by Gretchen Schisla
Over and over, we’re reminded of these pieces of business and branding advice: Successful business is built on relationships. Establish your market niche, persona and experience. Stay true to your brand. Offer a distinctive, quality product. Once you’ve made it to a good place, give back. When you come across a company with longevity, look closely, there’s no doubt these characteristics are in place.
One October in years past, I pedaled my way through Napa and Sonoma with good friends visiting pumpkin farms, small towns and wineries. One distinct memory is a stop at a small, family-owned winery called Grgich Hills, where I sampled the best buttery Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted. The experience and the wine stood out, and are still with me today.
Friendship is Business
Fast forward to an article I recently came across about the winery’s owner Mike Grgich - which brought the memories back. He’s now 89 years old, still running his winery and greeting visitors in the tasting room. “Friendship first, then tasting wine, and possibly selling wine.” Mike Grgich believes you’re mistaken if you think it’s all about the sale. Making friends is so important to him that this is the philosophy he promotes to his tasting room staff. Although he is personable and has a great sense of humor, he takes the art of winemaking seriously.
Master One Thing
From the beginning, Mike Grgich wanted his grapes to make better wine than the French competition. In 1973, he crafted a Chardonnay that put California on the world’s wine map – it beat 221 French wines in a blind tasting called the Paris Tasting of 1976. Nicknamed “The King of Chardonnay,” he stayed true to his original niche and took his notable Chardonnay worldwide. Every president since Ronald Reagan has served Grgich Hills Chardonnay at the White House, something Mike is very proud of.
Doing More, Giving Back
Grgich Hills makes all their wines with their own estate grapes and follows sustainable practices. The winery began farming organically 12 years ago and immediately saw results. “The vines started to smile,” notes Grgich. The winery has continued on to introduce biodynamic farming practices and solar panels.
While Mike is still an active presence at the winery, his daughter Violet and nephew, Ivo Jeramaz will continue his legacy in the years to come. Growing up poor in communist Croatia, it took Grgich four years to make his way to Napa. He notes that he had $32 in his shoe when he came to America - one reason why gratitude and giving back are so important to him. A humanitarian, he supports Roots of Peace, an organization which replaces landmines around the world with grape vines. On the 25th anniversary of the Paris Tasting, Grgich hosted a fundraiser to finance the demining of Zadar, Croatia. He has also established a Roots of Peace Foundation in his homeland of Croatia, where he has helped to plant more than 40,000 grapevines and 12,000 apple trees.
Memorable brands are like good wine. They stay true to their roots and only grow better with time.