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
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
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 -
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
Member - Real Property Section
American Bar Association - Member of Section on International
Director/Advisory Board - Little Company of Mary Hospital,
Torrance, California - 1958-1960
Owner/Operator - Chateau Montelena Winery, Napa Valley - 1972 to
Napa Valley Vintners Assn. 1972 to March 2013
President 1984; Director -
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
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
Memorial contributions may be made to the Jim Barrett Memorial
Fund at the Napa Valley Community Foundation.
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.