This is the third installment in a series of profiles of the North Bay’s Most Influential Leaders. Nominations are welcome at www.northbaybusinessjournal.com.
Previously profiled: James A. Andersen, Dante Benedetti, Russell A. Colombo, David I. Freed, James B. Keegan, Brian Kelly, Thomas B. Klein, Gary D. Nelson, Steve Page, Lawrence Simons, Matt White, Jim Adams, Rachel M. Dollar, Rob McMillan, Al Coppin, Daniel J. Duckhorn, Mark Idhe, Stan Mead, Dave Siembieda and Iver Skavdal
Title: President and winemaker
Company: Grgich Hills Estate
Company address: 1829 St. Helena Highway, Rutherford 94573
Professional background: Worked for Lee Stewart of the original Souverain Cellars; Brother Timothy at Christian Brothers; for almost nine years for André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards; with Robert Mondavi; and then Chateau Montelena, where the chardonnay I crafted won the famed 1976 Paris tasting. On Independence Day 1977, Austin Hills and I broke ground in Rutherford to build Grgich Hills Cellar.
Education: University of Zagreb, Croatia, winemaking and viticulture
What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? You can’t keep doing things the same way as when the economy was in better shape. You have to let everyone know at your business that you need new ideas, new ways of doing things. You have to work hard to be the best.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry? When I arrived in August 1958, there were only a dozen or so wineries – now there are more than 400. The competition has become more and more intense.
What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? The same advice my father gave me, “Every day do something a little better. That way, after 365 days, you will have made great progress and you will have become a far better person than you were at the start of the year.”
What’s the best advice for weathering today’s economic environment? Quality will always sell better than mediocrity.
How do you think your business will change in the next five years? We will use the Internet more, but we will always value our friendships with our customers.
What is your most memorable business experience? For almost my whole life, I dreamed of owning my own winery. To be able to achieve that was very satisfying.
What is your greatest business success? For the chardonnay that I made at Chateau Montelena to have won the Paris Tasting in 1976. Not only did it allow New World winemakers to see they didn’t need French soil to make great wines, it allowed me to join with Austin Hills to start my own winery.
What was your toughest business decision? Ending long-term contracts with growers who were friends so Grgich Hills could become estate-grown.
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? I practice yoga each day. It helps keep me mobile.
First job: I stomped grapes for my father when I was two-and-a-half years old.
Most admired businessperson outside the company: I learned so much from working for Robert Mondavi. We remained friends until he passed away.
Current reading: I mostly read magazines and newspapers to keep current.
Most want to meet: I always wanted to meet President Reagan. He took the 1979 Grgich Hills chardonnay to France for dinner with President Mitterrand.
Stress relievers: Yoga
Favorite activities outside work: I enjoy a daily walk through the vineyard surrounding my home.
Other achievements: I was inducted into the Vintner Hall of Fame in 2008. Only in America could a poor emigrant come with no money but with hard work and help from many people, eventually own his own winery. To be included in such a prestigious organization as the Vintner Hall of Fame has made my American Dream come true.
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