Jim Barrett of Chateau Montelena dies

  • Monday 18 March 2013

James L Barrett, founder of Napa Valley's Chateau Montelena, has died at the age of 86 - 'of a life well lived', as his son Bo said.

Bo and Jim Barrett

'A live well lived': Jim Barrett, right, with Bo

Jim Barrett
, who died on 14 March, founded the Calistoga winery in 1972, and shot almost immediately to world renown when critics famously favoured his 1973 Chardonnay over four white Burgundies at the 1976 Paris Tasting.

Chateau Montelena —along with the Cabernet Sauvignon of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, which out-scored top Bordeaux producers at the same tasting—is often credited with elevating the status of Napa Valley wines in the international marketplace and laying the foundation for the commercial success they are today.

In 2010 one of the last bottles of ex-cellar 1973 Chardonnay was sold at a London auction for US$11,325 (£7,419).

In a statement Barrett's son Bo paid tribute to a 'tough and loving' man.

‘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 calibre of wines we produce.’

Barrett, a former attorney and veteran of the Korean war, rescued the historic winery, which was originally completed in 1888, from neglect and dilapidation. The building was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places thanks, in part, to Barrett’s careful restoration and the significance of his contribution to the California wine industry.

Chateau Montelena will remain in the family — as it always has — with Bo Barrett, who has been the director of winemaking since 1982, assuming the role of CEO.

In addition to its Chardonnay, Chateau Montelena makes Cabernet Sauvignon from the Calistoga estate (as it has since 1978) as well as Zinfandel and Riesling. The wine has a reputation for maintaining the elegance of an ‘old world’ style that was Barrett’s original vision.

A full obituary will be published on Tuesday.

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