Martha Barra was not destined for the wine business from an early age. (Our show guests come to the wine business from all walks of life.) Martha’s journey into wine started with a walk down the aisle. She married Charlie Barra, a pioneer of organic grape growing in Mendocino County, in 1980.
Charlie, on the other hand, was born into a family with deep roots in the wine industry going back to the early 1800s in Italy. Working side by side with Charlie for almost 40 years (who passed a couple of years ago), Martha played a pivotal role in helping build the family wine business into what it is today, with more than 350 acres of certified organic vineyards, two wine brands, and a 2.8 million gallon custom crush facility.
Early work experience in the field of law and real estate helped Martha develop a strong business acumen that was critical to the development of the Barra family’s footprint in Mendocino County. A driving force behind the creation of all of the Barra Family wine brands (BARRA of Mendocino, CORO Mendocino and Girasole Vineyards) Martha’s hard work, dedication and keen business sense have helped build global notoriety of their family-owned and farmed wines.
But we’re getting ahead of our story, or rather, the BARRA of Mendocino story. Charlie Barra purchased Redwood Valley Vineyards back in 1955. Back then a ton of grapes went for as little as $40. And they went into “vin ordinaire” – the highly generic style wine produced in California at the time. Varietal and vineyard designate wines had yet to exist 60+ years ago.
Over time, Charlie added another six varietals to the soils of Redwood Valley Vineyards including Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Merlot, Pinot Blanc, Muscat Canelli and Zinfandel (all of which is grown organically). And he never missed a harvest.
As the vineyards are situated in the benchlands of the headwaters of the Russian River in Northern California, providing them with hot summer days (averaging 90 degrees in the summer) and cool nights (sometimes dipping 30 degrees lower), the grapes enjoy a generous “hang time.”
Martha currently spends most of her time overseeing the vineyard operations, doing local tastings and events, working with the winemakers to set flavor profiles, and managing all of the organic certification processes. Her special interests include cooking and entertaining with emphasis on food and wine pairings, traveling, studying architecture and remodeling houses. She also participates in her community by raising funds for local schools, museums, colleges and other foundations in need of additional resources.
She generously shared three beautiful examples from their estate vineyards that the hosts tasted with Martha. First up was the Girasole Vineyards Pinot Blanc. As Martha explained to us, the hallmark of the Girasole brand is the winemaking technique: No new oak. Wines under this label are produced without an oak program in the recipe. Aromas and flavors reflect the components of their terroir with no added elements. This Pinot Blanc was very aromatic, refreshing, with notes of lemon curd and fresh cut melon. It’s perfect for cooling down on a warm, summer evening and pairs well with light salads, goat’s cheese, lighter grilled fish and a number of other culinary options.
Having a richer flavor profile than most Pinot Blancs in the hosts’ memories, it was no surprise to learn it had been awarded 90 points and a “Best Buy” designation from Wine Enthusiast’s August 2020 issue and a Gold Medal (91 points) in the 2020 Sunset International Wine Competition, as well as a Best of Class award in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Next we turned to the Girasole Vineyards’ Charlie’s Blend, the first vintage of this blend, in honor of Martha’s late husband. It has alluring aromas of ripe boysenberry, light caramel and roasted pine nuts. On the palate, flavors of raspberry, toasted marshmallow and hints of vanilla tempt the taste buds. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, this wine garnered Double Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. And in tasting through this well-integrated red blend, pairings with numerous Italian dishes came to mind.
Last up was the BARRA signature wine: Their Mendocino Petite Sirah, which Karl Wente and Louis Martini recommended Charlie plant back in the early 60’s. It’s a deep inky color, nearly opaque, promising the dark rich flavors of Petite Sirah: cocoa, tobacco, coffee and black fruits. Long on backbone, tannins, black pepper and loads of structure, this Petite Sirah would undoubtedly age well for decades, if desired. It was awarded 99 points and a Double Gold medal, along with Best of Class at the Harvest Terroir Challenge.
BARRA of Mendocino sports a wine club and an amazing tasting room open to the public, sprawling 5,000 square feet with 40 foot ceilings, a circular tasting bar, and an indoor fountain. A sight to be seen! To learn more about this North Coast winery, listen to the show and learn more at: https://www.barraofmendocino.com/