Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Jim Barrett of Château Montelena dies

California wine pioneer Jim Barrett, owner of Château Montelena in the Napa Valley, has died aged 86 of “a life well-lived.” As reported on, Speaking of the sad news, his son Bo Barrett said: “He was a tough and loving man who will be greatly missed at home, at the winery and throughout the Napa Valley.”
In 1972 Barrett founded the Calistoga winery, which was originally built in 1888, rescuing it from neglect and dilapidation. Four years later it shot to international fame when its 1973 Chardonnay beat a quartet of top white Burgundies to win first place among the whites in the historic Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976 organised by wine writer Steven Spurrier, who then worked as a wine merchant in the City of Light.
Helping to put California on the world wine map, Barrett famously told a reporter after the upset: "Not bad for kids from the sticks.” The story of Montelena’s historic triumph was made into a film in 2008 – Bottle Shock – starring Bill Pullman as Barrett and Alan Rickman as a mustachioed Steven Spurrier. In 2010, one of the last bottles of the 1973 Chardonnay was sold at a London auction for £7,419.
Bill Pullman as Jim Barrett and Chris Pin as Bo Barrett in Bottle Shock
Born in LA in 1926, Barrett served in the navy during World War II. Graduating from UCLA in 1946, he went on to complete a law degree at Loyola Marymount University. When war broke out in Korea he was recalled and served as a lieutenant on a submarine. After the war ended, he built a successful legal practice, but dreamt of starting a winery.
In 1972, Barrett bought the old stone Château Montelena property in Calistoga, at the time covered in overgrown vineyards and in serious need of attention. He cleared and replanted the original vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon vines, hired Mike Grgich as winemaker and released his first wines that same year.
While his Cabernet vines matured, Barrett focused on Chardonnay made from bought in grapes, with the success of the 1973 Chardonnay at the Judgement of Paris tasting turning Château Montelena into a household name. The winery’s first Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1978, and has since become one of the most revered Old World-style Cabernets made in the Napa Valley. In addition, Château Montelena also makes Zinfandel and Riesling.
Château Montelena

Bo was made winemaker in 1982, but Barrett remained actively involved in the day-to-day running of the winery. In 2008, he signed an agreement to sell Montelena to Michel Reybier, owner of Château Cos d'Estournel in Bordeaux, reportedly for over US$120 million. But when the global economy floundered, the sale fell through.
Bo, who is married to Heidi Peterson-Barrett, maker of the inaugural vintage of cult California wine Screaming Eagle, will continue to run the family-owned winery, staying true to his father’s vision: “He has prepared a succession plan which will ensure the winery stays in our family for as many decades going forward as we have enjoyed during his life," said Bo, adding, “Château Montelena has a wonderful future.

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