Born in 1926, Barrett graduated from UCLA in 1946 and earned a law degree from Loyola Marymount University in 1950. After serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, Barrett became a senior partner is his firm Barrett, Stearns, Collins, Gleason and Kinney.
In 1972, he went to Napa Valley with the idea of starting a winery. In Calistoga, he found an empty stone chateau and neglected vineyards and after replanting most of the vineyards made Chardonnay while he was waiting for his Cabernet Sauvignon vines to come in.
In 1976, Chateau Montelena’s Chardonnay won out over four white Burgundies and six California Chardonnays in the infamous "Judgment of Paris" that pitted French wines against upstart Californians in a blind wine tasting.