- 86 years old
- Date of birth: Nov 8, 1926
- Place of birth:
Chicago, Illinois, United States
- Date of passing: Mar 14, 2013
Born on November 8, 1926, in Chicago to Irish immigrants John and Margaret Barrett. The family moved to Los Angeles in the 1930’s where Jim found his first job selling newspapers on a street corner. As a member of the Robert Bosworth Mitchell Boys Choir he appeared in many movies and radio programs. He graduated from Loyola High School, UCLA (Bachelor of Arts Degree, 1946) and Loyola Law School in Los Angeles (1951).
After service in the US Navy as a submariner, he founded a successful law firm in Los Angeles, where he was Senior Partner for over 20 years, and served as President of the South Bay Bar Association.
Being an incurable romantic, Barrett discovered the empty stone chateau and dilapidated vineyards at the northern end of Napa Valley, and decided that the historic Chateau Montelena Property was the perfect place to realize his dreams.
“I wanted to do something to make people happy,” Barrett often said.
In 1972 Barrett and his family purchased Chateau Montelena Winery and replanted most of the original vineyards to Cabernet Sauvignon and completely refurbished the winery, completing the “rebirth” of the Estate. The first few years he still lived and worked in Southern California, so he “commuted” to the winery on a regular basis in his airplane.
While waiting for the Cabernet Sauvignon vines to mature, the winery produced Chardonnay. In 1976, under Barrett’s leadership, the winery skyrocketed to the forefront of world-class wine making after its 1973 Chardonnay was selected as the top-rated wine over the other entries, including four white Burgundies and six California Chardonnays at the “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. Up until his death, Barrett remained actively involved in the operations of the company, and the celebrated family-owned winery continued to thrive with him at the helm.
When not at the winery, Barrett enjoyed bird hunting, fly fishing, skiing, tennis, flying (Ret.), scuba diving (Ret.) and chess. In 2010 he published his book A Pilgrim’s Journey. Active in charitable work and philanthropy, he served for many years in various capacities for Friends of the Orphans, which operates homes for orphaned and abandoned children in Latin America and Haiti. He was a longtime member of the Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors. In the local community he was a pioneer in developing affordable housing and the Calistoga Community Pool. He was a Director of Family Winemakers of California and President of the Napa Valley Vintners during the organization’s formative years.
Barrett is survived by his wife of 33 years, Judy, and by his children Stephanie, Bo (Heidi), Michael (Barbara), Kevin and Gabriela, their mother Laura Barrett (Jack), and five grandchildren, Seamus, Max, Remi, Chelsea and Sean, and by many nieces, nephews and dear friends.
• Memorial contributions may be made to the Jim Barrett Memorial Fund at the Napa Valley Community Foundation.
• For Mr. Barrett's tribute page on the Chateau Montelena website, please click here.
"I had the great fortune of having Jim as my father in law for 24 years. He possessed a true reverence for life and sharing it with those he loved and cared about so dearly. Thanks to him, I will forever cherish my memories of "family gatherings, trips in the snow, fresh powder! hot ziggity woof woof, goofy hat club, wonders of Rome, more than I can name. I am grateful beyond words. xoxo"
"I just wanted to thank Mr. Barrett for living his dream. I love the wines he created and the movie Bottle Shock brought me here to research Mr. Barrett and his son. I am so sad to see that he has died but so happy that he lived and created something beautiful. I hope his family is comforted in knowing that so many strangers are grateful for Mr. Barrett's life's work. Thank you!"
"I just watched the movie, Bottle Shock. In doing more research, I learned more about the Paris Tasting and Montelena Vineyard. Jim Barrett was an extraordinary man."
"It was a very sad day when Judy and I heard the news ! We have know Jim for many, many years ! We were fortunate to sell the great wines of Chateau Montelena since their first vintage,1972, at our former store the Duke of Bourbon..We send our very best to his Judy, Bo, Heidi, the Barrett and Chateau Montelena families ! RIP Jim"
"My wife, Yu Ding, and I attended the memorial today. We saw the movie "Bottle Shock", and that's how we came to know about Chateau Montelena, and the people behind it. We are deeply saddened that Jim Barrett has passed on, but we are grateful that he has had so many good friends and family members throughout his life. Condolences to the people that knew him best. Jose & Ding."
"Jim Barrett, was a bright and gleaming light of Irish sunshine...seeking to bring enjoyment and happiness to all that knew him, knew of him, and loved the enjoyment of great wines and telling of great stories...
He was visionary, passionate, and committed to bringing a little bit of happiness to those around him each and every time they encountered him. God bless, Godspeed..."
"I discovered Château Montelena and Jim and Bo Barrett in the Fall of 2012 in my college English class. We watched the movie "Bottle Shock" and our assignment was to do a movie review. I loved it, giving it 5 bottles of wine. I know the movie was loosely based on their lives and the Paris wine tasting, but I feel like I really got to get to know them. I am so sorry Jim passed away."
"“Wine is sunlight, held together by water"
― Galileo Galilei
Mr. Barrett, we did not know you but you definitely were the sunlight in many lives.
The Wheelock's of Saratoga Springs"
"I'm new to this winery having discovered it through the movie "Bottle Shock". The story of these wonderful characters has stayed in my mind and my heart and it has been a dream ever since to one day visit this winery and meet Jim. I'm so sad to hear of your passing and am once again amazed by your wonderful contribution to your community. God bless you."
"For many years I had the privilege to be included in the "Pecota International Tennis Club"..At weekly games, as well as at Wednesday lunches, I came to admire Jim for his wit, warmth and insights. Everyone liked to play with him and sit next to him.
Jim enriched our livers with his love and friendship.
Mu~neca and Fred Rijke"
"Last night my wife and I opened a 2010 Chardonnay from our shipment and it was delicious as always. Montelena was the first good wine I purchased and the first wine I introduced my wife to. Thank you for all the memories."
"Watching Bottle Shock, which led me to the Montelena website and the news of Mr. Barrett's passing. Condolences to the family and thanks for the wonderful wines..."
"Jim was married to sister, Laura, for 25 yrs. We always loved him,. He treated our mother with so much consideration and love We miss him in our thoughts and prayers.. My husband, Larry. is now 89 yrs old and I am 85., May Jim rest in peace,. He was a good man."
"I had the great, good fortune to work for Jim at Chateau Montelena. A gentleman, a kind soul, a generous heart, a great Irishman. Slán agus beannacht leat. Bealtaine suaimhneas síoraí dá anam. (He always liked it when I came up with Irish phrases.) Scileann fíon fírinne."
"I worked as a legal secretary at Barrett, Stearns, Collins, Gleason & Kinney during the '70's and 80's and always enjoyed working with Jim. He was a gentleman and once I remember he received a phone call from Spain and I was able to translate the phone call for him. I love wine and I love Chateau Montelena...what a great legacy to leave."
"A Napa Valley icon, to many of us Jim was just a great friend. I have never known a more warm and caring man. I will miss his Irish smile, his wit and his wisdom. I will miss his wicked underhand serve, that I never quite learned to hit. Here's to ya, lad!"
"It was an honor to know a man with such integrity, honesty and incredible vision. The salt of the earth. I am happy to have known and worked with Jim for years. The winery is in good leadership with BO at the helm."
"In 1979, when I was a young rookie, working for Vintage Wine Merchants, I had the great privilege of selling Chateau Montelena wines and the special opportunity of sitting with Jim Barrett, tasting through several vintages and listening to him talk about what was obviously one of his greatest pleasures, his vision for Chateau Montelena. I have always respected Jim. I'm glad he lived well."
"Great Legend in wine making. Rest in Peace."
"To a great man that had a vision. You did it right and we all applaude you. From another wine industry friend."
"We loved you and will miss your beautiful smile and bright twinkling eyes. Many are the memories we carry in our hearts and minds. Our love and condolences to you family. God Bless you."
"Ich werde Ihn immer in bester Erinnerung halten. Unser Mitgefühl ist nun bei seiner Familie und allen die um Ihn trauern.
Mit Ihm verlor die Weinwelt einen großen Vordenker und Visionär!"
"I lost a great man today. He was my second father. When my dad passed away when I was 15, he stepped in and raised me as one of his own. He is a wonderful man, with so much life to share. I can not recall a childhood memory without him. He raised me to the woman that I am today. He walked me down the aisle when I got married....He lead me to faith, strength and the will to survive.I love u"
"Thank you Jim. You made us very happy! We have been able to enjoy the creations of Chateau Montelena on many occasion. Tonight we are enjoying a 2010 Chardonnay in your honor. We wish the Chateau Montelena family the best in the years to come."
"I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to taste the 1973 Chardonnay that brought California winemaking into the forefront. I have visited Chateau Montelena many times over the years. The high quality wines that Jim and others of that generation began producing sparked a lifelong interest in wines and winemaking that eventually compelled me to return to school, at age 60, and earn an AS d"
"May God continually Bless those who dare to dream for it is through them that we aspire to be better. Thank you Jim for teaching us to do was is truly in our hearts and having the courage to strive for excellence.
"Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him. Amen."
"What an incredible man, and what legacy you leave for all of us to enjoy. You will be truly and surely missed. Sending love to the family. * Cheers *
Patti & Andy Moulds
"I believe Hunter Sterling said it best. California and our nation owe him a tremendous amount of gratitude for constantly striving for perfection!
Truly a man who left his mark on this world!
"Our Lord Jesus turned water into wine, and He created you. You (Jim) made our Lord and California very proud! God bless you and your beautiful family, for you are an American dream and passion come true. Jim you are a true inspiration to all small business owners, may we be as great as you. Our deepest condolences to the Barrett family and Chateau Montelena.- Lancaster Ca."
"One of the "Born-Again Winemakers", a crazy bunch of tough and funny guys in the late 60's/early 70's that worked their butts off as stock brokers, lawyers and doctors and chucked it all for the vineyard life. I met Mr. B at Susie's on the Mountain one wonderful summer in 1983 when Bo & Heidi were dating. Please accept my sincere condolences on this great loss for the whole valley."
"It was an honor & a privilege to have been the Executive Assistant to my mentor & hero - "Mr. B". Thank you for everything you taught me. I'll never forget you.
With much affection, Lynne"
"Jim was a classy guy with a great sense of humor. I photographed him a number of times and always felt a special connection. He leaves a great legacy behind."
"California owes tremendous gratitude to Jim + Family @ Chateau Montelena, a winery with heart and vision. Raise a glass, and welcome a new era @ Chateau Montelena. Merci.
Humbly yours, Hunter Sterling"
"A legend you were, pure as the roots your planted and as fine as the wine your produced, Godspeed Sir, a glass of wine awaits you."
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