? 

Grgich: Oh, yes. 

Teiser: How did you know about California in connection with wine? 

Grgich: We read geography a great deal in our country, and we learned 
about the whole world. You ask some American student who is 
graduating from high school, "Where is Czechoslovakia?" They 
might not know whether it is in Asia or Europe. But in Europe, 
geography was a very important subject, and you learned about 
every country in the world. So I knew about California, and many 
of my countrymen had a connection with California. The professor 
who was teaching us fruit growing was in California three months 
before I graduated. When he came back, we all gathered around him 
and asked, "How is California?" 

Teiser: So you know something about the conditions here? 
Grgich: Oh, yes, and I knew there was wine here. 

Grgich: I knew there was wine in California, that the soil was fertile, 
and that there was drought once in a while. This professor told 
us, "You have in California a garden of Eden where there is water; 
where there is no water, everything is yellow. So water is a very 
important factor in California." 

Teiser: What made you think that California was good for making wine? 

Grgich: I have to come back to the fact that I had relatives in the United 
States; my mother had three brothers here in the United States, my 
father had a brother and their relatives here, and my older sister 


was in Washington State. So America to us was the hope and beacon 
of freedom. Every year they would send us for Christmas and 
Easter a few dollars; there were always a few dollars dripping 
from America into our homes. So America was a place where I 
believed I could utilize my natural ability- -my genes --and besides 
have freedom. 

Freedom is something that attracted me here. Because when I 
was in Yugoslavia we had two dictatorships on our backs, Serbian 
and Communist. If you were not a Communist or a Serb, you were 
out of luck; you never could become a professor or have a job as a 
director of something. I couldn't see that ever, in my life, it 
would change, because Communism was still progressing at that 
time. They were telling us that they were taking over the whole 
world, and they did so until [Ronald] Reagan came into power as 
president of the U.S.A. Since he came to power, no country fell 
under Communism. Bush is now glorifying himself that he broke the 
back of Communism, but it was Reagan who did it. We all paid for 
it, but I like to give credit where credit belongs. He started to 
arm the U.S.A., so Russia has had to arm, putting them on thin 
ice; they had to spend money they didn't have for arms. So they 
were spending money for arms and didn't have bread. That's what 
broke down Communism. Whether anybody likes Reagan or not, I give 
him credit for eliminating Communism as a menace in the world. 

Teiser: When you left Yugoslavia, were you hoping to head for California? 
Grgich: Yes, in my mind I was heading for California. 


TO CALIFORNIA. 1958-1977 

Working for Lee Stewart. 1958 

Teiser: And were you thinking of being in the wine industry? 

Grgich: Yes. Not necessarily in the Napa Valley, but while I was in 

Canada I heard that the Napa Valley was the place. So I came from 
Vancouver straight to Napa Valley to work for Mr. Lee [J. Leland] 
Stewart at the old Souverain up near Angwin; now it is Burgess 




How did you make that connection? 

How did you know about Lee 

I placed an ad in the Wine Institute [bulletin] , looking for work, 
and he answered my ad. So we connected, and I came straight to 
work for him. 

You were lucky, weren't you? That was a good-- 

I've been lucky all my life. If I look at my brothers and 
sisters, my father, and my mother, I was the luckiest in my 

Stewart was a big influence in California winemaking, as I 
understand it. Why was that? 

Yes. He was a man who had drive; probably no matter what he did, 
he would have drive, but when he started to make wine he had a 
strong drive to make the best that he could. He was very similar 
to me: "Do your best." There was no second in him, just the best. 
Because his methods were the best, he became the best. You don't 
become best by accident; you have to work hard to be the best. 


Teiser: Quite a number of people worked for him and were influenced by 
him. Did you know some of the others? 

Grgich: Yes, Warren Winiarski started with him. Winiarski and Mike Grgich 
are the two that I know of who have succeeded in winemaking. 
Winiarski 's Cabernet and my Chardonnay came in first place at the 
Paris tasting of 1976, the so-called Spurier tasting, so we have 
something in common; we have both worked for Lee Stewart, Andre 
Tchelistcheff , and Robert Mondavi. We worked for all these guys, 
and the result was the fruit; if you work, you get some fruit out 
of it. 

Teiser: Was Stewart hard to work for? 

Grgich: Oh, very hard. He asked for perfection- -and perfection in 

cleanliness and performance. When I came to America I found out 
that European and American winemaking were different. I was lucky 
to find him and not somebody who was sloppy. He was so precise in 
everything; everything had to be done in a particular waynot a 
second way, only one way, the best way, and that's the way you had 
to do it. 

Teiser: How did Stewart learn to make wine? 

Grgich: From Andre Tchelistcheff, and he made wine better than Andre 

Tchelistcheff, because Tchelistcheff had a bigger place and more 
people were involved. But Stewart had only himself and one 
assistant, so he would do the job the best he knew how, whereas 
Andr6 would not do the job; he would just tell somebody else how 
to do it. How that somebody else did it was how it got done, so 
Lee had the advantage of Andre Tchelistcheff. 

Teiser: I hear people refer to Stewart so often, and we haven't recorded 
much about him. 

Grgich: He was a very special man. If you judge him to be a good human 
being, I will tell you a joke. One friend of mine said that Lee 
Stewart had ulcers --always problems with his stomach. My friend 
was talking to him and asked, "Lee, do you have any problem with 
your heart?" He said, "No, I have no problem with my heart." My 
friend said, "I know you have no problem with your heart because 
you have no heart." [laughs] For Stewart his winemaking was more 
important than he was or his health. He was totally devoted to 
what he was doing. 

Teiser: Did he have any particular style of winemaking? 

Grgich: He learned from Andr6 Tchelistcheff, and he would go by that every 
year, year after year. He would do everything the same so that he 


didn't make a mistake, because his knowledge wasn't like that of 
Andr6 Tchelistcheff , where he could move to the left or the right. 
He would stick to the known path, and that way he developed his 
style; he always made wine the same way. Robert Mondavi every 
year makes something different, so Robert Mondavi has no style. 
But Lee Stewart did have a style, because he would make 
Johannisberg Riesling, which he was known for, exactly in that 
style, year after year- -his Cabernet and Chardonnay, every wine 
had special style. He didn't have big machinery to help him, but 
he developed his style, by which he would make every year wine of 
his style. 

Teiser: Is that good? 

Grgich: Yes. Wineries have to have a style. If we all dressed the same, 
like in China, life wouldn't be interesting, and if every 
winemaker made the same wine, it wouldn't be interesting. Every 
winery has to have its own style. 

Teiser: How long were you with Lee Stewart? 

Grgich: Not longabout four months. 

Teiser: Did you learn a lot in that short a time? 

Grgich: Oh, yes, a great deal, because it was a crush time. You learn 

most at the crush. I would pick the grapes by day, crush them in 
the evening, and cool the juice by night. 

Teiser: Why did you leave him? 

Grgich: I had a kind of obligation to the Christian Brothers, because they 
had something to do with my coming here, the same as Lee Stewart 
did. I was living in very poor conditions up on the hill near 
Souverain winery. I got in touch immediately with the Christian 
Brothers when I arrived in Napa Valley, and they actually 
suggested to my nephew in Seattle that he place an ad in the Wine 
Institute bulletin. So I felt that they had something to do with 
my finding a position with Lee Stewart. I didn't have a car and 
couldn't shop, so it was very hard for me to live up on the hill 
at Souverain. 

Christian Brothers. 1959 

Grgich: So I moved down to St. Helena, and I could walk to Greys tone 

Winery. I walked there and back, one or two miles every day; it 
was good exercise. 


Teiser: Whom did you work under there? 

Grgich: It was Brother Timothy [Diener] , who was the main winemaker, and 
Auguste Pirio, who was the immediate manager. He is retired now. 
My job was to help on the champagne bottling line, anything that 
was necessary to do around, making champagne, bottling champagne, 
shipping champagne. I was working in the champagne department on 
the third floor of Greys tone winery at St. Helena. 

Teiser: Was it interesting? 

Grgich: It was interesting, but I still didn't see that it was my place. 

On one of my days off I went to see Andre Tchelistcheff , because I 
knew he was an immigrant, like me. You know, you try to find 
somebody who is like you, who understands you. I told him that I 
was working for Christian Brothers. They had one chemist and one 
winemaker, who would stay there forever; there are no openings, as 
there might be many other places where somebody stays for two or 
three years and moves. At Christian Brothers, people stay there 
forever, and I didn't see that I would ever have a chance to 
become either a wine chemist or a winemaker. 

I told Andre I was looking for a better job, and he took my 
name. In about a month he called me and said his wine chemist was 
sick, and if I wanted to come to work in the lab for him, there 
was an opening. So I came in, but I didn't have any experience in 
using the lab equipment. 

Teiser: Before you get onto Beaulieu, let me take you back to the 
Christian Brothers. How long were you there? 

Grgich: About a year. 

Teiser: Did their wines have a special style, and can you characterize it? 

Grgich: At that time, yes. The red wine especially was the best buy on 

the market. It was well aged and well styled. If they had a wine 
tasting, there would always be lots of people there to taste their 
wines at that time, when Brother Timothy was young and the winery 
was smaller. 

Teiser: Brother Timothy didn't believe in vintage dating, did he? 

Grgich: Yes and no. He switched back and forth. He liked good wine, so 
whichever way it came--. He had very strict German blood, was 
very honest, and a hard worker. He would expect everybody to work 


Tetser: Was he easy to work for? 
Grgich: Oh, medium. 

Beaulieu Vineyard. 1959-1968 

Teiser: So then you went to Andr6, and he said to come. 

Grgich: He said, "Come and work." I said, "How can I work? I did these 
tests in the laboratory in my country, but all the equipment was 
different and the tests were different." I said, "Andr6, can you 
do one test for me, and I'll watch how you do it. Then I will be 
able to do it myself." Andr6 said, "I have no time." They 
brought me twenty- five samples of the red wine to analyze, total 
analysis- -sugar , alcohol, acid, tannins. I couldn't figure out 
how to do even one analysis, so he gave me the book, and I started 
one by one --reading the book, do the test once, do it a second 
time, do it a third time. If I could repeat it, I knew I was 
doing okay. I looked in the book to see what their results were 
the last time the wine was analyzed, what their reading was, and 
see how it compared to my analysis. 

So I learned from scratch each of those analyses. In a week 
I analyzed all of those twenty-five bottles. I would come by bus 
in the morning from St. Helena at six o'clock instead of eight, 
and I would work until six o'clock in the evening. Andre told me, 
"I know that you are not experienced, but I'll give you two 
months. If you make it in two months, you'll stay. If you don't 
make it, don't blame me." After two months I was very anxious to 
see what Andre would say. He said, "You will get a raise." I 
asked how much, and he said, "Twenty-five cents an hour." I asked 
if I would stay, and he said, "Yes, you will stay here." That 
twenty- five cents was the most remembered raise in my life. If I 
stayed there I knew I had a good job, and if I didn't, who knows 
where I might have gone. 

Teiser: I should ask you to pronounce your first name, Miljenko. 

Grgich: "Meelyenko." I shortened it to Mike, because my language is 

phonetic. Everybody knows "Mike." Now finally I'm coming back 
with Miljenko, and most people don't ask me how to spell it. 

Teiser: Before you went to Beaulieu you had experienced two wineries which 
must have been different from each other. 

Milienko Grgich in the laboratory at Beaulieu 
Vineyard, circa 1965. 


Grgich: Yes. 

Teiser: Was Stewart's Souverain highly mechanized? 

Grgich: Very simple, but very organized and very precise. 

Teiser: How about the Christian Brothers? 

Grgich: It was a larger place, where you saw more mechanization but less 
care and personal involvement. 

Teiser: How did Beaulieu compare to them? 

Grgich: Beaulieu was a unique winery because it was founded by the French. 
Through the decades it developed the French style of winemaking. 
It was something different, something unique. 

Teiser: It was closer to the European tradition? 

Grgich: Yes, and a stable place. If you found a job there, you were there 
forever. The relationships among the people were good and its 
productivity was average, but everybody knew that if you did your 
job you would not be laid off, because they had a vineyard and a 
winery, and they needed so many people. During the slowness of 
the year they would find something for everyone to do. So once 
you were there and did decent work, you could retire there; you 
had no worry about being fired or laid off. It was a stable 
place, like in Europe; you worked there, and your son worked 
there . 

Teiser: What year did you go there? 

Grgich: In 1959 I joined Beaulieu Vineyard. I came to Napa Valley in 
August 1958 and stayed with Stewart about four months and then 
stayed with the Christian Brothers until late in the year of '59. 
After the harvest I joined Beaulieu Vineyard and was there for 
nine years, until 1968. 

Teiser: In 1959, was Andre still experimenting? 
Grgich: He was still experimenting. 

Advances in Frost Protection 

Grgich: While I was there we always had some project going on. For 

instance, in 1960 and '61 we started to protect vineyards from the 
frost. That was the beginning of these wind machines, smudge 


pots, and sprinklers in Napa Valley. We started with old rubber 
tires and burned them in the vineyard, and then we tried bales of 
straw. Finally we got wind machines and smudge pots. We never 
got sprinklers for Beaulieu Vineyard, but conditions were 
progressively being improved so that the grapes wouldn't freeze 
and we could have a crop every year. If you have a developed 
market, you have to have so many cases of Cabernet, for example, 
to supply your market. If you don't make the wine, somebody will 
take you off of their wine list. So it was very important to have 
a constant supply for your customers. 

That was one project that I was a part of. I was working by 
day in the winery and by night in the vineyard, running around 
like a rabbit from thermometer to thermometer, measuring 
temperature in order to know when to light smudge pots- -put them 
down, start with the machines, put them down. Many times I would 
work by day in the winery and by night in the vineyard. 

Improvements in White Wines 

Grgich: At that time white wines were mainly dry sauterne and chablis-- 
very poor quality. Those wines would be good for six months on 
the shelf, and then they would oxidize and be worthless. I 
started, and Andre started at the same time, to improve white 
wines by using different methods of caring for those wines and 
establishing a better way to make them and to protect them. And 
we made a miracle; in '61 we already had a good wine, so that when 
his son [Dimitri] came from Gallo to visit, he was impressed with 
how we had improved the white wines. We were using cool 
fermentation for white wines and settling them to eliminate 
sediment; if they don't have a sediment during fermentation they 
are much fruitier. 

Teiser: What were you using then? 

Grgich: We settled wine in the tanks overnight, and then in the morning we 
would rack clear juice into another tank and would add specially 
selected yeast for white wine. That was another significant 
improvement which was done while I was there. 

Sterile Bottling 

Grgich: We also started with sterile bottling. When you bottle wine, some 
bacteria or yeast might go through the filter. At that time the 
millipore filter had been developed, the filter that no yeast or 
no bacteria would go through; every pore is calibrated, and the 



pores are smaller than any bacteria or yeast, 

Millipore sterile 

I was part of developing use of millipore sterile filtration. 
We were doing that first in the wine industry. Gallo tried and 
couldn't do it immediately. Italian Swiss Colony tried and 
couldn't make it, but we succeeded right away. Millipore [the 
manufacturer] was very happy that they were established someplace, 
from whence they spread to the whole wine industry and to the beer 
industry, too. We learned how to do it because we were being as 
precise as Lee Stewart in our approach. Both of us were 
microbiologists, and we knew what we were doing. 

At Beaulieu you were doing the opposite of what Lee Stewart had 
been doing. He kept doing the same thing, and at Beaulieu you 
were trying new things. 



Induced Malolactic Fermentation 

That's right. We were the first in California to induce 
malolactic fermentation in all red wines at will. It was usually 
going by itself- -going or not going- -but we learned how to 
propagate the starter and add to wine proper amounts of starter at 
optimum temperature. Use of paper chromatography helped to obseve 
malolactic fermentation. I had been working six months in the lab 
with twelve French cultures, and finally we chose one that was 
from UC California at Davis, ML 34. We started it and fermented 
all the red wines in two months by our will, by inducing with the 
starter produced in the laboratory. That was an achievement! 
Before that some wineries had been doing this in their labs on a 
small scale, but this was the first time it was done in an 
industrial way in a California winery- -in 1962. 

These were things that didn't exist when you were studying, 
got in on a changing period. 


Quality Control 

Grgich: Growing. That's what life is about. Life is not for sitting 

down. Life is moving and getting better, improving. At Beaulieu 
Vineyard Andr6 and I established quality control; I was the first 
quality control person in the Napa Valley. Quality control means 
to control the grapes in the vineyard, to control when to pick 
them and when to crush them, when they are fermenting, when they 
are being fined, racked, bottled- -all the way through. That gave 
me a chance to observe the wine from the beginning to the end of 
the winemaking process. Many winemakers stay in the winery and 


never see the vineyard, but I was associated with the vineyard and 
everything that was connected with the wine. Even if somebody 
returned a bottle to us , I had to analyze it under a microscope to 
see whether there was any spoilage. So I controlled the whole 
circle, and that gave me experience for nine years that I used 
since then to make better wines year after year. 

Teiser: I think quality control is something that Zelma Long has been 
working on at Simi winery. 

Grgich: Yes, I hired her when I was at Robert Mondavi and trained her. 

Teiser: Andre himself was always interested in everything from the 
vineyard on, wasn't he? 

Grgich: Yes. He was more a viticulturist than a winemaker. But, you 
know, Andre worked at a time when there were not many other 
quality winemakers. Andre Tchelistcheff made superior wines in 
those days because nobody else knew how to do it better. If you 
had Andre Tchelistcheff make wines today, those wines would be on 
a par with the wines of today because we have progressed so much. 

Robert Mondavi Winery. 1968-1972 

Grgich: When I moved from Ande Tchelistcheff to Robert Mondavi, Professor 
[Harold] Berg came to Mondavi and tasted some of the white wines 
which I had made there. He said, "Andre, you have to go over 
there and taste those wines." I brought from Andre Tchelistcheff 
the French technique, particularly for red wine. Robert Mondavi 
was much more experimenting, whereas at Beaulieu Vineyard most 
things were done repetitious ly. At Robert Mondavi you just moved; 
you didn't see your tail, because your tail was disappearing as 
you were charging forward. 

I used my experience from Beaulieu Vineyard working for 
Robert Mondavi. The first Cabernet that I made for Robert 
Mondavi, '69, was tasted by the fifteen California winemakers 
under Robert Balzer from the Los Angeles Times. That Cabernet was 
proclaimed to be the best Cabernet in California. I introduced 
malolactic fermentation and some other methods from Beaulieu 
Vineyard to Robert Mondavi. Since I had more freedom there than I 
had at Beaulieu Vineyard, I really bloomed there. 

Teiser: You said you were lucky, and I'm sure you were, but I'm also sure 
you were a very willing worker and a very willing learner all 


through this. A lot of people could have gone through those jobs 
and just gone straight ahead without broadening. 

Grgich: Yes, I was enjoying living, and by living I mean moving, learning 
every day something, doing something better. People ask me why I 
work at sixty-eight years old. All my colleagues who started with 
me retired ten years ago. I say that I haven't made the perfect 
wine yet, and I'm shooting for that. I'm just joking, because I 
know I will never make the perfect wine; there is no such thing. 
Nothing is perfect; only God is perfect. 

Teiser: Could you have gone on forever at Beaulieu if you had wanted to? 

Grgich: I had no choice, because Andre Tchelistcheff had a son, Dimitri. 
Whether it was true or not, I understood that his son applied for 
his job. When I heard that, I understood; if it were my son, I 
would give him my job. I didn't complain about it, but I knew 
that I could not stay there and have a chance for the winemaker's 

So I went to Robert Mondavi's, where he had two sons 
[laughs], and there wasn't much chance there, either. 

Teiser: How did you get in touch with Robert Mondavi? 

Grgich: I was very much charmed by his new building. It was something 

new. It was the first winery built after Prohibition, very nice, 
very clean, very stylish. Since he was my neighbor there, when I 
knew that I had no room to go forward at Beaulieu Vineyard, my 
choice was to go to a place like that which had something new to 
offer. He had stainless steel tanks, French barrels, and very 
interesting new things that he started in the winery. 

I asked him for a job, and he didn't hesitate. He said, "I'm 
going to make out of you a little Andre Tchelistcheff." So we 
started to work together, and we did a great job. After that 
Cabernet '69, which was judged to be the best Cabernet in 
California, his image and his sales just jumped skyward. He 
believes that that pushed him ten years ahead from where he had 
been. I was proud that I came to the place where my energy was 
meeting his energy. He's much more energetic than I am. I did 
well there until he started to grow too big. After four years he 
tenfolded production. 

Teiser: When you went there first in '68, what did the winery consist of? 

Grgich: Just the original little building, and many tanks were outside. I 
remember one day a Wine Institute safety inspector came to visit 
us. I told all my people that the Wine Institute safety inspector 





was coming, "Watch out that he doesn't catch you." My foreman 
went up to the tank outside- -just a twenty -thousand- gallon tank-- 
on the portable ladder, and he was so scared that he fell down 
from the top of the tank with the ladder and everything. I 
thought, "Why now?" [laughs] "Why didn't this happen to you 

Mondavi had lots of tanks outside for a while- -roto tanks and 
other stainless steel tanks. 

He made wine without a building? 

He had some tanks inside a building and many outside. It was very 
hard to work that way. He was budding out, even though he didn't 
have a building over all tanks. In four years he was so 
successful that I as a precision winemaker could not take care of 
all his wines; it was just too much wine for me. I asked him to 
hire another winemaker who would take care of the inferior wine; I 
would just take care of Cabernet and Chardonnay and let somebody 
else take the rest. But he didn't want to do that. He said, 
"Mike, I know you can handle it." I said, "I know I cannot, 
because I am not happy if some mistake comes and I cannot control 
it. I want to have total control and perfect wines." I was a 
perfectionist . 

At that time the two men from Los Angeles, [Ernest W. ] Hahn 
and [James L. ] Barrett, bought Chateau Montelena and were looking 
for a winemaker. Mr. [Leland J.] Paschich knew me, and he came 
down so I could give him some yeast starter for his wine that he 
was making up at the winery. He said, "Mike, I have partners, and 
they would like to talk to you." I asked about what, and he said, 
"We have a winery, but we have no winemaker." With Andre 
Tchelistcheff 's son in front of me and Robert Mondavi's two sons 
in front of me, it wasn't hard for me to make the appointment. I 
found the place empty, neglected for fifty years, no winemaker in 
sight. Mr. Barrett said, "You can have all of this, and you will 
be the winemaker and vineyardist, all on your own, and you will be 
a limited partner." 

Let me go back to the Robert Mondavi Winery, 

They started in '66. 

So they had made several vintages? 


Were they doing well? 

When were they 






I wouldn't consider it so from those two vintages. But after the 
'69 Cabernet was proclaimed the best Cabernet in California- -and 
the Johannisberg Riesling '69 was supposed to be the best in 
California- -suddenly his name climbed up, and he deserved it. 

So he really needed you? 

Oh, definitely. He wouldn't have hired me if he didn't need me. 
But in a few years he needed more than me. I hired Zelma about 
two years after I started working there, and she was my assistant, 
first part time and then full time. Both of us worked very hard. 
We had three shifts working during crush, and I had to control all 
of them. In my dreams I knew what they were doing over there. It 
was very hard. 

Were your aims the same as Robert Mondavi's aims? 
upon the kind of wines you should make? 

Did you agree 

We were friendly about it. 
been doing. 

We did not differ much in what we had 

Exp e r imen t ing 

Teiser: There again there were lots of experiments, weren't there? 
Grgich: Oh, yes. 

Teiser: Did you carry them out to their ends, or did you just start some 
things and then give them up? 

Grgich: When I came to Robert Mondavi I was more shaped by the Beaulieu 

Vineyard way of experimenting, which was to do them one at a time 
in an organized fashion. At Robert Mondavi's, many experiments 
were going at the same time, just rushing around, and nobody had 
total control. That was not my style, and I didn't enjoy them as 
much as I enjoyed the experiments at Beaulieu Vineyard, because at 
Beaulieu Vineyard we did one experiment at a time. You started 
it, you improved it, and you made it work. You had total control. 
However, Robert Mondavi had roto tanks, something new that nobody 
had. The first year he said, "My wines are so good because of 
roto tanks." The next year he bought centrifuge and said, "Now my 
wines are good because of the centrifuge . " Then he bought a 
filter and said, "Now my wines are so good because of the filter" 
and forgot about the roto tanks and centrifuge. He was just 
charging forward. For me it was a little faster than I would do 


Teiser: That's what happens with someone who has a million ideas, isn't 

Grgich: He had twice as many ideas as I did. I did have some, but not as 
many as he did. But I did benefit from those experiments which we 
did there. People ask me, "Mike, how do you know these things?" 
I say, "I have benefited from working for Lee Stewart, who was at 
that time the best winemaker in the Napa Valley; I have benefited 
from working with Andre Tchelistcheff , because he was the best 
winemaker in the Napa Valley; and I worked at Robert Mondavi, the 
best experimental winery in the Napa Valley." I am so lucky that 
I have touched all these people myself, and some of these things I 
learned with them I took with me, and they are a part of me. All 
these things, together with my experiments as a villager, as a 
farmer, as a fisherman, and all the other things I have done 
contributed to my success. I walk to the top of Mt. St. Helena 
whenever I have the chance. Walking in the fresh air, seeing 
birds and flowers, probably makes my life richer than many other 
people' s. 

Teiser: I should think so. And all in the Napa Valley. 

Grgich: Yes. I had many offers in other places for a wage that would be 
at least twice as much as here, and I couldn't leave. There was 
something that kept me here in this valley for thirty- three years. 
I always thought in my mind that one day I would have my own 
winery in Napa Valley. 

Chateau Montelena. 1972-1977 




Chateau Montelena, where you went in 1972 
people -- 

was started by two 

Two Los Angeles people, Ernie Hahn and Jim Barrett. Jim Barrett 
was the lawyer of Mr. Hahn, and Mr. Hahn was a mall builder. At 
one time he had fourteen of them being built in different states. 
A very active person. He started with zero, and retired at age 
sixty with $252,000,000 when he sold his business. He was always 
a very honest man. 

How did they happen to buy Chateau Montelena? 

They liked wine. Barrett and Hahn had everything but a winery. 


Teiser: Before you met them, had they bought only vineyards? 

Grgich: No, they came to Calls toga and bought the vineyard and the winery 
with the idea of making wine- -Cabernet ; they liked Cabernet. 

Teiser: Had it been a winery that was operating before? 

Grgich: Commercially, about fifty years before. Mr. [Lee] Paschich made 
homemade wine in it from 1968 on, but it was a small amount, not 
commercial; no commercial wine had been produced in it for about 
fifty years. 

I came to work for Chateau Montelena in May 1972. They 
didn't have tanks, they didn't have a crusher, they didn't have a 
bottling line; they didn't have anything. He said, "Mike sit 
down. Here is paper. Design the winery. You have just the walls 
and nothing in them. You fill them in." We had to crush in 
September, and I came in about the first of May- -three months to 
crushing. It takes you three months just to design something, not 
counting how long it takes to build and place equipment. I 
struggled with how to do it, and I did it; in September I had 
everything ready to go. I had a crusher, a hopper, tanks, a 
press, and we started making wine in September '72. 

I started with them on a small scale. The first wine is 
still considered the best Chardonnay ever produced in 
California- -vintage '72. It scored ninety-nine in the last 
tasting of James Laube a few years ago. I put all my body and 
soul into it- -my own wine. We had the first public tasting in San 
Diego two years later by members of Physicians Friends of Wine. 
They compared it with the Batard Montrachet, same vintage, which 
was $17.50 a bottle, and ours was $6.00. It was a blind tasting, 
and only one -fourth of the tasters preferred the French wine; 
three -fourths preferred that first Chardonnay I made at Chateau 
Montelena in '72. 

Then the '73 Chardonnay was tasted in the Paris tasting [of 
1976] and came in first among the best French and California 
Chardonnays . 

Teiser: You have made several notable wines, haven't you, that received a 
great deal of acclaim. Weren't there some before that? 

Grgich: Well, the most amazing one was that Robert Mondavi Cabernet '69; 
that was a big jump for me. 

Teiser: That put him on the map, didn't it? 


Grgich: It put him, and it put me and my soul and my pride, and my belief 
in myself that we could do it. The second one was the '72 Chateau 
Montelena Chardonnay, then there was the '73 Chateau Montelena 
Chardonnay. Since then every year there has been something 
special. When I opened Grgich Hills [Cellar] in 1977, my first 
Chardonnay was tasted in Chicago with 221 Chardonnays from all 
around the world and came in first place in the Chicago shoot -out. 
One wine writer, Craig Goodwin, wrote an article, "The best 
Chardonnay in the world." I was so happy I couldn't believe it. 
Little Mike Grgich, born in the village of Desne [laughs] --is that 
possible? I never believed that I could reach that kind of 
achievement, being small, five feet six, the eleventh in the 
family. I came here to America and had no close relatives in the 
Napa Valley. Then my name shows up in Paris tastings, in Chicago 
shootouts, as they call them. My wine was taken to France by 
President Reagan when he made friendship with President 
Mitterrand. Four cases of the '69 Chardonnay were used for the 
dinner with Mr. Mitterrand. 

Our Chardonnay has also been served to Queen Elizabeth and 
the King of Spain. I don't believe that I deserve it, and I don't 
believe that I have made the best Chardonnay in the world, but it 
doesn't hurt me to feel that I have contributed something good 
with my life. However, I have to admit that while my father 
advised me to spread my life over good food, wine, women, and 
music, I was good only in the winemaking and not in the other 
areas. I concentrated all my efforts in the wine, and that's why 
I didn't come through with the food, women, and music. You cannot 
do everything best. 

Teiser: What has happened to Chateau Montelena? 

Grgich: They are doing well. Actually, I can tell you a little story 

about Chateau Montelena. The owners were thinking about making 
Cabernet wine only, but they told me to make a budget for the next 
five years. I worked two months to get those expenses projected, 
and when it came to the income, I put a big zero. Because if I 
make Cabernet, it takes a minimum of five years before I can put 
it on the market, so it would be five years of expenditure and no 
income, no cash flow. They looked at that and said, "Mike, it 
doesn't look to us very realistic." I said, "It doesn't look that 
way to me, either." They said, "What can we do?" I said, "Start 
with your white wines, which you can make and sell and have cash 
flow until your Cabernet comes into the market." 

So we started with Johannisberg Riesling and Chardonnay. 
Suddenly the Johannisberg Riesling was judged to be the best, and 
the Chardonnay was judged to be best. Before they came into 
Cabernet they were so well known for Chardonnay that they had 


trouble when the Cabernet came to market. Few people wanted to 
buy Cabernet, because everybody knew Chateau Montelena for 
Chardonnay. They had to start discounting the Cabernet, just to 
keep it moving out. Though they made good Cabernet, the public 
didn't see Chateau Montelena as a Cabernet winery. The same thing 
happened to me when I started Grgich Hills. 1 started on a 
shoestring with white wines. 

After five years as a limited partner at Chateau Montelena, 
and after the Paris tasting when my Chardonnay came in first 
place, in my soul came back the original feeling of why I came to 
America. Did I come to America to work for somebody else, or did 
I come to America to work for myself? I decided to go on my own. 
All the savings I had I put into buying twenty acres of land in 
Rutherford. Bare land- -no vineyard, no winery. But at that time 
I was considering a partnership with Austin Hills, and in 
conversation with him I learned that he had money and a vineyard, 
the two things I didn't have. So we became partners and formed 
Grgich Hills. 

The 1976 Paris Tasting 

Teiser: You talked about the 1976 Paris wine tasting- - 

Grgich: The Paris tasting is an event that will remain in the history of 
American winemaking- -where we grew up, as the event when American 
wines scored better than French. The tasting was organized by 
English wine man Steven Spurier. Nine French wine judges blindly 
tasted five French and five California Chardonnays. They would 
smell it and say [pantomiming], "That's French; that's California; 
that ' s French . " Then they concentrated on the French , and my 
Chardonnay was in that French group and came in first place. It 
was such a big surprise for them that they missed the California 
wine and didn't separate it from the French. 

When Time magazine called me from Europe and wanted to 
interview me and take my picture, I didn't know why, because I was 
not aware that my wine was in Paris. I told them, "Be sure it's 
me and not somebody else." [laughs] I knew I had a good wine, 
but I didn't know anything about the Paris tasting and what 
happened there. I got a wire from my manager, Jim Barrett, but I 
couldn't understand what he was talking about. But when they 
came from Europe they told me, and I saw the news on t.v. I 
finally jumped into the news with that event, and since then I 
have been in the news all the time. 


Teiser: Let's start with Grgich Hills tomorrow. You have now had fifteen 
years experience there. 

Grgich: We can cover it in fifteen minutes. 

Teiser: No, I think we should have it in some detail. 

Grgich: My English is poor, and I don't know whether you will be able to 
understand everything I have said. I have spent most of my time 
with wine and not with people, so I have little speaking 
experience. I can talk better with wine than with people; it 
doesn't talk back. 


[Interview 2: March 4, 1991 ]//# 

Making a Beginning 

Teiser: Would you tell a little about Austin Hills? 

Grgich: He is a well -educated person. He graduated from business college 
and has been in the coffee business for many, many years as a part 
of Hills Brothers Coffee Company. I think they sold the coffee 
company in 1976. He has been involved with Napa properties since 
before I met him. He even had made some wine; Souverain Cellars 
made some wine for him which he sold under Hills Vineyard label. 

So when we met he already had a vineyard, had a house in 
Rutherford, and was pretty much a part of Napa Valley. 

Teiser: What kind of a vineyard did he have? 

Grgich: His vineyard in Rutherford was Cabernet, Sauvignon blanc, 

Chardonnay, Merlot--all these fine varieties. He had another 
vineyard in Napa where he had Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, and 
Johannisberg Riesling- -all fine varieties. When the two of us 
met, I had already heard about his being involved in Napa Valley 
vineyards and in the winery. 

He came to me to ask me to be his winemaker. I felt that I 
had worked enough for somebody else and should go on my own. We 
started to talk about it, and we both realized that it would be to 
the benefit of both of us if we put in what we had and went 
together rather than go separately. So we formed a corporation 
and became partners. Grgich Hills Cellar was formed in 1977, and 
we broke ground on the Fourth of July; that's the celebration that 
you saw last night. 

Breaking ground for Grgich Hills Cellar, 1977. Austin 
Hills, left, Miljenko Grgich, right. 







Yes, in the videotape you showed, the celebration in the vineyard. 

Every year we celebrate the birthday of our winery on the Fourth 
of July. One portion of the celebration is for the birthday of 
the winery, and the second celebration is part of my commitment to 
be a good American. 

Are you a citizen? 

Yes. I've been a citizen for twenty- eight years. But at the same 
time that I am a good American, I'm also a good Croatian, because 
I lived for thirty years in Croatia, from which I came. Whatever 
I had in my body came from over there, and I feel responsible for 
that country, too. So I'm loyal to both of these countries. 

On the Fourth of July we broke ground for the building. 
Nothing was there, as I mentioned before; we had purchased twenty 
acres of bare land there. We built the winery the same year and 
started to crush that same year. On the seventh of September 
[1977] we started to crush. We didn't have a roof, but we had 
tanks and crushing equipment. 

Had you bought the equipment? 

Yes. Some equipment we bought somewhere, and some of it we 
designed; we designed and made all of the tanks. Many things we 
purchased, like a hopper, a press, and a pump for the pomace. 

What did you design yourselves? 


Stainless steel tanks, mainly, and we purchased some barrels, 
we were ready in almost two months. We were really under 
pressure. As I said, we didn't have a roof, and when rain came we 
put a plastic sheet on top of the building. But we had the 
crushing equipment and tanks to accept the wine and start 
fermentation. The first Chardonnay we made there was proclaimed 
three years later at "the Chicago Shootout" tasting to be the best 
Chardonnay in the world. 

And that was the first wine you made there? 


What kind of crusher were you using? 

We have a Healdsburg crusher, which can crush about ten tons per 
hour. It's a well-designed crusher; still nobody beats them. 
They have been in the business for probably a hundred years, so 








their equipment definitely has a reputation for consistency and 

Together we started the new baby, and my dream and also 
Mr. Hills' dream came true. To have my own little place --that's 
why I came to America. I didn't come here to work for somebody 
else; I could have worked for the government in Croatia. I wanted 
to be on my own and be able to learn what I want and to create 
what I want. I felt a little artistic blood in my veins, so I 
wanted to do it my own way. 

How much did you crush the first year? 

About two hundred tons . 

How much did you crush last year? 

A thousand tons . 

Still not huge. 

We think we will crush less this year. Last year we planned to 
crush between eight and nine hundred tons, but the crop was so 
good last year that we had to pick it while it was there. But we 
will crush less this year. 

In your first year, did you use only Mr. Hills' grapes, or did you 
buy some? 

We used some of his grapes, and we bought some. 

How has that worked out over the years? 
how much do you grow? 

How much do you buy and 

In the beginning, only Mr. Hills had his own two vineyards. 
Grgich Hills didn't have any, but now Grgich Hills has two 
hundred acres of vineyards not including Mr. Hills' vineyards, 
we feel now that we have enough grapes to satisfy our neeed, 
except we usually buy Zinfandel from someone else. 

What kind of grapes do you grow? 

We grow Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon blanc. We buy 

I like your Zinfandel. 

Oh, yes, we always have had a good Zinfandel. We are known for 
consistency. Many people come out with an exceptional wine one 



year, and the next year the quality goes down. Because we buy, we 
have a choice of where to buy. If you have your own vineyard, 
some years it may be good and some not. If the person who sold me 
grapes last year doesn't have good grapes this year, I don't have 
to buy them next year. So having the opportunity to buy grapes is 
not all negative. In some ways it's positive and in some ways 

I believe that from now on we will mostly have our own grapes 
except for Zinfandel. Zinfandel is very particular. We would 
probably have to buy a special vineyard in the hills, because if 
Zinfandel is on flat ground the quality is not there- -unless it is 
a sixty or seventy year old vineyard, the quality is just not 
there; it doesn't have character. We probably won't be able to 
buy a hillside Zinfandel vineyard or a hillside on which to plant 
Zinfandel. At the present time we can still find the grapes to 
buy. The winemaker makes a big difference. People say grapes, 
grapes, grapes, but anybody can make vinegar out of the best 
grapes. It takes a good winemaker to make a good wine. 

Ideals and Implementation 

Teiser: You have a philosophy of winemaking that I want to ask you to 

Grgich: That's the basis on which I've established Grgich Hills. My 

philosophy is to have the best grapes possible and then the best 
cooperage possible. We buy French barrels mostly, which are $550 
each empty; if they were full of wine, I wouldn't mind. It comes 
down to quality- -in the grapes, in the cooperage, in the people. 
I try to get the best in all of these. At the same time, I need 
to have a good winery building which is air-conditioned so that my 
wine can mature normally, without the temperature jumping up and 
down. We just completed our warehouse, in which we store our 
bottled wines. Everything is temperature controlled and organized 
now. I can walk through and take inventory of bottled wine in a 
few hours. 

Many wineries just make the wine, and then somebody stores 
the wine for them and somebody else sells it for them. We do all 
these things ourselves. We produce the grapes, we produce the 
wine, we store it at the winery, and we sell it ourselves. 

Teiser: You don't go through distributors? 






We have to go through distributors outside of California, but in 
California, where we sell 60 percent of our product, we can go 
directly to the store or restaurant, and that's what we do. 

That comes from having a good reputation, doesn't it? 

Yes. The first thing is quality. Once you have it in the bottle, 
many [winery] people pay attention to what label they are going to 
put on the bottle, what packaging they are going to put it in, and 
what kind of chandeliers they are going to buy for their winery. 
But they lose the main point; they look at the superficialities 
and not the essence. I look for the grapes, the cooperage, and 
the best people. 

What French cooperage do you use? 

For Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Limousin oak; for reds, I 
some Nevers and some American oak for complexity. 


In order to organize my winemaking into a certain style, I 
have divided my production in about five different stages. The 
first stage is the grape growing. That's very important; nobody 
can underestimate the value of the grapes. But grapes are not 
just a product of soil or climate or people, but of all of these. 
In other words, it's got to be good soil, a good climate, and good 
management. Many people sell wine on the soil, soil, soil; but in 
the best soil, if you don't have good management you are not going 
to get good grapes. All these things are important. That's the 
first stage of the wine. 

The second stage is fermentationhow you do it: at which 
temperature, do you macerate white wine before pressing, do you go 
through malolactic fermentation? All these things that affect 
fermentation are very important. We do not macerate, and we do 
not go through malolactic fermentation in white wines. We do not 
centrifuge, we do not filter grape juice. Our philosophy is to 
keep in the wine whatever comes from the grapes, like everything 
is in whole -wheat bread. Our wines do have body, and because of 
the body they have longevity. Wine has longevity if it has 
something in it to hold it from breaking down. I keep everything 
that comes from the grapes in my wines . 

Do you rack a great deal? 

I do rack, but it doesn't remove anything; it's just a natural 
moving of sediment out of wine. We don't beat the wine. So there 
is a difference in my winemaking and that of some other winemakers 
who try to do everything with the wine. I try not to do anything, 
as long as I get good grapes at the right level of maturity. Then 


I keep everything that comes with them in the wine and don't 
remove it, except sediment. Many people nowadays go through 
maceration, which means that when they crush white grapes they 
keep them in contact with the skin for a certain length of time-- 
four, six, twelve hours- -and then they press them. I press them 
immediately. Some people centrifuge, but I don't. Some of them 
filter grape juice, but I don't. Some of them go through 
malolactic fermentation [with white wines], but I don't, because 
acid in California Chardonnay, for instance, is just about what it 
should be when you drink it. 

Teiser: At what Brix do you harvest the Chardonnay? 

Grgich: About twenty- three. When you go through malolactic fermentation, 
your acid drops down and you have to correct it- -add acid to it. 
I don't like to take anything from my wine or add anything to it. 
This is my philosophy. I'm an old-timer, and I'm very much in 
touch with Mother Nature. I like to keep everything natural. 

One day while I was working at Robert Mondavi, [James E.J 
Nichelini, a winemaker who used to have a small winery next to 
Lake Berryessa, brought his Zinfandel '67 to taste with Robert 
Mondavi's '67, which I made. I tasted his Zinfandel, and I liked 
it even more. I was wondering why I liked his Zinfandel more than 
I liked mine. I had roto tanks there, stainless steel tanks, 
filters, centrifuges, French cooperage- -all these things and yet 
I liked his Zinfandel better. Something new came to my mind: if 
I can make wine that people like, it seems to me that that is all 
that counts. So how can I make wine that people like? I came to 
the conclusion that this guy didn't have any equipment, so he 
didn't process his wine. It might be that people liked his wine-- 
at least I liked his winebecause it had everything in it; it was 
a whole wine. 

When I was at Chateau Montelena, I started practicing that 
natural way, because then I could do on my own what I wanted. The 
wine was accepted in the market like a flash. I couldn't believe 
it. It's still my philosophy- -to try to not process wine but 
rather to have good grapes, pick them at the right time, and then 
process them as little as possible. In other words, I want to 
retain in the wine all the goodness that comes from Mother Nature 
in the grapes. 

Teiser: Do you do anything special about bottling that others don't do? 

Grgich: Our bottling doesn't make our wine. Our wine is ready when it 

goes into the bottle. Bottling is mainly to sterile filter wines 
so that later on they will not get bacterial contamination, to 
make sure the wine is clean, and that the bottles are properly 


filled, as the government requires- -750 cc. We have to make sure 
we have good corks, good foil, and a decent label. I have a 
deluxe bottling line. But when we make wine, we try to keep the 
wine whole, so bottling does not change our wine in any way. 

The third stage of our winemaking is when we put wine in the 
barrels for aging, where the wine starts breathing through the 
pores of the oak and starts growing- -qualitywise, not volumewise. 
The wines start looking better, smelling better, and tasting 
better. We keep them in the oak until the wine harmonizes with 
the oakiness, because while the wines are in the barrels oak 
extractives are leaching into the wine and enriching the wine with 
oakiness, which you can smell and you can taste. It's very 
important that you don't have too much oak or not enough oak. If 
we balance fruitiness from the grape and oakiness from the oak, 
then later on, in a year or two or three, those two marry and fuse 
into a bouquet. I sometimes joke that I am marrying the wines. 
That is an expression in my language; you marry the oak and the 
fruit into a bouquet. The bouquet is what my wines are known for. 
The aroma comes from the grapes and the oakiness from the oak, but 
the marriage of these two is called the bouquet. 

Teiser: Is it the timing that is delicate about that? 

Grgich: Everything is important, and mainly it is that the winemaker 

follow the wine and know how to do the right things at the right 
time --not just the right things at the wrong time. [laughs] It's 
very important that you follow your wines all the way through like 
a baby. I many times compare wine with babies, because they need 
care. You cannot make fine wine by the book or by any projection 
that you can make to compute how to make wine. Twenty- five years 
ago, when I was at Davis studying a certain aspect of enology, one 
professor mentioned that they now have computers, and the computer 
would be able to make perfect wines. At that time I thought, "My 
goodness, why am I spending money for an education if I won't be 
needed?" Now, after twenty-five years, they need me more than 
ever, because the computer only does what you put in it. The 
computer has no eyes or nose. God gave us five senses, and we 
have to use all five when we are making wine. The computer has no 
senses, so my nose, my tongue, and my eyes are still very 
necessary to make fine wine. 

Teiser: One of the factors in fine winemaking is for the winemaker to be 
able to tell, when the wine is new, about what it is going to be 
when it is aged. Can you project that? 

Grgich: Oh, yes. That's very important. I have been making wine only in 
America for thirty- three years, and then I have to add thirty 
years from the old country. So at the present time I am the 


oldest working winemaker in the Napa Valley with the exception of 
Andre Tchelistcheff . It's not only that I have worked for so 
long, but I have been exposed to three of the best 
winemakers that I know of. That's Lee Stewart, Andr6 
Tchelistcheff, and Robert Mondavi. I don't make wine like Robert 
Mondavi or like Andr< Tchelistcheff or like Lee Stewart, but they 
have given me the triple information from which I can make 
decisions. Decisions have to be made today that nobody made 
before; decisions I make today I never made before. But the more 
experiences I've had and the more I can remember- -the computer in 
my head- -the better decisions I can make. 

Experience and memory? 

Yes, they are very important --and care. 

"One Cannot Mention Care Too Often" 

If you don't take care of your body and your mind in your work 
habits, you will fail. One cannot mention care to often. It 
seems to me that modern America is paying too much attention to 
computers, mechanization, and organization; and yet I don't hear 
enough about care. That care is necessary, because you have to 
observe wine every day. A computer will not do that for you; you 
have to do it yourself. You have to know exactly, to have in your 
hands strings from wine that you have in the winery. You have to 
know at which stage they are and what they need; do the right 
things at the right time. And do everything as simply as 

Simplicity is part of my philosophy. Don't complicate. Once 
you start complicating, you will make a mistake somewhere. Make 
it simple, because you don't make wine yourself; you have people 
to make wine with you. If those people cannot understand what you 
want to tell them, they will make it their own way. So you try to 
judge their judgment and their ability to produce and adjust your 
orders to their ability to do it. Many people forget that; they 
just write orders on a piece of paper, whether people know what 
they are talking about or not. I have learned about care from 
being in quality control at Robert Mondavi and Beaulieu Vineyard. 
When I go and open the bung and see the wine, I will know what was 
going on there. 

You can tell by sight? 


Telser: Do you smell it at the same time? 

Grgich: If looking isn't enough, I kneel down and smell it. I take a 

sample to the laboratory and analyze it under the microscope. So 
I make a total examination of the wine, by the eyes, the nose, and 
I listen; I put my ear on the bung hole. If there is any process 
going on, there will be some bubbling. If there is some bubbling, 
I know something is going on, and I have to find out what it is 
and see to it that I stop it, because I don't want anything to go 
on that I don't want. You use your eyes, your nose, and your 
ears, and these are all part of the care. 

Teiser: Did Robert Mondavi have everything checked every day? 

Grgich: Yes. I established his quality control; I was his first quality 

control person. I gave that position to Zelma Long when I went to 
Chateau Montelena. It wasn't necessarily every day, but you know 
approximately when you have to change your baby, and you go over 
and see if it was needed. Sometimes I would go home and get up at 
three o'clock in the morning; I knew something was happening in 
some particular process, and I had to go and see if it was under 
control or not. 

Teiser: Was that commonly done here at that time? 

Grgich: Every winery tries to do it, but very few do it as consistently as 
we did at Beaulieu Vineyard, Robert Mondavi, and Chateau 
Montelena. Whatever else I was, quality control was my first 

Another thing is that I, as one person, oversee everything, 
so there are no messages being missed between shifts. I am trying 
to keep the winery at such a size that I can keep it under 
control. I know exactly what is going on in the vineyard, in the 
winery, and in the marketing, because I am the main promoter of 
our wine, too. Many times people spend lots of time quarreling 
about who is first the sales department, the production 
department, or the vineyard. In mine, I have to make judgments 
according to particular times. 

Sometimes the vineyard is the most important, sometimes 
production is the most important, and sometimes sales and 
marketing is the most important. I can then put accent and action 
where it is necessary. If you have three departments, the 
vineyard department always wants to be first, the production 


department always wants to be first, and the sales/marketing 
department wants to be first. 

In many wineries the sales are first. Sales says, "I can 
sell that, and don't make what I cannot sell." In my place, I 
make what I can make the best and then sales has to sell it. We 
are on totally different sides. I don't make what the sales 
department thinks it can sell; I make what I think I can make the 
best, and then it is up to them to find a way to sell it. I help 
them, because I am the supervisor in all the departments. I know 
what can be done and what cannot be done. It's a benefit that 
there is one man who understands the vineyard, the wines, and the 
sales. There are very few in the business who can manage all 
those things . 

Teiser: Only a small winery -- 

Grgich: There are many small wineries for instance, whoever buys a 

winery, first he doesn't know how to manage vineyards, he doesn't 
know how to make wine, and he doesn't know how to sell. He knows 
a little bit about everything but doesn't have the experience to 
manage all these things. I graduated from business college before 
enology, and that has helped me greatly in my business judgment. 
I know bookkeeping, accounting, budgeting, and all these things. 
I cannot do everything myself, but I can oversee it and manage it. 
I believe in an operation that is well managed so that quality and 
efficiency come through. 

Teiser: Does Mr. Hills do any of the business management? 

Grgich: Oh, he works with me. He knows what's going on, but I am mainly 
responsible for the vineyards, winemaking, and the sales. He 
helps here and there. We are good partners. It's better that 
he's not involved in one of these departments, because then the 
partners argue about who has priority. This way, I am in charge 
of everything, and he helps. That way we can have one style. 
That's how I created the Grgich Hills style. When people buy 
Grgich Hills wine they know they are buying a certain quality that 
has been established for fifteen years. There are very few 
wineries that have style, because many wineries hire the 
winemaker. He is there for several years, like a quarterback, and 
if he is good, somebody will steal him, like they would a chef. 
Then a new winemaker comes in and produces a totally different 
style, and then another comes in. In my place, I'm the only one 
for fifteen years. That is why I have a style of wine. Every 
year we try to improve the wine, but yet the original style is 
carried on from vintage to vintage . 


Winery Personnel 

Teiser: Do you have anyone working with you in marketing, in selling? 

Grgich: I have about twenty- five people working at the winery. I have a 
good crew in the vineyard, a good crew in the cellar, and a good 
crew in sales. My daughter, Violet, who is twenty- seven years 
old, is now involved in promotion and sales. I also have a 
nephew, Ivo Jeramaz. His name is very funny. It sounds like a 
Turkish name, but he is not Turkish; he is Croatian. He graduated 
in mechanical engineering from the University of Zagreb. After 
that he came to me, and he is very helpful in the designing of 
pumps or whatever is involved with engineering. At the same time, 
he loves winemaking, and he is good at figures. You cannot be a 
good engineer unless you know figures, so he knows figures. 
Whenever we have trouble with the figures, he is there. I hope he 
will stay with us forever in production. My daughter is supposed 
to take my place in management and sales. So I have at least 
those two people who are my blood relatives. 

We have other people who are very important to us, like 
Gustavo Brambila, who has been with us for fifteen years. I hired 
him at Chateau Montelena, and when 1 came down here he came with 
me; he was my first employee. He is still here, and is still my 
major man. He was there when we built the winery and established 
our style. He is very valuable to us. 

Gary Ecklin has been with us for eleven years. He is an 
enologist, as is Brambila, so there are two enologists besides me; 
there are three of us enologists in a managerial position. And I 
have three more enologists in the cellars. Actually, whoever 
touches my wine has a degree in enology. They come here because 
they know they will learn how to make fine wines . One day they 
will go on their own, but I don't mind. I would rather have 
people here who know what they are doing and who one day I might 
be proud of than to have just ordinary workers. There is probably 
no other winery in the world with so many qualified people. My 
philosophy is to have the best grapes, the best cooperage, and the 
best people. 

Teiser: Are your enologists Davis graduates? 

Grgich: Brambila is a Davis graduate, as is Ecklin, and I have three more 
Davis graduates who work in the cellar. 

Teiser: It must be great experience for them. 


Grgich: I hope so. I tell them that they should learn something everyday, 
Don't stay behind; you should grow and become somebody. You have 
one life; make some good sense out of it. If they get anything 
from me, they will be good winemakers. You have to rub off on 
somebody in your life to give you incentive to keep going. 

Teiser: You really have taught a good number of people who have added to 
the wine industry here, haven't you? 

Grgich: Yes. I think 1 am most proud of Zelma Long, whom I hired when I 
was working at Robert Mondavi. She is very well known now all 
around the world as one of the best winemakers in the United 
States and maybe in the world. 

Teiser: Are there others? 

Grgich: Oh, yes. There is Aaron Mosley, who is winemaker for De Moor 
[Winery], Fred Payne, Mark Smith, and Bo Barrett, who is now 
winemaker at Chateau Montelena. These people are really doing 
fine. Each of them is on their own as a winemaker. I think each 
of them has gotten something from me. However, they developed 
their own style. 

Business Goals and Methods 

Grgich: My business is mainly formed on my philosophy. I never was 

inclined to overspend, but rather to spend what is most necessary. 
Many people go into business thinking that business is to spend 
money. In my philosophy, business is to make money, period. 
That's one goal of business. Second goal is to produce quality to 
be proud of. Many people go into business on the basis of 
religion or something else, like the Christian Brothers. You 
cannot run a business by church rules; that's why they had to be 
sold to Heublein. Neither can you run a church by business rules. 
Business has its own rules, and the church has its own rules; 
business is run best by business rules, and the church is run best 
by church rules. 

I have always tried to avoid "Let George do it." George will 
not do it like you want it done; he will do it like he wants to do 
it. So I was working like crazy because I didn't let somebody 
else do the most important things; I did them myself. It's very 
hard for me to give the very important things to somebody else to 
do. If I can't supervise it, at least I want to be there. I 
have learned by talking with people that there is always a missing 
link. You tell something to one person, that person tells 


another, and at the end it is totally changed. If I have a 
message for somebody, I tell it directly to that person. If my 
worker has to do a very important job, I don't go and tell my 
foreman to tell the worker. I go to the foreman and the worker, 
and I ask both of them if they understand what I want them to do. 

I believe in a small operation with direct contact, because I 
have learned that in California, especially in Napa Valley, we 
have good grapes and could produce good wine almost every year. 
If one doesn't produce good wine, somebody has made a mistake. 

When I was a student in Zagreb, there was a new wave of 
preventive medicine: prevent sickness; don't cure it. I have 
learned the value of prevention so that in the wine industry I am 
trying to prevent problems, not to cure them. I teach my people 
not only how to do it but how to prevent problems. If we start 
with good grapes and don't make any mistakes, we'll end up 
definitely with a fine wine. 

These are all things that I consider a part of my success. 
The philosophy that I have put forward is quality oriented and at 
the same time business oriented. 

Teiser: You've made wine the way you thought it should be and were 

successful. How do consumers learn about it? Most people don't 
have as good a palate as yours; they can't tell your Zinfandel 
from somebody else's. How has this happened? 

Grgich: We have settled lately on the assumption that, like each of us has 
different fingerprints, we have different palates. Still, fingers 
are fingers, and palates are palates. We have a tasting room, and 
I expose my wine to the public and watch what they are saying and 
thinking and how they like the wine. I don't make wine for 
myself; I make wine for the public. As people are learning about 
good wine, I'm learning about their palates, too. So we both meet 
somewhere there. 

Teiser: Do you spend much time in the tasting room? 

Grgich: No, but I try every day to be an hour there. I listen to the 
people, and I tell them what I told you about palates being 
different. What you like, that is the wine you should drink. You 
shouldn't drink Cabernet because Professor [Maynard] Amerine tells 
you it's the best wine in the world, and you shouldn't drink 
Chardonnay because Mike Grgich says it's the best wine in the 
world. You taste, and the wine that you like is your wine. If it 
happens that it's a cheap wine, good for you; you enjoy it and pay 
little money. Punished are those who like more expensive wine; 
they get what they like, but they have to pay lots of money. 


There is a distinction between a fine wine or a good wine and 
bad wine. Yet there is the distinction between the good wine you 
like and the good wine you don't like. I am trying to make good 
wine that most people might like. I know how to make good wine, 
but at the same time, in my judgment it's very important that 
people like it. I take that into account, and many people don't. 
Many people taste the wines and say, "It's a good wine. 1 * I say 
there is a little more to it. 

And there is a little more to taste; it's after taste. After 
you taste the wine, how do you feel? Does the wine make you 
happy, or do you wish you hadn't drunk a glass, or do you want 
another glass? So much of this plays a role in the enjoyment of 
wine and therefore in the buying of wine. If people like a wine, 
they will buy it again; if people don't like it, they will look 
somewhere else and find a wine they like. 

I have to learn what people like, 
many times because of people's likes. 

I bend my personal opinion 

Teiser: When your wines win awards at competitions, do people tend to buy 
more of those? 

Grgich: Yes. Some people buy what somebody tells them to, and some people 
buy what they like. So you have many different customers. One 
buys because he likes the wine, another buys because it has a gold 
medal, another buys because of my accent. Some buy because of 
label . There are so many individuals , and people buy for 
different reasons . Many people buy my wine because of 
consistency. If people know our wines, they know our wines are 
consistently good. For instance, we have started to release the 
new vintage in the market. Most stores and restaurants require a 
sample so that they can see what your vintage is and whether they 
want to buy it or not. Not from Grgich Hills- -people just order a 
new vintage after the previous vintage is sold out. So you see 
how much I save just on not sending out samples. 

I save a lot by selling wine at the winery. 
10 percent directly at the winery. 

We sell at least 

Pre-Release Club 

Teiser: The videotape you showed me yesterday of that wonderful party- -was 
it mainly your tasting club-- 


Grgich: We have a pre- release club. 
Teiser: Do you sell much through that? 

Grgich: Yes. Probably we sell 5 percent through that. They are very 

important people; they are not just anybody who buys a bottle of 
wine. They are all wine connoisseurs who are very influential 
people. We started that club at the time when I pressed two 
hundred tons, and my release would be sold out in one month. So 
the friends who liked my style of wine were complaining that they 
couldn't find any. They forced me to start the club, through 
which they would buy wine before it went on the market. A letter 
is sent to them at least twice a year, and a case of each wine is 
offered. Let's say that in summer we release Chardonnay and 
Cabernet, so we send them the letter in June. Then we have the 
Fourth of July for them to come here and taste the wine. If they 
like the wine, they can buy it; if they don't like it, they don't 
have to buy it. So they can buy the wine between June and 
September, and in September it goes on the market. They can buy 
it before anybody else. 

We started that twelve years ago when our wine wasn't 
available, but people are still continuing to buy through that 
club. They treat their friends with our wines that cannot be 
bought on the market because they were the first [to buy it]; they 
are the cream of the customers. It's very beneficial to us, 
because before the wine comes to the market somebody already knows 
Grgich Hills Cabernet '86: "Is it in the stores?" "No, you have 
to wait until it comes on the market." It's a kind of promotional 
tool, and at the same time we have those permanent customers who 
buy from us all the time. Not only do we sell the wine, but we 
don't have to go around and open new accounts and find new 

Teiser: Do they get discounts? 

Grgich: Yes, but the discount is less than the wholesaler gets, so we get 
more money from them than from the wholesalers . 

The first year my accountant called me, and he said, "Mike, 
do you know how much you have spent for promotion?" I asked how 
much, and he said, "Twenty-four dollars." [laughter] Once a man 
was evaluating our business. Every businessman wants to know 
where he stands compared to other businesses. Our sales costs 
were one -third the average sales costs in the wine industry. So 
it's not only that we make good wine, but at the same time, 
because it is good wine, we can sell it. There are less expenses 



once you have a good wine. People don't realize how important 
that is. People drink only what is in the bottle. They don't 
drink foil, the bottle, the label; they don't drink the case, 
whether it's a wood case or a cardboard case. People are still 
smart. They like to pay for what they use. 

One part of my job, as I said, is that I supervise the 
vineyard and growing of the grapes, and I also supervise 
production and sales and organize each of these in such a way that 
we are definitely, I can say, the most successful winery in the 
Napa Valley. We aren't the biggest one, and we don't want to be 
the biggest one. But we have prestige. 

You are tied in remarkably close to your market. I imagine every 
winery would like to be that way. 

Labels and Vineyard Blends 

Grgich: The average cost of my wine is probably more expensive than any 
other wine in California, because many wineries make private 
reserve and then have regular wines , and they make a second and 
third labels. Those are all priced differently, and they sell the 
cheap ones the most. In my place, each wine is it. It's Cabernet 
1986. All our Cabernet is the same. There is a master blend, and 
every bottle is the same and at the same price. 

Teiser: You don't make vineyard designations? 
Grgich: We blend vineyards for complexity. 

Legh Knowles, who was president of Beaulieu Vineyards and the 
sales manager for a long time, told me once that somebody wanted 
to hire him to work in the wine industry. He was a trumpet 
player, and he didn't want to take the job because he didn't know 
anything about wine. But the guy liked Legh's personality. He 
said, "Legh, I believe you could sell wine. We need in the wine 
industry some people with a personality like yours." He said, 
"I'm afraid." "What are you afraid of?" "If you hire me, next 
week I'll have to go to a wine tasting. I'll sit at a table, and 
the person sitting next to me will ask me what I think about the 
wine. I don't know anything about wine. What can I say?" 

He said, "Easy. Can you see the color of the wine? Red 
wine, white wine; judging the color is part of the competition. 
Then sniff the wine. Can you do that?" Legh said, "I think I can 
do that." "Can you sip a little bit in your mouth, gurgle a 


little bit, and say, 'Interesting'?" Legh said, "Fifty years ago, 
if you said, 'interesting,' everybody would think you were a wine 
connoisseur." So he smiled and took the job. [laughter] But, he 
says, today, if somebody doesn't know about wine, he still has to 
know how to judge the color, sniff the wine for the aroma and the 
bouquet, sip a little wine and gurgle it, and say, "Complex." In 
fifty years we have moved from 'interesting' to 'complex', 

So today we are making complex wines, and that complexity in 
my Chardonnay comes from blending several different vineyards. I 
have a vineyard in Rutherford, here in Yountville, in Napa, and in 
Carneros. I blend them all together, and every time you smell the 
wine, some of these vineyards come through in different aromas. 
It's enrichment; that's the new quality- -complexity. I do not go 
by the individual vineyard, because each vineyard fluctuates more 
than a blend of four vineyards together. Some years one vineyard 
is better, and some years it is worse than others. That way I get 
my style --not totally uniform, but very close to my style --by 
blending the four vineyards every year. If one vineyard is a 
little worse, the others correct it. 

We do not practice vineyard designation because we are 
looking for simplicity in marketing, too. If you have Grgich 
Hills Chardonnay from the Yountville vineyard, Grgich Hills 
Chardonnay from the Napa vineyard, etc., people haven't seen the 
vineyards, so they don't know which vineyard they are tasting, if 
they want to compare them and talk about it. If they drink Grgich 
Hills 1989, there is only one. It's so simple to sell and 
promote. If you have four different Chardonnays, you have to 
promote each of them. If I have just one, [snap] it goes through; 
it is easier to promote. 

Simplicity is the basis through my system. We do not 
complicate it. That's why we don't go into the private reserve, 
filters or no filters, or other labels. We have one wine of one 
vintage. People ask me, "Mike, when are you going to make private 
reserve Cabernet?" I say, "I made it; I just didn't put it on 
the label." [laughs] 

Teiser: I'm interested in your label from a different point of view. Are 
the labels you use now on your wines the same ones you started 

Grgich: Yes. Our first label was for Chardonnay, and then we faced coming 
out with Zinfandel. Sebastian Titus, who made the first label, 
came to me and said, "Mike, now you need a new label." They want 
to make money; they want to make labels. I said, "Goodness, a 
label costs so much money. I don't need a new label." He asked, 




"How can you make a red wine out of white grapes?" [laughs] He 
tried to pursue me to make a new label. I said, "I will tell you 
pretty soon." What I did was to remove the green and yellow 
colors [on the Chardonay label] and got this Cabernet Sauvignon in 
just black and white. So our white wines have colored labels, and 
our red wines have black and white labels, but they are all the 
same for simplicity, again. People get used to that frame; they 
see that label with those grapes, and they know it is Grgich 
Hills. If I had different labels, they would be confused. But 
they know there is just one label for Grgich Hills; they see it, 
and it's very simple to memorize. 

It seems to me I saw a bottle of Riesling in the tasting room-- 

Yes, Johannisberg Riesling, late harvest. That label is in the 
style of the original label of Mr. Hills. It was not Grgich Hills 
but Hills Vineyards. He registered that label and didn't want it 
to disappear. In case something happens, he wants to be able to 
carry on the tradition. We decided we would keep that label on 
one wine, and it is late harvest Johannisberg Riesling. We have 
kept that label for fifteen years just to carry on his label 
tradition. That horse [on it] is his family crest. 

That was a well -aged wine, I noticed. 

Yes, it is '85 vintage --six years old. We sell maybe five hundred 
cases out of fifty thousand cases of that wine. I knew that the 
label meant a lot to him, so I said okay. We did make two 
Rieslings before, and by having a regular Riesling with one label 
and late harvest with the other label, it gives people the 
distinction between the two Rieslings. They know regular Riesling 
is one label and late harvest is the other label. 

White Riesling 

Teiser: At Souverain you had some success with a White Riesling. 

Grgich: Very much, yes. 

Teiser: Do you still make it the same way? 

Grgich: We improved it as we went along. We definitely make better 

Riesling at Grgich Hills than anywhere before, but I have kept 
that original Lee Stewart style of Riesling. When I came to 
Robert Mondavi, I tried to make it in that style. At Beaulieu 
Vineyard they made a different style of Johannisberg Riesling; 

Miljenko Grgich, left, and Austin Hills, right, in the Grgich Hills 
Cellar, 1990. 


they made it dry and aged it in the bottle for two years before 
releasing it, and it would totally lose its fruitiness. When I 
came to Robert Mondavi, I started with that fruity style. 

The Robert Mondavi '69 Johannisberg Riesling was just grabbed 
up by people. Robert Mondavi bought all the Riesling grapes from 
Beaulieu Vineyard that they would sell. That [Robert Mondavi] 
wine all sold in three months because we had fruity wine and left 
about 1 percent of residual sugar. Riesling is bitter by nature. 
If there is no sugar in it, it just is not palatable unless it is 
well aged. From then on I always made regular Johannisberg 
Riesling between 1 and 1.5 percent residual sugar, and I started 
to make late harvest between 6 and 10 percent residual sugar. Two 
styles . 

Riesling is not much in demand these days, so we stopped 
making regular Johannisberg Riesling in 1987. 

Teiser: It's surprising that it has fallen out of favor. 

Grgich: I don't know why, but somehow the dry wines are taking over. When 
people don't know much about wine, beginners start with a semi- 
sweet wine. As they go forward, they move into the dry wines. My 
customers for my Chardonnay and my Cabernet have already 

Teiser: You would think there would have been some influence from White 
Zinfandel, although it's in such a different category. 

Grgich: I would say you are right, there was some influence. Some people 
like wine with a slight amount of sugars. When White Zinfandel 
appeared on the market, it was half the price of the Johannisberg 
Riesling, and yet it did have that mellow taste which Johannisberg 
Riesling used to have. So that probably did cut some ground out 
from under Johannisberg Riesling. 

It's interesting to observe that twenty years ago in America, 
statistics show that about 20 percent of the wine on the market 
was rose. Do you remember grenache rose? Now there is about 20 
percent White Zinfandel on the market but no rose. So nothing has 
changed. [laughter] The percentage is the same, but the name has 
changed . 

And now we will switch since this "French paradox." Did you 
see the "60 Minutes" TV program? Now people are going from whites 
to reds. They say that red wine sales went up 44 percent since 
that program was seen on TV. So now there is another reason why 
people might prefer red wine over white wine- -health reasons. 



It's lucky they took to white wines at a time when people could 
produce them inexpensively. 

Grgich: And better. 

More on Improvements in White Wines 




When I came to Napa Valley, white wines were almost undrinkable. 
If they were on the shelf for three to six months, they would 
oxidize or throw sediment. The wines were not palatable. Now we 
can make white wines very well, and those wines can improve by 
aging; they can age for ten years at temperatures of fifty to 
fifty- five degrees. I still have some Chardonnay from '77 which I 
made and kept a few bottles. If somebody were to ask me which of 
these old vintages I would like to drink tonight, it would still 
be the '77 Chardonnay. 

What accounts for the improvement? 

We learned how to make better wines, and we learned how to grow 
better grapes. Those are the major reasons. Since they 
discovered virus -free vines at Davis, most of the vineyards have 
been planted with healthier grape vines , and those vineyards are 
like healthier persons. If you have two people typing and one is 
sick, the sick one will type slowly [taps slowly], and the healthy 
one will speed along. So it is with healthy vines. The vineyards 
have been replanted into better varieties and are virus -free. And 
the grapes mature earlier, because when they are sick they won't 
mature easy. 

Then we have learned more about wine --how not to process them 
but rather keep everything in them. The whole wine gives 
longevity to the wine. And we have learned that wine has to be 
stored at a cooler temperature, which people didn't care about 
before. If you put the wine in the sunshine, it would oxidize in 
a week. 

We have learned all these things together, bit by bit, year 
by year, until now we have produced such fine white wines that are 
the best in the world or at least equal to the best wines in the 

What other than Chardonnay are the outstanding ones? 

I don't want to talk about somebody else, because we all have 
different taste buds, and what is good for one person is not good 


for another person. We don't talk about other wines in our 
tasting room. People ask about other wines, and we say, "We know 
about other wines, but you go over and taste for yourself. Every 
winery has a tasting room, and if you like it, that's your wine." 

Teiser: When you taste wines to make judgments about whatever processes 
you use, do you taste your wines against others ever? 

Grgich: No. I used to do that at Robert Mondavi. Robert Mondavi always 
compared his wine with somebody else. We have our style, and I'm 
only going to compare my style with my new wines so that we stay 
not in the style of somebody else but in our own style. We 
compare previous vintages with our new vintages so that we stay in 
that style. When the customer gets the wine, they know 
approximately- -if they like one vintage, most likely they will 
like other vintages, because it's the same style. 

Financing the Winery 

Teiser: Let me get back to the development of Grgich Hills Cellar. You 
said that you are fiscally conservative. How did you finance 
increasing or improving your equipment over the years? 

Grgich: We have been keeping all profits in the business; we did not take 
any dividends for probably eight years. With the money we earned, 
we built the winery and bought equipment and vineyards. We 
thought that we should not be dependent on any bank. We don't owe 
a penny to any bank now. 

Teiser: Really? 

Grgich: Believe me. This is so ridiculous, because many in the wine 
industry who are worth $10 million owe $8 million to the bank. 
They say one Napa Valley winery owes $6.7 million to the bank, and 
they estimate his value at $7 million. Another winery has been 
estimated to be worth $4 million and owes $3.5 million to the 
banks. This is not our style. We saved money by using our own 
money. We did not spend money on interest. Many people are 
trying to just make interest payments. Interest has been very 
high these fifteen years, and we stayed away from that. We 
started small, and what we earned we have been putting back into 
the business. 

Teiser: You haven't even had to borrow to get from season to season? 


Grgich: Sometimes. We always had a line of credit. We started to make 
money the first year. We were organized in such a way that when 
we started the business we purchased the wines that Austin Hills 
had made before. On the Fourth of July we broke ground, on the 
seventh of September we started to crush, and on the first of 
November we started to sell. As soon as we moved into the next 
year, we had made a profit. 

Teiser: That's very unusual, isn't it? 

Grgich: Wineries usually make a profit after five or ten years. But, you 
see, I am business oriented, and I found my style, which I thought 
was a safe style. I didn't want to depend upon banks or anybody 
else. When people ask me, "Have you ever been hit by a passing 
car when crossing the road?" I say, "Never." They say, "How 
come?" I say, "When I am crossing the street, there is no car on 
either side of me." [laughter] I want to be safe when I am 
crossing the road, and in business I like to be safe. 

We went slowly, gradually, but safely. We started with high 
quality wine. As you know, our first Chardonnay was proclaimed 
the best in the world. Our wine was so much in demand that that 
demand was reflected in the price. What you do if you have more 
demand than you have wine is to raise the price. Our Chardonnay 
was the most expensive in the United States. 

Teiser: I'm trying to think of others who had more demand than they could 
fill. The McCraes at Stony Hill had more demand than they had 
wine, and I guess Joe [Joseph E.] Heitz has steady demand. But 
there aren't many of you. 

Grgich: Not many. 

Teiser: I don't know what it proves. Careful winemaking? 

Grgich: You have to know what you are doing, and you have to be small. If 
you are big and you fail to make good wine, then that's it. The 
main thing is to have good wine. Numero uno--I never take that 
from my mind. That has to stay in my mind- -first, quality. 

Teiser: Definitions of good change. There are wineries that have been in 
families, and when the young people take over the wines were 
changed to their concept of what is good. Maybe part of the key 
is having one person live forever. 

Grgich: I would say so, and I would like that to happen to me. If I could 
be the first person who could live forever, I would vote for it. 
[laughter] There is a joke going around in America. They say 
that the first generation has the attitude to create, the second 


generation has the attitude to enjoy, and the third generation 
cannot even keep it; they destroy it. Then it starts new again. 
This is not true in every case, but in many cases it is true. 

The first generation suffers and learns how to suffer. The 
next generation doesn't suffer, and they will not suffer. I will 
suffer if my winery is going to break down: I will push with my 
shoulders to keep it up. People who didn't suffer cannot do that. 
They are looking for comfort; their comfort is number one. The 
idea of the creation in the first generation is replaced in the 
second generation with comfort. Comfort is the biggest enemy of 
us now in America. We want to have everything, but you don't have 
to have everything. But as soon as we can have those credit 
cards, we charge, charge, charge; the whole country is on credit. 

Teiser: I've been doing an interview with a company (not in the wine 

industry) where the third generation just decided to sell. They 
said, "This has been long enough in one family. It will now go 

Grgich: In some cases that's true. 


Teiser: Over the years since 1977, how has your winery changed as it has 
grown? Or has it changed? 

Grgich: Qualitywise, it has improved. Stylewise, we have, as you can see, 
eliminated Johannisberg Riesling, which was our biggest seller for 
the first few years; it paid our bills, because you make 
Johannisberg Riesling, and in six months you can sell it and get 
your money back cash flow. We have replaced it with Fume" Blanc, 
which is dry. We have more demand for Fume Blanc and get more 
money for a bottle than we did for Johannisberg Riesling. That's 
a change as far as a variety is concerned. 

Our Cabernet style has changed. When I worked for Beaulieu 
Vineyard, every bottle of De Latour Private Reserve used to say, 
"100 Percent Cabernet Sauvignon." I started making Cabernet 
Sauvignon 100 percent, but then I realized that even at Beaulieu 
Vineyard, who had on their label "100 percent," Mr. De Latour 
planted Merlot in the vineyard, and I wouldn't like to write down 
"100 percent." I found out, when I built a winery next to his 


vineyard, that he had about 5 percent of Merlot interplanted with 
Cabernet. Nobody in the winery knew about it. 

I started working a little bit with Merlot and a little bit 

with Cabernet franc, so my two vintages of Cabernet Cabernet '80 

and Cabernet '81- -were 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1982 we 
started to use some Merlot and Cabernet franc, not much, but it 
creates complexity; I told you it was interesting to make complex 
[flavors?]. We added Merlot for smoothness and Cabernet franc for 
fruitiness, and Cabernet Sauvignon has that style, that stillness, 
that body, that strength. So we have a complex Cabernet. 

Teiser: How about Zinfandel? 

Grgich: It has stayed the same. Fume Blanc we have changed, because when 
drought years started to appear five years ago, we noticed that 
the leaves in the vineyard fell off and the grapes were exposed to 
the sun. We were afraid that we wouldn't be able to make good 
wine, because the green berries became golden berries when exposed 
to the sun. But once we made the wine, we found out that the wine 
did not suffer from that excessive herbaceousness. Before, the 
green grapes were grassy, and the yellow grapes were not so 
grassy. Yet we have discovered that if clusters are exposed to 
the sun during summer, we will not have that aggressive 
herbaceousness, which was objected to in Fume Blanc or Sauvignon 
Blanc. Now we strip the leaves ourselves in the summer to open 
the grapes to the sun, and the sun turns the green color of the 
berries into yellow. So we have improved that wine. 

We are still at about the same complexity in Chardonnay, 
using grapes from different vineyards in one total blend, and we 
don't go through malolactic fermentation. However, we are trying 
to keep some yeast in the wine. Yeast autolyzes and enriches the 
wine during barrel aging. We have some yeasts now in our 
Chardonnay, which we rack to the barrels at the beginning with a 
filter. We used to filter the Chardonnay on its way to the 
barrels, and then the yeast would remain in the filter. Now we 
rack so that a little bit of the yeast comes through with the 
wine. That yeast dies and autolyzes and enriches the body of the 

Teiser: Did you experiment, or did you know what kind of yeast you wanted 
to use? 

We have stuck with one yeast all this time- -French White, which I 
was using at Beaulieu Vineyard. We made experiments one year with 
Andre Tchelistcheff , checking about twelve different kinds of 


yeast, and we settled on the French White. I used that yeast at 
Robert Mondavi, at Chateau Montelena, and at Grgich Hills. So 
mainly we use French White, which was developed by the Pasteur 
Institute in France. 

Teiser: Did you ever experiment with wild yeasts? 

Grgich: I didn't. I made all my wines in the old country with wild yeast, 
but it wasn't any better than what we use now. There are many 
things that some people are using just to say, "I am different." 
I'm trying to be good, and I use whatever is necessary to be good. 
I don't sell my wines because I use a lot of things, like 
centrifuges or filters; I sell my wine because they taste good and 
people like them. I like to say that I make my wine rounded like 
a bowl; nothing stands out but the pleasure. That's my goal. 

Grgich Hill Vineyards 

Teiser: Let me ask you about your vineyards. What vineyards do you own? 

Grgich: We own twenty acres in Rutherford, where the winery is. We own 
this vineyard here in Yountville, which is about seventy acres. 
There are eighty acres of land but about seventy acres of 
vineyard, where all our Cabernet comes from. 

Teiser: When was that bought? 

Grgich: We bought it in 1984, together with this house as a bonus. 

Teiser: You told me when this house was built. 

Grgich: Yes, in 1885. 

Teiser: What other vineyards have you? 

Grgich: We purchased last year a hundred acres in Carneros. So we have, 

roughly speaking, about two hundred acres. We do have part of the 
Olive Hills vineyard- -about 10 percent; Austin Hills is general 
partner of Olive Hills Vineyard. 

Teiser: Where are his vineyards? 

Grgich: His vineyards are in Rutherford, about a mile from our vineyard, 
and in Napa. 

Teiser: That gives you a lot of geographical spread within a small area. 

Violet Grgich and Miljenko Grgich in the 
vineyard adjacent to the winery, 1990. 

Photograph by Earl Roberge 


Grgich: Yes, and it gives us complexity. I would say that Cabernet is 
good in St. Helena, Rutherford, and Yountville, but not down 
below. We have a vineyard here that is very close to Heitz' 
Martha's Vineyard, and on the other side is Dominus, two of the 
best-known vineyards in the Napa Valley. Our Cabernet vineyard is 
squeezed in between them. 

As far as Chardonnay wine is concerned, we get body from 
Rutherford and Yountville, and we get fruitiness from Carneros. 
So we have complex wines. We are very lucky. In fifteen years we 
have developed a winery from which, if I could live forever, I 
would make a profit every year, because every year I am going to 
make better wines. 

Teiser: Have you had any trouble with phylloxera yet? 

Grgich: Not yet. 

Teiser: Aren't you lucky! 

Grgich: Lucky. And we know something about phylloxera. After the second 
world war I planted straight, without rootstock, when I was in the 
old country. 

Teiser: Without grafting onto resistant rootstock? 

Grgich: Yes. After six or seven years, phylloxera started to eat them up, 
so I am familiar with that. I don't have any yet, and we are not 
pulling any vineyards out before we know there is damage. Who 
knows, one day that louse might disappear. We might find a 
natural enemy to eat them up. With Mother Nature, everything is 
possible. So I'm not going to pull out my vineyards, like some 
people are doing. They say, "Within ten years I have to replant 
all my vineyards , and I have a thousand acres of vineyards . So 
this year I will pull out a hundred acres." A good producing 
vineyard--! don't do things like that. But because they have a 
big vineyard, they have to do it; they can't replant a thousand 
acres in one year. Being small gives me the opportunity to watch 
and not do any foolish things. I can maneuver easier, being 

Teiser: Besides, they may find an ever-resistent rootstock. 

Grgich: You never know. One of these daysMother Nature changes; bugs 
mutate, and bugs have enemies. For instance, we used to spray 
once or twice every year for leaf hoppers , and then we learned 
that everything in nature has an enemy. There are leaf hoppers 
that eat leaf hoppers; they are different in size, and they look 


different. If the good leaf hoppers have enough food, they 
propagate like hell and eat up all the bad leaf hoppers. 

Teiser: Did you have to introduce them? 

Grgich: No, they were just there; Mother Nature had them. We have leaf 
hoppers every year, but as there are leaf hoppers that do the 
damage, there are also leaf hoppers that eat leaf hoppers. As 
long as these good ones eat the others, and the bad ones don't do 
big damage, we let them remain. Because then the good ones will 
propagate when they have food; they only propagate if they have 
something to eat. In two or three years leaf hoppers won't be any 
problem. Then they will start to build up and build up, because 
the good ones won't have enough food and will die. It's a balance 
of Mother Nature. 

Who knows , one day there might be something that will eat 
that phylloxera louse, and we won't have to pull out the 
vineyards. As long as the vineyards are producing good grapes and 
enough so that it is economically feasible, I'm not going to pull 
them out. 



Teiser: I'd like to ask about changes since 1958 in the California wine 

Grgich: I would say that as far as white wines are concerned, since then 
more attention has been paid to the grape juice to be as clean as 
possible during fermentation. The cleaner the juice, the fruitier 
the white wine. The second thing that prevents that fruitiness 
from disappearing is cold fermentation. The third thing is aging 
in French oak barrels. These three elements have definitely 
improved white wines. I would say that the fourth factor is 
replanting the vineyards with the virus -free stock that are 
healthy vines. In other words, the better vineyards, the cool 
fermentation, the clean juice, and the aging in French oak are the 
elements which have improved white wine. Not all four of them for 
every kind of wine , but these four elements have played the 
biggest role. Then there is aging on the yeast, which is 
something new, and malolactic fermentation of white wines is 
something new. So there are five or six different factors which 
definitely have changed the longevity of the wines, the taste of 
the wine, and the value of the winewhite wines. 

Red wines, I would say, were already much better fifty years 
ago than white wines, but then the replanting of vineyards with 
better vines helped give better grapes , and aging in the oak same 
thing- -very important. Aging in the bottle, very important, and 
storing the wine at the correct temperature. Sterile filtering of 
wine prior to bottling prevents any bugs getting into the wine 
during bottling. There is a millipore filter that was 
manufactured in the sixties which screens all yeasts and the 
bacteria on the filter, so sterile wine goes in sterile bottles, 
and the wine is biologically stable forever. 

These are all improvements, but for the stability of the 
wine, I think sterile filtration has done the more than anything 


else. Before that, the wine could go through malolactic 
fermentation in the bottle, and when you opened the bottle it 
would be champagne coming out. That cannot happen if you sterile 
filter that wine before it goes into the bottle; it's biologically 
stable forever. 

Teiser: Is there any equipment that has helped? 

Grgich: I don't believe much in equipment, but for cool fermentation or 
for controlled fermentation, jacketed stainless steel tanks have 
helped. At the same time, the barrels --people did not have so 
many barrels as they do now. People are aging white wines and red 
wines in the barrel, and with much better barrels, too. 

So we have better grapes in whites and reds. As far as 
cooperage is concerned, I would say that cool fermentation and the 
possibility of controlling fermentation temperature- -and cooling 
the cellars, too, so that all year round the temperature is fifty 
to sixty degrees. That's all as far as equipment is concerned. 
There have been changes in presses, but not in such a 
revolutionary way. 

I talked about the millipore filter, which was the one unit 
that I believe revolutionized the stability of the wine in 
bottles; wine can age in the bottle and not go through malolactic 
fermentation. Sterile filtration was really the big plus for us. 
While our wine on the shelf would be nice and good, many French 
wines were coming in with gassiness, sediment, and those type of 
things. The world wine industry now accepts millipore filtration, 
sterile filtration, just as we do. But we started it at Beaulieu 
Vineyard; the first successful .millipore filtration was done there 
with Andre Tchelistcheff and myself. Gallo tried, Italian Swiss 
Colony tried, Guild tried; but nobody succeeded immediately. We 
succeeded, and we gave them reason to continue. Then from the 
wine industry it has spread to the beer industry. Before, people 
used to pasteurize wine in order to have it biologically stable. 
If it was sweet wine, they had to heat it, pasteurize it; but if 
you heat it, you get that boiled cooked character. This has 
eliminated that cooked character, and yet it has produced wine 
that is satisfying. 

Teiser: Has there been any change in the character of the people in the 

Grgich: I think so. I think the old people at the beginning were very 

closed in; they would keep secret what they were doing. The new 
people tell each other; there are no secrets. I think Robert 
Mondavi has played a big role in that, because he was going around 
telling everybody what he was doing, so other people started doing 


the same thing. Before that, when I came to Napa Valley, every 
winery was keeping everything kind of secret. But since then, 
Napa Valley Vintners' Association has been very active. They have 
a meeting once a month, and through that organization people 
discuss common interests as far as the law is concerned and as far 
as quality is concerned. The vintners love each other. At the 
beginning they were competing, like in any other industry, but I 
think the wine industry is superb in that respect. We each love 
each other; we do not hate each other, winery to winery. We are 
proud of one another, and we are not afraid that someone else is 
making a better wine, because that forces you to make better wine, 
too. So it's positive. That attitude is superb. 

Teiser: That's a fine note to stop on. I thank you very much for this 

Transcriber and Final Typist: Judy Smith 


TAPE GUIDE- -Miljenko Grgich 

Interview 1: March 3, 1992 1 

Tape 1, Side a 1 

Tape 1, Side b 9 

Tape 2, Side a 15 

Tape 2, Side b 23 

Interview 2: March 4, 1992 28 

Tape 3, Side a 28 

Tape 3, Side b 36 

Tape 4, Side a 42 

Tape 4, Side b 50 


INDEX- -Mi Ijenko Grgich 

Barrett, James L. , 21, 23-24, 26 
Beaulieu Vineyard, 15-19, 35, 50 
Berg, Harold, 19 
bottling, 17-18, 33-34 
Brambila, Gustavo, 38 

Chateau Montelena winery, 21, 

23-27, 33 

Christian Brothers winery, 13-16 
cooperage, 32 

Diener, Brother Timothy, 14-15 
Ecklin, Gary, 38 

"French paradox", 46 
frost protection, 16-17 

Gallo winery, E. & J., 18 

Grgich Hills Cellar, 25-26, 28-57 

equipment, 29 

formation of, 28 

financing, 48-50 

labeling, 43-45 

personnel, 38-39 

style, 39 

vineyards, 30, 52-54 
Grgich, Miljenko (Mike), 

business philosophy, 39-40, 

childhood and education in 
Croatia, 1-3 

in Canada, 8 

in Germany, 7 

moves to California, 9-11 

studies e no logy and 
viticulture, 4-6 

winemaking philosophy, 31-36 
Grgich, Violet, 38 

Hahn, Ernest W. , 21, 23-24 
Hills, Austin, 26, 28, 37, 45, 52 
Hills Brothers Coffee Company, 28 
Hills Vineyard, 28, 45 

Italian Swiss Colony winery, 18 

Jeramaz, Ivo, 38 

Knowles, Legh, 43-44 

Long Zelma, 19, 22, 36, 39 

malolactic fermentation, 19, 


marketing, 40-43 
Mohacek , Marko , 5-6 
Mondavi, Robert, Winery, 12, 13, 

19-23, 24-25, 33, 35, 36, 46, 

48, 56 

Napa Valley Vintners' Association, 

Nichelini, James E. , 33 

Paris wine tasting of 1976, 24, 


phylloxera, 53-54 
Physicians Friends of Wine, 24 
Pirio, Auguste, 14 

quality control, 18-19, 31-32, 36 

Riesling styles, 45-46 

Spurier, Steven, 26 
Stewart, J. Leland, 11-13, 16, 
23, 35 

Tchelistcheff, Andre, 12-16, 

18-19, 23, 35, 51 
Tchelistcheff, Dimitri, 17, 20 
Titus, Sebastian, 44-45 

viticulture, 47, 53-54 

wine industry, changes in, 55-57 
Winiarski, Warren, 12 

yeasts, 51-52 


Wines Mentioned in the Interview 

Batard Montrachet, 24 

Cabernet Sauvignon, 19, 20, 22, 

24-26, 44, 50-51 
Chardonnay, 24-26, 29, 32, 44, 

47, 51, 53 
Fum6 Blanc, 50, 51 
Johannisberg Riesling, 22, 25, 

45, 50 

Sauvignon Blanc, 32 
White Riesling, 45-47 
White Zinfandel, 46 
Zinfandel, 30, 31, 33, 51 

Grapes Mentioned in the Interview 

Cabernet franc, 51 

Cabernet Sauvignon, 28, 30, 53 

Chardonnay, 28, 30, 33 

Merlot, 28, 50-51 

Sauvignon blanc , 28 , 30 

Johannisberg Riesling, 28 

Zinfandel, 30, 31 

Ruth Teiser 

Born in Portland, Oregon; came to the Bay Area 

in 1932 and has lived here ever since. 
Stanford University, B.A. , M.A. in English; 

further graduate work in Western history. 
Newspaper and magazine writer in San Francisco 

since 1943, writing on local history and 

business and social life of the Bay Area. 
Book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Co-author of Winemaking in California, a history, 

An interviewer -editor in the Regional Oral 

History Office since 1965. 

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