Proust Q&A: Bo Barrett

Bo Barrett is the chief winemaker at Château Montelena, which shot to global fame in 1976 when its 1973 Chardonnay, made by Bo’s father Jim, trumped a number of top French wines to win first place among the whites in the historic Judgement of Paris tasting organised by Steven Spurrier. Bo lives with wife Heidi Barrett, a wine consultant and former winemaker of Screaming Eagle, in Napa Valley.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Earning a living at something I do for fun. I work with the sun and the land and stay close to my family. I’m a happy and blessedly lucky guy.

What is your greatest fear? 

Bad Government.

Which living person do you most admire?

Until he died recently, I would have said Neil Armstrong. All those Apollo moon mission guys like Gene Cernan have my highest admiration. Then I think of the oceans and would be forced to choose between Bob Ballard and Sylvia Earle, both of whom are great ambassadors for the sea. Heidi my wife is right up there, but I’ll go with Sir Richard Branson. He seems to be a good sort who knows how to live a full life.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Flying airplanes and helicopters.

What is your current state of mind? 
Excited and fired up; it’s the beginning of another harvest!

What is the quality you most like in a woman? 

Intelligence and a wicked sense of humour.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Well-chosen strings of profanities. I tried swapping the swear words for the milder Norwegian phrase “uff da”, but Heidi got so tired of the repetition that she asked me to go back to normal cussing.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My wife and three children – Heidi is magnificent beyond words.

When and where were you happiest?

Every day when I wake up. A few years back I hit a tree while skiing and got severely injured. I was so lucky to be able to walk again. You never know the true value of something until it’s taken away.

Which talent would you most like to have?

To be able to play the guitar and sing like Steve Miller, Mark Knopfler et al.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’d like to have all my hair like my dad and brothers.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Making it this far.

Where would you most like to live?

Bora Bora around the time French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin lived there would have been nice, but I’d sorely miss modern scuba gear and a surfboard, and I’d need a floatplane. Perhaps I should get in touch with Branson; he’s probably got all that stuff on Necker Island. I’ll bring the wine…

What is your most treasured possession?

A loving wife, happy family, faith, the world’s greatest job and good health, all of which I treasure above material possessions. But if I had to choose something material, it would be my pilot’s license and scuba card. Both took work to acquire and skill to practice safely. They enable me to enjoy three of the four elements of this magnificent planet: the land, the sea and the sky.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I’m pretty direct and often crusty. I’m known to blurt out what everyone else is thinking but are too afraid to say. A shrink I met at a dinner party once said I had Popeye Syndrome.

Who are your favourite writers?

Mark Twain, P.J. O’Rourke, Bill Bryson, Larry McMurtry, Tom Wolfe, Tom Clancy, Neal Stephanson, Jules Verne, Kurt Vonnegut, George Macdonald Fraser, James Ellroy, Patrick McManus, Patrick Buchanan and Michael Crichton for starters.

Who is your hero of fiction?

George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman. John Galt, James Bond and Captain Nemo are all close runners up.

What is it that you most dislike?

Dishonesty, and shark finning.

What is your greatest regret?

In August 2005, I was invited to be the Spanish-speaking co-pilot by Iren Dornier for the Latin America leg of his world tour for Unicef in his Dornier DO24ATT Amphibian. I had everything, even an Irish passport in case we went to Cuba, but the timing was too close to the start of harvest so I didn’t go. It turned out harvest didn’t start until mid-September and I could have gone. I still kick myself for not taking part. In the grander scheme of things, I regret that more people don’t understand the concept of our mother ocean.

What is your motto?

Integrity is everything.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guests and what wines would you serve them?

I’d take Leonardo Da Vinci and Jules Verne on a helicopter ride and show them scuba diving photos from around the world before supper. I’d perhaps invite Thomas Jefferson along to say thanks for helping conceive the USA and to show him how great American wines turned out to be. I’d serve some magnums of aged Château Montelena Chardonnay, 1978 and 2007 Estate Cabernet and some Zinfandel for the late night storytelling sessions.

One Response to “Proust Q&A: Bo Barrett”

  1. Ken Morris says:

    The first sentence “1973 Chardonnay, made by Bo’s father Jim” is incorrect. The wine was made by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, now winemaker and owner of Grgich Hills Estate.

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