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California wine maker who beat French dies at 86

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Jim Barrett, the American vintner whose chardonnay famously defeated the might of France in 1976 and helped put California's Napa Valley on the map, has died at the age of 86.

Barrett's 1973 Chateau Montelana Chardonnay won the prestigious "Judgment of Paris," a one-time blind tasting by nine French experts organized by British wine merchant Steven Spurrier, sending shockwaves through the wine industry.

The wine defeated several famed French white Burgundies, which had been thought untouchable. Another California wine won in the category of red wines.

When asked about the victory, according to a memorial page on his winery's website, Barrett replied: "Not bad for kids from the sticks."

The contest was the subject of a 2008 film entitled "Bottle Shock."

Barrett, who died Thursday, was born in 1926 in Chicago to Irish immigrants. The family later moved to Los Angeles, where he became a real-estate lawyer.

He was able to acquire the Montelana property in northern California in 1972, just one year before the date of his winning chardonnay.

On the 30th anniversary of the contest, in 2006, American and French wine makers again clashed in a competition called "Revenge," but California wines once again won the top prize from the blind tasting.

Barrett's son Bo, who has run the Chateau Montelana Winery since 1982, confirmed his father's death to the New York Times on Friday.

When asked by the Times what his father would most like to be remembered for, he replied: "I would say, that the crazy dream worked."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130318/california-wine-maker-who-beat-french-dies-at-86