Croatian Wine: It Has Been 40 Years Since the 'Judgement of Paris'

As we move closer to the launch of our latest project, Total Croatia Wine, we are delighted to introduce one of Croatia's leading wine voices, Bakhov sin Ivo Kozarčanin. Ivo has an excellent Croatian wine blog dating back to 2007, which you can browse through here. We are very excited to bring this wealth of Croatian wine knowledge to an international audience in English for the first time, and we start with Ivo's look at that famous day in Paris in 1976, which originally appeared on his blog on May 24, 2016. Welcome, Sir!

"Mister Spurrier, I demand you return my papers", Odette Kahn, editor of French magazine La Revue raised her voice upon hearing the results of a blind vote on Californian and French wines on May 24, 1976 in Paris.

"I am sorry Mrs. Kahn, but you cannot have them back", answered Steven Spurrier, organizer of the Judgment of Paris, a legendary evaluation during which nine French wine experts gave better reviews to American than their own wines.

"But those are my papers", demanded Kahn wishing to change some reviews.

"No, they are not yours, but mine", Spurrier insisted. Furthermore, he handed the papers to his associate and told her to take them to a wine shop he owned in Paris.
Steven Spurrier today is president of an evaluation commission of the most influential wine magazine in the world, British Decanter. In 1976 he personally chose six white (Chardonnays) and red (Cabernet Sauvignon and mixtures) American and four French wines. He did not expect the Americans to win, only to gain some promotion so his wine shop would fare better, so the results surprised him too. The drama in the InterContinental hotel was described by George M. Taber, an American journalist present at the evaluation, in his book Judgment of Paris, translated into Croatian as well. The story is interesting as it brought into fame Miljenko Grgić, today a 93-year-old co owner of Californian winery Grgich&Hills, then the main enologist of the Chateau Montelena winery whose 1973 Chardonnay was by far the best rated white wine. The red wine winner was also Californian. It was Stag's Leap Wine Cellars also from 1973, beating a three year older famed Bordeaux wine Mouton Rotchshild. This winery was founded in 1970 by the son of Polish immigrants Warren Winiarski, being also the main enologist.

"We were sure in recognizing French wines, when in fact, they were Californian. And vice versa. For an empty, watery wine we would automatically state it was Californian, which wasn't correct" - a humble post evaluation confession by Claude Dubois Millot who was then director of fame restaurant guide Gault Millau.

It needs to be said that since that evaluation French wineries mostly don't send samples to such competitions. The person most proud of the results of the Judgment of Paris might be the father of modern American winemaking Robert Mondavi, whom both Grgić and Winiarski cooperated with for years.

"I had the pleasure of working with both true heros of this story. They were surely more adept than me, but we worked together, made plans and dreamed of a day such as the one in 1976" - wrote Mondavi in the foreword of the book Judgment of Paris.

Grgić was born in the village Desne in the Neretva valley. He studies agronomics in Zagreb and left the state as a grad student, going through Germany and Canada to reach the United States. There he initiated research into the origin of the most popular Zinfandel sort. Genetics proved it is the Kaštela Crljenak, exported through Vienna into the States. On the Pelješac peninsula, in Trstenik, he hold the Grgić Vina winery that bottles Plavac and Pošip and has established a foundation to stipend gifted Croatian viticulture and winemaking students. The winery in California's Napa valley is led by his daughter Violeta and nephew Ivo Jeramaz.

The movie The Bottle Shock was filmed about the Judgment of Paris in 2008, inaptly translated into Croatian as Dvoboj vinara. It's interesting to watch, but the story has been romanticized greatly, with Miljenko Grgić not even mentioned in it. Among the producers were father and son Jim and Bo Barrett, owners of Chateau Montelena, who were quite angry when Grgić founded his own winery so they attempted to erase him from movie history. They couldn't do so from the real one as he was inducted into the House of Famed California Winemakers, while a bottle of his Chateau Montelena, as well as the winning red by his colleague Stag's Leap, can be found in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Underneath the white wine bottle it states: "This 1973 bottle of Chardonnay was made by Miljenko "Mike" Grgich, winemaker at Chateau Montelena Winery in Calistoga, California".

Read the original Croatian version here.