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Heralded California winemaker James Barrett dies at 86




Jim Barrett, owner of Chateau Montelena, holds a bottle of the 1973 Chardonnay that won the 1976 Paris Tasting, while standing by barrels in the winery's cellar in Calistoga, Calif.  Barrett, a vintner whose superb wines put California on the international map, died Thursday, March 14, 2013. He was 86.  Barrett's 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat the French at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, and helped transform California's wine industry into the powerhouse it is today.
Jim Barrett, owner of Chateau Montelena, holds a bottle of the 1973 Chardonnay that won the 1976 Paris Tasting, while standing by barrels in the winery's cellar in Calistoga, Calif. Barrett, a vintner whose superb wines put California on the international map, died Thursday, March 14, 2013. He was 86. Barrett's 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat the French at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, and helped transform California's wine industry into the powerhouse it is today.
ERIC RISBERG/AP

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On March 14, the California wine industry lost one of its earliest pioneers, James Barrett. He was 86.

Barrett was the winemaker whose chardonnay beat the French in a 1976 tasting that put California wines on the scene in Europe.  The story of Barrett's achievement was told in the 2008 movie "Bottle Shock." Barrett was portrayed by Bill Pullman in the film:

The Napa Valley region was still pretty rustic back in 1972 when Barrett gave up his Los Angeles law practice to refurbish the century-old estate at Chateau Montelena. These days, that winning 1973 chardonnay fetches upwards of $10,000 at auction. There's even a bottle preserved for posterity at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

Barrett's fabled winery will stay in the family under the stewardship of his son, Bo.