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Croatia/US Wine Connection
by
Terry and Kathy Sullivan

As some in the United States prepare for the trip across the Atlantic to Zagreb for the International Wine Tourism Conference, they are beginning to take notice of Croatian wines. There is an interesting connection between Croatian wine and wine in the States. The story begins with the birth of Miljenko Grgić “Mike Grgich” in a village in southern Dalmatia. His parents and grandparents made wine from grapes they grew. Miljenko grew up in the winegrowing and winemaking culture and started a degree in enology but left Croatia (Yugoslavia) in 1954. By 1958 he had settled in Napa Valley. Miljenko had several winemaking positions at different wineries including the Robert Mondavi Winery. It was while working at Chateau Montelena, though, that he crafted a wine that put the United States on the world wine map.

Chateau Montelena ChardonnayThe Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat the best of Burgundy at the Judgement of Paris in 1976. When news hit the press, restaurant patrons began asking for the California Chardonnay made at Chateau Montelena. Restaurant owners started taking notice. The world discovered that there is a major wine region in the United States capable of besting the best French Chateaus.

Grgich’s time at Chateau Montelena did not last long after the Paris Judgement. Now his dream of owning his own winery has come true. In 1977, he with Austin HIlls, established Grgich Hills Cellar (now known as Grgich Hills Estate.) Grgich Hills Estate has five vineyards in Napa Valley with a total of 366 acres. The vineyards are certified organic and farmed using Biodynamic techniques. Not only does Miljenko own Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford, California, in 1996 Miljenko and his daughter Violet established a winery in Croatia simply called Grgić. This Croatian winery focuses on the Plavac Mali and Pošip varieties. The Pošip grapes for the winery are grown on the Korcula island and taken by boat to the winery.

GrgićOne of the grape varieties of interest to Miljenko is Zinfandel. He was intrigued with the origins of Zinfandel in California. Along with his interest he encouraged others to investigate the Plavac Mali grapes growing in Croatia. At first researchers were able to prove a relationship. In 2001 using DNA testing, Dr. Carole Meredith was able to prove that Zinfandel in California was the same as a Crljenak grapevine found in Croatia. According to an article by Grgich, “In 2001 Dr. Carole Meredith was kind and analyzed by DNA the Crljenak, the Croatian Zinfandel, by eight different tests, and all proved that it was the same as that found in California. It was further discovered that Crljenak has many offspring in Croatia, one of which is Plavac Mali. Actually, the parents of Plavac Mali are Crljenak and Dobricic.”

At the Vina Croatia tasting in New York, we had an opportunity to taste a couple of the wines from Grgić Winery in Croatia. The Pošip was a straw color and offered yellow stone fruit on the aroma and taste accompanied by a crisp finish. The Plavac Mali was a dark ruby color. This wine had dark berry fruits on the aroma and taste with a hint of perfume on the aroma. The wine with its very bold tannins would pair well with steaks. Terry asked the representative from Grgić which of the wines from Miljenko’s wineries did he prefer. After some thought he said he liked the wines from the Croatian winery better than the California winery.

Miljenko Grgić was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame in 2008. On April 1, 2013 he will celebrate his 90th birthday.

 

Article written March 2013



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