Skip to content

Vintner, lawyer, pioneer, James Barrett has died

I know that Silicon Valley gets all the hoopla for the way knowledge and industry can thrive, but look a bit north and you will find that similar things happened in the wine industry. That industry just lost a leader. James Barrett was the head of Chateau Montelena when its Chardonnay beat French wines in a taste test that changed the wine industry. He died yesterday. (Stag’s Leap’s Cabernet Sauvignon won the red category). The story (embellished but fun) was told in the film Bottle Shock.

Barrett was an attorney (Loyola L.A., ’51) who became a winemaker. Reports say he fell in love with wine. He followed a dream. I would bet that his legal training helped with the business. Regardless, he and others in Napa changed the wine industry. Part of that success came from using science and research from U.C. Davis to guide the wine making process. The vineyard also employed Mike Grgich who went on to run a rather good vineyard on his own. As Barrett said about the success, “Not bad for some kids from the sticks.”

Technology, lawyers, and new approaches to a business that has made a huge amount of money and that happens to bring joy to those who imbibe wine. What’s not to love? I, for one, will raise a glass to Barrett and hope that other kids from the sticks are inspired to try and do likewise in whatever field they love.