The fruits of Chateau Montelena’s vines in Napa Valley bring the savory taste of God’s bounty in every bottle. Outside the vineyard, owner Judy Barrett supports St. John Vianney Seminary’s future priests who will pour out their lives to lead others to God’s kingdom.
Judy and her late husband, Jim Barrett, made it a priority to provide drink to a world thirsting for God both on and off the vineyard. Through her time, prayer and financial support, she furthers Catholic education and the formation of seminarians at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in the Archdiocese of Denver.
“I think we’re all called to spread the kingdom of God however we can, within the circumstances of our lives,” Judy said from the vineyard outside Calistoga, Calif. “The ‘fruit of the vine and work of human hands,’ as we hear during Mass at the consecration—there’s such a connection with wine in the sacrament and wine that has great cultural significance.”
As one of the best known vineyards in Napa Valley, Chateau Montelena makes faith a priority. Nestled around the property are shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Vincent, the patron of wine growers. The annual Blessing of the Grapes at the beginning of harvest each year is a tradition of the Barrett family, who resurrected the vineyard and led it to worldwide fame. Its 1973 Chardonnay won the 1976 “Judgment of Paris,” a blind tasting of wines from France and California. The 2008 movie Bottle Shock is based on the historic event.
Wine can’t be sacramentally consecrated, however, without priests. Judy and Jim made supporting the formation of priests, who will offer the sacraments and build the kingdom of God, one of their priorities for giving, particularly in Denver.
The 1993 World Youth Day in Denver was the start of what she saw as a “renaissance of the Catholic community,” making the faith bloom with the help of “the wonderful archbishops” in the archdiocese.
“It’s like good seed has been planted in Denver and is growing,” Judy said.
A graduate of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, Judy grew up in Greeley, Colo., in a Lutheran family. She joined the Catholic Church several years after meeting Jim, a cradle Catholic from Los Angeles, who became a renowned vintner after purchasing the vineyard. Together they formed a deep appreciation for the priesthood because of their close relationship with Jim’s brother, the late Father Vincent Barrett, who was a priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“I thought the world of him. He was a wonderful priest,” she said. “My husband and I became extremely aware of all the things a priest can do, but also the tremendous demands that are placed on them, too.”
Judy served as the respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Santa Rosa for about 20 years and was appointed to the Religious Liberty Committee of the California Catholic Conference. In addition to her support of Wyoming Catholic College, her philanthropic interests include supporting NPH USA, a nonprofit that aids orphaned and abandoned children in the Caribbean. She is a member of the California Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums and the Napa Valley chapter of Legatus.
She and her husband, who died in March 2013, were introduced to St. John Vianney Theological Seminary by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, now in Philadelphia.
“What kept me connected with St. John Vianney is having grown up in Colorado and seeing the really vibrant Catholic community that is growing,” she said.
Supporting the seminary is her way to help plant the seeds of faith for generations to come.
“When you give, you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. We’re all called to do that,” she shared.
Judy’s take on giving
Q: How did you learn about the importance of giving?
A: I was not raised Catholic, but my family was very religious. Neither my husband’s parents nor my parents were wealthy, but both of us grew up with an attitude of sharing and giving back. That was second nature for us.
Q: Describe a time when someone gave to you. What was your experience?
A: When my husband passed away three years ago I received so many little gestures of love and support. It wasn’t only big things, but people sharing a little time with me. I felt cared for and loved by others. A number of priests I know went out of their way to ask about my late husband and sent me notes of encouragement. It keeps you going when you have people care.
Q: What do you think are the benefits of giving?
A: When we give we get certain benefits back, not just those nice, warm fuzzy feelings when we do something good for another. We become a part of a mission, something bigger than ourselves. We’re given gifts, whether it’s affluence or talents. And we’re given those things for a reason. They don’t bear fruit unless we share what we’ve been given.