James L. Barrett, Napa Valley wine pioneer and owner of Chateau Montelena when it won the famous Paris Tasting in 1976, died Thursday at age 86.
In 1972, Barrett, who had practiced law, came to Calistoga with his family with the goal of starting a world-class winery. “I wanted to do something to make people happy,” he often said.
He purchased Chateau Montelena, then an empty stone building with dilapidated vineyards in Calistoga. He replanted most of the original vineyards to cabernet sauvignon and completely refurbished the winery. While waiting for the cabernet sauvignon vines to mature, the winery produced chardonnay.
In 1976, under Barrett’s leadership, Chateau Montelena helped put California at the forefront of world-class winemaking when its 1973 chardonnay was selected as the top-rated wine over the other entries, including four white Burgundies and six California chardonnays at the famous Paris Tasting.
Asked about the victory, Barrett simply replied, “Not bad for kids from the sticks.”
His son, Bo Barrett, said the winery would remain in the Barrett family, with Bo Barrett remaining as master winemaker and CEO.
A public memorial service will be in Barrett’s honor at 11 a.m., April 2 at the Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa.
Donations can be made in his memory to the Napa Valley Community Foundation (NapaValleyCF.org).