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Grgich Hills

From California, a biodynamic winery that produces exceptional Cabernets from Rutherford,
Zinfandels rich with blackberry, currants, and hints of cinnamon and clove,
light and fruity Merlot and an estate-grown, elegant Fumé Blanc

By Simone Zarmati Diament

When it comes to making great wines, Miljenko "Mike" Grgich, a native of Croatia, knows a thing or two. I'd say even six. As the California winemaker likes to say, "We treat our six different wines like special children, and we pour all of our love, attention and artistry into nourishing their exceptional character and flavor..."

It isn't only the fact that the land he bought in the heart of Napa Valley, way back in the 70's, is one of the best suited for wine growing. It is because, even at the ripe age of 81, Mike Grgich treats his grapes as if they have a soul and need personal care. "The grapes will tell you what they need," he claims. " You just have to listen."

In 1976, the world listened as Mike Grgich's 1973, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay made history at the celebrated May 24, 1976 Paris Blind Tasting, performed by a panel of leading French wine experts, when it beat three to one four grand crus from Burgundy, and was decreed the finest white wine in the world.

Mike Grgich's reputation as one of the greatest winemakers in the world was established.

His friendship with some of the wine legends of the Napa Valley, particularly Andre Tchelistcheff with whom he worked for nine years at Beaulieu Vineyard, and Robert Mondavi who helped him start up his own winery in 1977, helped him acquire a better knowledge of red wine making and, from then on, he dedicated his life to making wines of the highest quality.

To produce the six wines Mike Grgich so lovingly refers to, growing grapes sustainably is a priority at Grgich Hills, which, with 257 acres of biodynamic farmed land in Calistoga, Yountville and Rutherford, as well as in Carneros and American Canyon, is one of the country's largest biodynamic vineyard holdings. The remaining 366 acres is farmed organically and will be fully converted to biodynamics by 2006.

Conventional farming, which uses synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and systemic fungicides, sterilizes the soil and creates "addicted" plants which cannot express the true nature of the soil in which they grow. Biodynamics treats the earth as a living organism and utilizes nature's basic life forces, natural compost and cosmic cycles to bring about balance between the grapevines and the Earth.

In addition to their fabled Chardonnay, Grgich Hills also produces a refreshingly crisp Fume Blanc, a rich and spicy Zinfandel, a Cabernet Sauvignon with tremendous depth and complexity, and a luscious dessert wine named "Violetta," in honor of Mike's daughter. The latest addition is a lush and richly fragrant Merlot.

Photos: Carla Dazarola, Miami Photo Shoot

Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc 2003, Estate Grown Napa Valley, American Canyon ($26)
This is the second estate-grown vintage of Fumé Blanc made from grapes from American Canyon vineyard. This wine, aged 5 months in old French oak, was released this July. It is light and elegant with a nose of white peaches, pineapple, kiwi, lime and peach blossoms. In the mouth, the wine is crisp and clean with lemon, lime, pear, fig, tropical fruit and a hint of vanilla. It is a versatile food partner with summer salads, roasted chicken, fresh oysters, scallops or red snapper.

Grgich Hills Zinfandel 2001 Napa Valley, Calistoga ($29)
Zinfandel is a special grape to Mike Grgich, because it is now documented that it originated in Croatia. For more than one hundred years, the origin of the Zinfandel varietal was thought to be the Italian Primitivo. Then about ten years ago, Dr. Carole Meredith, a professor and geneticist at the University of California at Davis traced it to the Croatian crljenak kastelanski(pronounced tsurl-yen-knock), the parent of Plavac Mali, and verified this through DNA testing.. This encouraged Mike to open a new winery in Croatia, both to produce wine from this special grape and to bring his lifetime of knowledge and experience back to his native country. This 2001 Zinfandel comes from a superlative vintage in the Calistoga vineyard. With 12 months in old American and French oak, the result is a wine with all the glories of Zinfandel: deep purple color, medium to full body and good balance with exceptional finesse. The nose is rich with blackberry, currants, and hints of cinnamon and clove. In the mouth, rhubarb and strawberry, ripe plums and hints of dried cherries, followed by an crisp finish. Enjoy with a pork tenderloin finished with a red wine reduction sauce.

Grgich Hills Merlot 2001 Napa Valley ($46)
This is the third release of Merlot. With a nose rich in cassis, cherry, rose petals, and a touch of cedar, this wine which spent 198 months in new and old French oak, is light and friendly yet full of flavor, with hints of cherry, strawberry, chocolate, black pepper and cinnamon. Crisp tannins make for a satisfying finish. This Merlot is great for sipping but also to be enjoyed with a grilled rack of lamb or cheeses.

Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 Napa Valley, Rutherford ($60)
I'll never forget the first time I tasted a Grgich Hills Cab. It was a 1985 which had fully matured by 1999. It still lingers in my taste memory. After all Rutherford's rich alluvial sandy, loamy and gravelly soils and its sunny climate are ideal for producing great Cabs. This wine, harvested in mid-October 2000, enjoyed warm, summer days that gave way to cool evenings in a vineyard where the soil is well drained and receives minimal irrigation throughout the growing season. The additional time on the vine allowed the grapes to develop intensive varietal character and exceptional quality. In the nose there is a generous cabernet fragrance of ripe black fruit, cassis and cedar. The first sip prepares you for a big, ripe and opulent wine, well-structured and balanced. This wine - a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc -- which already spent 2 years in new French and American oak, should stay in your cellar where it will develop even more complexity and elegance over the years. I can't wait to try it in 2010!

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