The tasting room at Grgich Hills Winery (1829 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford, 800/532-3057, www.grgich.com, daily 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., $10) isn’t housed in the most elaborate building. The gardens aren’t showy, and the working vineyards run right up to the back of the winemaking facility. Active aging barrels crowd the main building and narrow the path to the tasting room’s restrooms. If you’re looking for a showy Napa Valley “experience,” this might not be the best place for you.
What you will find at Grgich are some of the best wines in the valley, an entirely biodynamic winemaking operation, and the rich history of fine wine from California taking its rightful place alongside and even ahead of the great French vintages. Mike Grgich took his California Chardonnay to the Paris Tasting of 1976 and entered it in the White Burgundy blind-tasting competition. It won.
The French winemakers were incensed at the result and demanded that the contest be re-run. Grgich’s Chardonnay won again. (That same year, Robert Mondavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon also took top honors in its category at the same contest.) The quality of California wines could no longer be ignored by even the snottiest of French wine connoisseurs.
Today, you’ll learn about this history when visiting Grgich Hills. You’ll also see plenty of information about biodynamic farming, a process that takes organic to the next level, using all-natural processes and including phenomenon such as the phases of the moon in the growing and harvesting cycles of the vineyards. All Grgich wines are biodynamically grown and made. Their best wine might be the descendants of Mike’s legendary Chardonnay—arguably the best Chardonnay made in Napa or anywhere else in California.
But don’t ignore the reds; Grgich offers some lovely Zinfandels and Cabernets. And the Violetta, a dessert wine named for Mike’s daughter, is a special treat that’s only made in years when the grape conditions are perfect. None of the Grgich wines are cheap, and there’s a fee for tasting, but it’s more than worth it when you sip these rare, exquisite elixirs.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition