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.
Six years later, Barrett ceded the winemaking duties to his son Bo and remained as actively involved in the winery until his death. In a statement, Bo Barrett describes his father as "a tough and loving man who will be greatly missed at home, at the winery and throughout the Napa Valley. My father bought Chateau Montelena in 1972 and has worked hard every day since to grow the best grapes and produce the best wines. My dad died of a life well lived."