By Bob Hosmon
City & Shore Magazine
Much has been written about what it takes to make good wine. Critics talk about terroir, soil, weather and the winemakers who put everything together. But at the top of responsibility is the owner of the winery. And these owners, by their very deeds, deserve praise for instigating and permitting some very special wines to be on the market.
Mike Grgich emigrated from Croatia to Canada in 1954, and in 1973 moved to California, where he became the winemaker of the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, the wine that won the prize for best white wine at the famous Paris tasting of 1976. In 1977, Grgich created his own winery, Grgich Hills Cellar (later renamed Grgich Hills Estate). Today Mike is 90 years old and still actively involved in his winery. If you haven’t experienced any of his wares, do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle of his cabernet sauvignon ($70). You’ll be very glad you did.
Gil Nickel was a self-described “good old boy” from Oklahoma and one of the owners of one of the largest commercial nurseries in the world. But Gil had a passion for wine, and in 1979 he restored Far Niente Winery, an abandoned property in Oakville, Calif., (often called “the heart of Napa Valley”). When I tasted his first cabernet sauvignon it blew me away. If I didn’t know better, I would have pegged it as a first growth Bordeaux. Consistently, by adding a chardonnay and a dessert wine (Dolce) to his portfolio, Gil proved his dedication to creating great wine. Gil Nickel died in 2003, but his legacy lives on. Grab a bottle of Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon ($150+) and taste for yourself.
Jerry Lohr is another successful businessman who got the wine bug and, while keeping his farm assets in South Dakota, also bought property in Monterey County and Paso Robles. Today he has more than 3,700 acres of estate vineyards from which his very talented wine team produce quaffable wines like the J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay($14) and extraordinary “knock-your-socks-off” reds sourced from vineyards in Paso Robles. My all-time red favorites are the J. Lohr Cuvée PAU, Cuvée POM and Cuvée St. E, three reds paying homage to the Bordeaux-based regions of Pauillac, Pomerol and St. Emilion ($50 each). I would be hard-pressed to pick my favorite of the three, but you can do that for yourself; you won’t be disappointed.