2008 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay

Operative’s Choice: Top Chardonnay

Mission Codename: A True Classic

Operative: Agent White

Objective: Return to Operative favorite, Grgich Hills Estate and secure the latest edition of their delicious Napa Valley Chardonnay.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Grgich Hills Estate

Wine Subject: 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay

Winemaker: Miljenko “Mike” Grgich

Backgrounder:Chardonnay is arguably the greatest of all white grape varietals, showing its influence in the legendary sparkling wines of Champagne, the great whites of Burgundy and of course its expression as ’the’ white wine of California. Chardonnay represents over 50% of the planted white grapes in California with nearly 100,000 acres planted. With such a great number of wines made from this grape, it stands to reason that finding wines of immense quality would be hard, but look no further. In this wine, we have found perhaps the ideal expression of the California Chardonnay.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Light and pale straw yellow that lightens to a golden hued clear along the edges. When swirled, this slightly more viscous wine settles quickly in the glass and leaves slow thin and randomly spaced legs on the side of the glass.

Smell – Bright tropical and citrus fruit including peach, grapefruit, pineapple and melon meld with white flowers, soft toast and spice. Subtle notes of nutty almond, soft lees, orange blossom, oak and other complex aromas present themselves as you explore the nose of this wine

Feel – Smooth and dry, with good weight, this medium to full-bodied and relatively sturdy white has vibrant acidity, spice and minerality that frames the fruit perfectly and lingers long into the finish.

Taste – Layers of tart and fresh fruit including pink grapefruit, pineapple tart pear and white peach linger with soft toast, spice and lingering dry minerals. The complex aromas from the nose also make their presence known on the palate.

Finish – Extremely long and crisp with its tangy and vibrant acidity and minerality lingering and inviting another sip as the tart and fresh tropical fruit and other flavors fade.

Conclusion – The 2008 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay is a delicious wine that unlike many California Chardonnay does not undergo any malolactic fermentation resulting in a fresh, vibrant and racy wine that is exceptional with all sorts of good. We paired this delicious wine with a wilted romaine salad topped with roasted strawberry vinaigrette and pine nuts and linguine with spinach, lobster and an artichoke turmeric cream sauce. Enjoy this wine tonight or for the next four to five years.

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: Mike Grgich

WINE EDUCATION: I studied winemaking and viticulture at the University of Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia (now Croatia) and then I had to leave to escape communism. In 1995, 41 years after I left Croatia, I returned to the University of Zagreb, at 77 years old, and received my degree.

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: I left Yugoslavia to make wine in California and eventually arrived in Napa Valley in August 1958, with no money, just in time for crush to begin. I worked for some of the legends of Napa Valley: Lee Stewart, of the original Souverain Cellars; Brother Timothy at Christian Brothers; for almost nine years for André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards; with for Robert Mondavi and then Chateau Montelena, where the chardonnay I crafted won the famed 1976 Paris Tasting On Independence Day 1977, Austin Hills and I broke ground in Rutherford to build Grgich Hills Cellar.

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Our goal remains the same as when I started the winery more than 30 years ago—to craft a wine that is harmonized. To me, that means not too much oak, not too much alcohol, not too much of any one attribute. In other words, we craft a whole wine that is a pleasure to drink.

WINEMAKER QUOTE: The less you process the wine, the more people will like it. Sometimes we are led astray by figures and numbers and percentages, but it is always the taste that is important. Wine is like a long chain, from the vine to the glass. Every link—every step—is important. If one or two links are missed or don’t hold together, the whole chain falls apart. That means paying close attention to every link, from pruning and trellising to applying compost and disking in the vineyards to smelling and tasting every barrel to monitor the progress of the wine.”

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: Our first release was the 1977, Johannisburg Riesling in November 1977.


AGENT RED: Greetings, Mister Grgich. It is an honor to meet with you. We are thrilled to be showing your 2007 Estate Zinfandel today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

MIKE GRGICH: Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you.

AGENT RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

MIKE GRGICH: I was the youngest of eleven children and during harvest my parents would put me an open wine barrel with some harvested grapes. So, I was safe and could not wander off and I could eat the grapes if I were hungry or stomp the grapes and drink the juice. So, ever since I was two or three years, I’ve stomped grapes every harvest.

AGENT RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

MIKE GRGICH: When I came to America, André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards was the best known winemaker. He was called the maestro. I wanted to learn from the best so I applied to Beaulieu. I worked there for nine years, from 1959 until 1968. I was the first quality control person in the Napa Valley.

While I was there I worked at improving the white wines, which in the early days would oxidize and become worthless. I was part of developing the use of Millipore sterile filtration, which was important to prevent bacteria from going into the bottle. Beaulieu was the first in California to induce malolactic fermentation in all of the red wines.

AGENT RED: Who do you make wine for?

MIKE GRGICH: You have to make the wine that youlike.

AGENT RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

MIKE GRGICH: Since the Chardonnay that I crafted at Chateau Montelena won the 1976 Paris Tasting, I’ve been known for Chardonnay. Following the classic style that I established when we began in 1977, we did not allow our Chardonnay to undergo malolactic fermentation.

AGENT RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

MIKE GRGICH: Match this Chardonnay’s elegant style with poached salmon, roasted chicken, grilled pork, or creamy cheeses.

AGENT RED: In your opinion, what makes your vineyards so special?

MIKE GRGICH: We grow our Chardonnay in our American Canyon and Carneros vineyards in the southern tip of Napa Valley, not far from San Pablo Bay, which spills into the San Francisco Bay. The cool maritime breezes and fog allow the grapes to slowly ripen to develop complex flavors while maintaining a pleasing natural acidity that is impossible to achieve in warmer areas.

AGENT RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

MIKE GRGICH: We are evaluating the lots of our 2010 Chardonnay to make the first blend of this wine. This involves racking the wine and then cleaning around 1,000 barrels, so it’s big project. In the vineyard, we are busy cutting weeds around the vines and disking the soil to allow aeration. The vines are sending out shoots right now and it’s very exciting to start a new vintage.

It’s exciting to be enjoying my 52 vintage in the Napa Valley.

AGENT RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?

MIKE GRGICH: My father taught me, “Every day do something a little better,” and that’s not only good advice for winemaking but for living.

AGENT RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

MIKE GRGICH: We hope you enjoy the wine and we invite you to visit us at the winery in Rutherford.

RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

  • MIKE GRGICH:* Thank you for your interest. We enjoy working with the Wine Spies

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the Grgich Hills Estate can be seen in this satellite photo.

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