James L. Barrett, a renowned vintner, has died at the age of 86. Barrett was considered a pioneering Napa Valley vintner who co-owned the Chateau Montelena wine brand.
The Chateau was founded in 1882 by Alfred Tubbs in Calistoga, California. But it was abandoned in the early 1900s and was considered non-operational. Its vineyards were in a state of neglect when Barrett and a group of investors purchased it in 1972.
He was an attorney and senior partner at a law firm in Torrence at the time. However, he soon decided to leave his practice and move to Napa Valley. Barrett devoted his full time to the chateau, allowing it to burst back onto the scene in 1972.
Under his guidance, Chateau Montelena and California wine became famous. Int 1976, “The Judgement of Paris” was held. California wines were pitted against French wines in a blind taste test organized by wine merchant Steven Spurrier to celebrate America’s bicentennial.
In an astonishing upset, California wines won in both the red and white categories. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat out four white Burgundies from France and five other California Chardonnays to claim first prize. For James L. Barrett, it was a huge accomplishment.
Along with launching Chateau Montelena into the international spotlight, the win also helped launch California’s modern wine industry. Barrett was thrilled with the win, adding, “Not bad for kids from the sticks.” Bo Barrett, Jim’s son and the company’s current CEO, added that the family didn’t expect the impact of the win to last a long time. But it did.
The Chateau Montelena was able to show off its Chardonnay-making capabilities. But ultimately, the Cabernet became its more important effort. James Barrett turned the chateau’s winemaking duries over to Bo in 1982, though he remained with the company as CEO and general partner.
Bo took over the top job in 2008 after a failed attempt to sell the company to owners of Bordeaux property Cos d’Estournel. James L. Barrett’s cause of death was not announced.