Jim Barrett, California Wine Pioneer, Dies at 86

The man who put California wine on the map

The wine world recently lost a treasured member — Jim Barrett, owner of Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley, Calif. He was 86. His son, Bo Barrett, said in a statement, "My dad died of a life well-lived."

Don’t worry if you don’t recognize the name. Many wine drinkers don’t, and from what we know of the man, Barrett liked it that way. His focus was on the beverage itself, and because of that, Americans have the wine culture we have today.

Barrett rose to industry fame in 1976 thanks to an article in TIME. Thousands of miles away in a wine shop in Paris, his 1973 chardonnay had won a blind taste test against a series of high-end, expensive white Burgundies. At that time, California was not called "Wine Country" — it was what Old World vintners considered a joke. A joke they choked on when a humble bottle from America blew their efforts out of the water.

Eventually referred to as the "Judgment of Paris" — and the centerpiece of the movie Bottle Shock — the tasting of Barrett’s wine is considered the event that put California wine on the map and helped spur decades of growth, production, and respect for the region.

So while you may not know Barrett’s name, the hardworking vintners who produce your favorite California reds and whites certainly do. Join them and us in raising a glass to his ambition and memory. Anything from Napa will do.

— Melissa Auman Greiner, The Drink Nation

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