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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How a Croatian Changed the Course of California Wine

  Mike Grgich at his estate in Croatia

If you’re a wine lover and have not read Judgement in Paris by George Taber, rush out and buy a copy.  I can’t think of another book that sets the stage for American wine more than this one.   Taber chronicles the world’s most famous blind tasting where two Californian wines beat out a lineup of some of France’s priciest Cabernets and Chardonnays.  One of these Californian winemakers was born in Croatia.

Native Croat, Mike Grgich, was the winemaker at Chateau Monhelena in the Napa Valley at the time of the tasting.   Montelena’s Chardonnay was being tasted against the biggest mover and shaker white Burgundies.  Of the 11 judges, nine were French including a Bordeaux wine chateau owner, the proprietor of Burgundy’s most iconic winery and a sommelier from one of France’s legendary three star Michelin restaurants.

Judges were asked to rate each blindly tasted wine on a 20 point scale, as well as to rank each by first place, second place etc.  The wine world has not been the same since the winner of the Chardonnay-based wine was announced.  Upon hearing that the winner was the Croatian’s California Chardonnay the French judges were outraged.  Things really came unglued, however, when the top spot for Cabernets was Stags Leap from California.  One judge asked for her ballot back.  Others voiced their indignation by demanding a recount of the results.  Their outrage is carefully chronicled in Judjment in Paris.  Taber even includes the judges’ score cards.

After this tasting the California wine industry was catapulted into a new stratosphere as oenophiles around the globe took note of the huge victory.  Moreover, Mike Grgich’s career was made.   He left Monthelena and opened his own winery, Grgich Hills.  But, he never forgot his native Croatia.   He returned to Croatia in 1996 and opened his namesake winery.  Joining us on the 2014 tour to Croatia?  Come judge for yourself.

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