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Hall of Fame winemaker Mike Grgich, left, at his Calistoga home in Napa Valley with wine columnist Frank Mangio. Photo by Ken Morris
CommunityTaste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Into the valley of the ‘greatest grapes’ — Part 2

It’s day two of my journey to the center of the wine universe, Napa Valley.

This 30-mile long by five mile wide wine country is one of the smallest with just 4 percent of California’s wine grape production.

Yet, it generates $13 billion annually for the local economy and accounts for one-third of the wine sold in the U.S.

It’s been well documented that the leading varietals in Napa Valley are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both were brought over from France and both Napa brands have beaten the French versions in high profile competitions.

Napa Valley has a dry Mediterranean climate, found only on 2 percent of the Earth’s surface, which helps make it a consistently sought-after location for premium wines. There are nearly 500 wineries and I would venture to say that nearly all make Chardonnay and Cabernet, the top selling varietals in California,

In measuring the 2015 season, you have to go back to the winter of 2014 when a dry, warm winter resulted in small clusters of grapes on the vines with highly concentrated flavors.

According to the Napa Valley Vintners, this resulted in early bud break and a long flowering period.  In the Summer, everything got accelerated when a surge of hot temperatures made for a quick conclusion to the season.

The first grapes for sparkling wine were picked on July 22 and by Oct.10, it was all over for the most part, about a month less than normal.  Napa Valley, like most other wine countries in California produced significantly less fruit this year, but what was collected is producing a high concentration of flavor.

Stacy Vogel, winemaker for Miner Winery said “we had one of the earliest harvests on record, with very low yields, half of what we produced in the great 2112 harvest.  The smaller cluster led to concentrated berries that gave us deep flavor and color.

We’ll wait about two years to bottle so they can fully develop.”

Ryan Hill of Hill Family Estate had a similar assessment when he reported “we had a lot of heat in winter. January felt like May.  The spike in temperatures affected production to something like two to four tons of grapes per acre, about 60 percent less than normal.  In some cases with newer vineyards, costs will exceed sales.”


A visit with the “Godfather” of Napa Valley

Mike Grgich can “read” a grape better than anyone I know. Since 1958, when Miljenko “Mike” Grgich arrived in Napa Valley from Croatia to make wine, first for some of the leading winemakers of that era, then for his own winery, he has had a keen knack for knowing when to hold them and when to pick them.

His legacy is well known worldwide, starting with his 1973 Chardonnay creation for Chateau Montelena that competed with similar wines at the famous Paris Tasting of 1976.  The Grgich-made Chardonnay defeated the French entries, a shock heard round the world of wine that put Napa Valley firmly in a position of respect and fame.  It was only a year after this event that Grgich founded his own winery, Grgich Hills Estate.

He would later win the Great Chicago Chardonnay Showdown of 1980, beating 221 other Chardonnays from around the world, including France for a second time, with a 1977 Chardonnay.  It was the first wine produced at his new winery, and today still tastes outstanding.

Grgich has now given the responsibility for winemaking and production to his Croatian nephew Ivo Jeramaz, and operations to his daughter Violet Grgich.  His 10 year Communications and Marketing Manager is Ken Morris, considered the most knowledgeable in the Napa Valley.

Never one to rest on his accomplishments, the 92-year-old Grgich is thinking bigger these days. “I am now writing a book on my life as I know it, and I am helping to write a movie on the real story of the Paris Tasting, from the book “Judgment of Paris.”  Shooting has already started on the movie with the star of the shoot, Mike Grgich.  The Napa Valley “Godfather” of Wine is reaching for new heights of fame.


Read more about the TASTE OF WINE Napa Valley Harvest Tour Part 3, in next week’s column.


Wine Bytes

North County Wine Company has a Halloween Party & Costume Contest, Oct. 31 with a red wine flight and snacks. Prizes for the top three costumes.  Details at (760) 653-9032.

Seasalt Seafood Bistro presents a Luca Wine Dinner Nov. 4 at 6 p.m.  Luca is an Argentina wine with many awards.  A five-course dinner will pair with the wines.  $55. Call (858) 765-7100 for an RSVP.

Twenty/20, in the Sheraton Hotel Carlsbad is planning a Whiskey Tasting event Nov. 5 at 6 p.m.  Delicious small plate pairings.  $55.  Call (760) 827-2500 for a place.

PAON Restaurant & Wine Bar Carlsbad has a Tolosa Wine event Nov. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m.  $20. More by calling (760) 729-7377.


Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View his columns at and reach him at [email protected].  Follow him on Facebook.