California Winemakers Press A Family Vintage Chateau Montelena winery is famous for besting French competitors at a 1976 competition in Paris. The Napa Valley winery is also a family business, one that has passed through two generations and could make it to a third. But working together wasn't always smooth.
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California Winemakers Press A Family Vintage

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California Winemakers Press A Family Vintage

California Winemakers Press A Family Vintage

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A man named Jim Barrett was in his 40s when he made a mid-career correction.

Mr. JIM BARRETT (Proprietor, Chateau Montelena, California): I was a lawyer in Los Angeles and that got kind of boring. So, I wanted to do something else, and I've been doing this since 1972.

INSKEEP: This is operating a California winery. He now runs Chateau Montelena with his son, Bo Barrett.

Mr. BO BARRETT (Coproprietor, Chateau Montelena, California): Ours happens to be a 130-year-old stone structure modeled on a French chateau.

INSKEEP: That building's products stood up to French wine at a famous competition in 1976, which is why this family business became the basis for the recent movie "Bottle Shock."

(Soundbite of movie "Bottle Shock")

Mr. ALAN RICKMAN: (As Steven Spurrier) In honor of your bicentennial I'm organizing a tasting.

Unidentified Man: What do you want?

Mr. ALAN RICKMAN: (As Steven Spurrier) To taste your Chardonnay.

Unidentified Man: Plenty of palatable wines around here, you don't have to worry about that.

Mr. ALAN RICKMAN: (As Steven Spurrier) My definition of palatable might be slightly different from yours.

Unidentified Man: You're a snob.

Mr. ALAN RICKMAN: (As Steven Spurrier) Am I?

INSKEEP: This winery forced wine snobs to admit, for the first time, that a Napa Valley wine could match a bottle from Europe. It changed the industry.

Now, as many people prepare to open a bottle on this New Year's Eve, the Barretts' winery is the latest subject of our series, The Family Business. This week, we met father-son singers, mother-daughter writers, and now proprietors of the Chateau Montelena. It's passed through two generations and could make it to a third.

Have any of you ever actually ever stomped grapes?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHELSEA BARRETT (Proprietor's Granddaughter): I did a lot when I was a little kid. My sister and I, we'd just get in, jump around, and - not too practical, but it's lots of fun.

INSKEEP: That's Chelsea Barrett, a granddaughter of Jim Barrett, the lawyer who bought the place so long ago.

Jim Barrett, once you'd spent a few years in the vineyards, did you get to thinking that you wanted to pass on this business to one of your five children?

Mr. JIM BARRETT: Well, it's a thought that every father has, of course, and Bo's having that pleasant thought right now, with respect to Chelsea. And it's just really something that is always in your mind. Bo and I have worked together, not just as father and son, but as CEO, if you will, and winemaker, for a long, long time.

INSKEEP: Well, tell me what happened when you, Bo, went to you, Jim - your father - and said I'm ready. I want to take over the wine business. I want to be the head winemaker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BO BARRETT: That - yeah, that's a good story. In about 1980 or something, I had about 10 years' experience by that time, in the cellar. And I'd been out of school for a few years, and I had a difference of opinion with my boss, who, his name was Jerry Looper(ph), our winemaker. And I went to dad and I said, you know, Jerry's not doing as good a job as he could. And my dad said, that's insubordination, you'd better move on, kid. So, I basically...

INSKEEP: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I want us - to understand this. You were working at the family business and you said, I don't think my boss, my supervisor that you've hired, dad, is doing a very good job. And your dad chose the supervisor over you?

Mr. BO BARRETT: It was a heated discussion, which ended up with me basically stomping out of there and loading up my pickup and heading down the road.

INSKEEP: Jim Barrett?

Mr. JIM BARRETT: Would you like - who's that guy? Now, would you like to hear the rest of the story?

INSKEEP: (Laughing) Paul Harvey. Good day.

Mr. JIM BARRETT: Paul - yeah, you got it. Anyhow, he comes in, and I said, hi, Bo, what's happening? He says well, dad, I'm ready. And I said, ready for what? And he said, to be winemaker here. And I said, did you say here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JIM BARRETT: I mean, I about fell out of my chair. I said, Bo, Jerry's done a great job. I'm not into nepotism. I'm not firing him to give you the hotshot job here, I said. This is a serious business. He says, well, I'm leaving. I said, I don't blame you. I would too, if I were you. About a year goes by and Jerry Looper says to me, well I got to talk to you Jim. I said, what's that? And he says, well, somebody's offering me two bags of gold, you know because...

INSKEEP: Oh, your supervisor that you'd hired went away from you.

Mr. JIM BARRETT: Yeah, he was the winemaker here. And I had asked him, I said, well, who should be the winemaker? And he said my son Bo should be the winemaker. And I said, hey, this is a serious business. And he says, no, he says, he is the most well qualified, he knows the winery. And I said, OK, now I got a problem. Here's my son, and so...

INSKEEP: And now you've got to somehow recruit him back.

Mr. JIM BARRETT: Yeah. So, I'm in the shower and all I can think about, I said, how do I broach this. So, I call him on the phone and I said, how would you like to be a winemaker at one of the most famous wineries in California? And he says, I'll think about it, and hung up.


Mr. BO BARRETT: I thought about it for a while, and I said, well it is, you know, a really great career opportunity, and it is a wonderful place, I do know it. I know I can do the work and get the wine made. So, basically I went back, and I said to my dad, I said, listen, I think this is a great opportunity for me, but we have to be very strict and separate our father-son relationship.

That was the first discussion we had. It was before we talked about how much I was going to get paid, or what do I see for the winery, and it's, like, OK. And so we sat down, and - actually eye to eye - I said, look, if you can treat me with the same respect that you've shown to your - Jerry, a good employer-employee relationship built on trust and honesty, and then we can separate to ourselves our father-son deal, the natural and inherent tensions that any father and son would have to have. And that's what we did, it was the first thing we set out. And I have to give credit that over the, you know, 25 years that we've worked together, it's the - we've always gone back to that first discussion, which is, I am now wearing my employee hat.

INSKEEP: Oh now, come on, come on. Everybody must say this at that moment, but it must be awfully hard to do.

Mr. BO BARRETT: It is. It's - there's no avoiding that, it is a difficult thing. But the best way to do that is don't do anything wrong, don't get chewed out. I mean (laughing), always perform.

INSKEEP: What's it like to ask your father for a raise?

Mr. BO BARRETT: That's not fun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JIM BARRETT: You bet it's not fun.

Mr. BO BARRETT: This is Bo here. What's it like to ask your father for a raise? It's - it's awkward. Again, like everything else, it's so - 'cause I'm kind of a science- and math-based kind of a guy. So, I always think arithmetic is not emotional. And so, my approach to asking for a raise is just showing a set of figures, and typically it's a comparable of what other people in my job are making, so it's not personal and it's not emotional. It just shows here's the numbers and here's what the numbers say.

INSKEEP: It must be hard work, though, to make sure you don't feel like you're asking for an increase on your allowance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JIM BARRETT: Well, let me amplify that also. We have moments where I'm furious with him and he's furious with me. But being Irish, we kiss and make up and hug each other. And it's going on for a long time, and it's been great.

INSKEEP: That's Jim and Bo Barrett of California's Chateau Montelena. They're the latest subjects of our series, The Family Business. Bo Barrett's daughter Chelsea is a college student now, studying winemaking. Last summer, she worked in the family winery's tasting room.

Did you do the tasting?

Ms. BARRETT: Yes, I did. And so I'd pour for people, sell wine, deal with wine clubs. All of that.

INSKEEP: How old are you? You're 21?

Ms. BARRETT: Well, am I going to get in trouble?

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Not from me.

Ms. BARRETT: All right, I'm 20.

INSKEEP: OK. All right. But you're tasting it, you swill it around in your mouth and you...

Ms. BARRETT: Oh, absolutely. It's not illegal if you give it a swirl and analyze it.

INSKEEP: You can analyze the stories of other people who've passed on a family business by visiting our Web site, We'd also like to invite you to tell us if you know of a family business with an amazing story behind it. Just go to the Web site, click on contact us, and put family business in the subject line.

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