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James L. Barrett, Owner of Chaeau Montelena Passes Away

March 15, 2013

CALISTOGA, Calif., March 15, 2013 - James L. Barrett, Napa Valley wine pioneer and owner of Chateau Montelena, passed away on March 14, 2013. Barrett died surrounded by family and loved ones. He was 86.

Born on Nov. 8, 1926, Barrett spent his early years selling newspapers in Los Angeles. He attended UCLA and graduated with a Bachelors of Arts degree in 1946 and earned his law degree from Loyola Marymount University in 1950. Barrett served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War as a submariner in the Pacific on the USS Sea Devil. Following the war, Barrett had a thriving legal practice, and was senior partner of his firm, Barrett, Stearns, Collins, Gleason and Kinney, for over 20 years.

In 1972, Barrett and his family came to Napa Valley with one thing in mind: to start a world-class winery.

“I wanted to do something to make people happy,” Barrett often said.

Barrett discovered the empty stone chateau and the dilapidated vineyards at the northern end of Napa Valley in Calistoga, and decided that Chateau Montelena was the perfect place to realize his dreams. Barrett 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 infamous Paris Tasting.

When asked about the victory, Barrett simply replied, "Not bad for kids from the sticks."

In 1982, Barrett turned over winemaker duties to his son Bo Barrett. Barrett served as CEO and general partner of the winery and was actively involved in the day to day operations and decision making until his death.

Throughout his life Barrett actively supported many organizations dedicated to the growth and advancement of Napa Valley and the wine industry. He served as association director and president of Napa Valley Vintners during its formative years, was director of Family Winemakers of California and was a longtime member of Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors, N.P.H.I. - Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos International Board of Directors and Irish Order of the Wine Geese.

Barrett is survived by his wife Judy, and children Stephanie, Michael (Barbi), Bo (Heidi), Kevin, and Gabriela (Todd), their mother Laura Barrett, and his grandchildren Seamus, Max, Remi, Chelsea, and Sean.

A public memorial service will be held in Barrett’s honor on Tuesday, April 2 at 11:00 a.m. at the Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa, California. Donations can be made in his memory to the Napa Valley Community Foundation (

For additional information, photos or fact checking please contact Kristen Reitzell, Calhoun & Company Communications, 415-346-2929 or

Statement From Bo Barrett Regarding The Death Of His Father, James L. Barrett:

I join with my family to announce the sad news that my father, Jim Barrett, passed away today at the age of 86. He was a tough and loving man who will be greatly missed at home, at the winery and throughout the Napa Valley. My father bought Chateau Montelena in 1972 and has worked hard every day since to grow the best grapes and produce the best wines. My dad died of a life well lived.

He, along with the entire family, has prepared a succession plan for Chateau Montelena which will ensure the winery stays in our family for as many decades going forward as we have enjoyed during his life. There will be no changes to the current plan, Chateau Montelena has a wonderful future, for which we have been working toward over the past 40 years with improvements and upgrades to maintain the caliber of wines we produce.

Statement Regarding Succession Plan:

In line with the succession plan, Chateau Montelena will remain in the Barrett family and continue on as it has for the past 40 years. No changes will be made to that plan. Bo Barrett will stay on as master winemaker and CEO.

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