Ep 359: Barra of Mendocino on Mendocino Wine, Organic Farming, & the Business of a Family Wine Company
The Barra Family has been farming grapes since Charlie Barra began in 1945 when he was 19. He bought his own vineyards in 1955 and married Martha Barra in the 1980s. The couple made the business run in earnest, with Martha concentrating on business and Charlie focused on farming.
In 1988, the Barras began farming their land organically and haven’t stopped since. They started their own brand, Barra of Mendocino in 1995, which today includes Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Muscat Canelli. After creating Barra of Mendocino, they created Girasole (sunflower in Italian) Vineyards, a lighter style with no oak.
Charlie passed away in 2019 but Martha and the family carry on with Randy Meyer, Barra's Director of Winemaking and Operations playing a major role in the business. As you’ll hear, Randy is a live wire and as we talk about organics about halfway through the show, he unabashedly shares the secrets of conventional winemaking and how it is in sharp contrast to organics (and he knows, he spent 20+ years at Korbel and other large wineries). And it’s awesome.
Here are the show notes.
* Martha shares the fascinating history of Barra and how Charlie Barra’s dedication to Redwood Valley, to Mendocino and to farming the right way brought about these excellent wines. We hear the family story, a 40+ year legacy
* We delve into the economics of Mendocino fruit and how big Napa and Sonoma County wines couldn’t make their wines at affordable prices without Mendocino (the rule of 75% reigns here – only 75% of grapes need come from an AVA for it to be stated on the label. Where do you think that other 25% comes from?)
Yup, this is what I thought. Taken from an old publication, Courtesy of the Barra family
* Martha and Randy tell us about Mendocino's and Redwood Valley's geographical and weather features – and how diurnals make these wines so special. Randy gives us a great perspective of how Mendocino is different from Sonoma and Napa on temperature, terrain, and culture.
* Martha tells us the basics of organic farming, including the US laws around organic viticulture and wines. In short...
* They use no “cides” (herbicides, pesticides, etc), no chemicals, no fertilizers and use pomace and cover crops to nourish the vines. Martha gives us details on how it all works to get healthy soils and healthy vines
* Martha gives us the tip off for spotting a non-organic vineyard – “spray strips” of pesticides around the vines. It’s her tell-tale for a chemically treated vineyard
To round out the show, Randy gives us the lowdown on organics versus non-organic! We have a good time talking about his journey into the world of organics from large industrial wine (he spills so much for us and he’s hysterical!):
* Randy talks about how organic winemaking is about prevention -- getting it right in the vineyard and during crush so you don't have to fix things later. He talks candidly about the challenge of making wine without sulfites (they help make wine shelf stable and provide longevity).
* Then stuff gets real!! I ask Randy, who is really at the beginning of his organic winemaking career, after years of working at big wineries, to compare and contrast. We bust it all open and Randy tells us all about the “tricks” of big wine. Randy contrasts organic winemaking with other winemaking. You'll never buy big wine again!
Finally, we talk about the Barra of Mendocino's wines and the Girasole wines and how they differ
* Barra of Mendocino are wines selected from the best grapes and aged in about 30% new French oak (We dork out again on barrels, digging into what oak does to a wine and how different toast levels affect the juice)
* Girasole is a fresher style with no oak
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