In Memory of James L. Barrett

Memorial contributions may be made to the Jim Barrett Memorial Fund at the Napa Valley Community Foundation.

A memorial tribute page has been established for Mr. Barrett. Family, friends and colleagues are encouraged to leave a message. Click here for Mr. Barrett's tribute memorial.

Honoring the Life of James L. Barrett

James L. Barrett passed away peacefully early on March 14, surrounded by his family and loved ones. He was 86.

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.


Redlands University - 1944
UCLA - 1945-1946 - Bachelor of Arts Degree
Loyola University of Law - 1951 - Bachelor of Law Degree


Kappa Sigma Fraternity
Phi Delta Phi Legal Fraternity
Captain of Naval Honorary Society - "Conning Tower" UCLA


UCLA - General Counsel & Director on Alumni
     Assn. Board of Directors - 1977-1978
Director on Advisory Board of Loyola Law School - 1977


U. S. Navy - 1944-1946 NROTC - Ensign/Destroyers
1950-1952 Submarines - Pacific Area - Lieutenant


Senior Partner of Barrett, Stearns, Collins, Gleason & Kinney Law Firm
(21 lawyers), Los Angeles, California - 1957-1979

California Bar Association 1972-1978/Inactive
South Bay Bar Association - President 1965
Los Angeles County Bar Association:
     Disciplinary Committee Member 1956-1957
     Member - Real Property Section
American Bar Association - Member of Section on International Law

Director/Advisory Board - Little Company of Mary Hospital, Torrance, California - 1958-1960

Owner/Operator - Chateau Montelena Winery, Napa Valley - 1972 to March 2013

Napa Valley Vintners Assn. 1972 to March 2013
     President 1984; Director - 1982/83/84

Family Winemakers of California - Director - 1992

Thomas Aquinas College - Board of Governors 1993 to 2010; emeritus to March 2013

F.O.T.O. - Friends of the Orphans - Board of Directors for many years

Irish Order of the Wine Geese - Member 1999 to March 2013

A public memorial service will be held in Jim's honor on Tuesday, April 2 at 11:00 a.m. at the Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa. 

Memorial contributions may be made to the Jim Barrett Memorial Fund at the Napa Valley Community Foundation.

Napa Valley Community Foundation


An online memorial tribute has been set up for Mr. Barrett. Family, friends and colleagues are encouraged to leave a message. Please proceed to:

For Mr. Barrett's bio on our website, please click here.