Barra Family of Mendocino: 65 Years and Going Strong

Mendocino County, in Northern California, is a land of great natural beauty, with small towns and meandering country roads. As a wine region, Mendocino is less pretentious than say Napa or even Paso Robles, having maintained some of its hippie vibe. It’s a wonderful place to grow vines, as I discovered during a visit to the Fetzer-Bonterra winery as part of the 2017 Wine Media Conference. The lovely rainy day I spent in “Mendo” was eye opening and had a lasting effect on my view of biodynamics and sustainable farming.

Barra of Mendocino winery and wine bottles collage
Barra’s two labels; vineyard shot courtesy of Barra of Mendocino

There are wine families in Mendocino with long, deep history in the region, including the Fetzer and Parducci families. Another is the Barra family, who have been growing vines in Mendocino since 1955, and producing their own wine since the late 1990s. The Los Angeles Wine Writers recently hosted a Zoom tasting featuring wines from Barra’s two labels: Barra of Mendocino and Girasole.

The Barra estate, which is in its 65th year, is located a couple hours north of San Francisco, right off the 101 Freeway, and snuggled up against the Redwoods. Their 325 acres produce all of the varieties that go into Barra’s wines. The Barra of Mendocino label represents their best of the best, says winemaker Randy Meyer, explaining that these wines are treated with kid gloves and produced in small volumes. Their Girasole (Italian for sunflower) label is  more approachable, that is, lower-cost, less oaked, more fruit forward, and using a screwcap. These are wines that “let the grapes speak,” Meyer adds. Both labels use 100% organic, estate-grown grapes.

Charlie Barra, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 92, purchased the property in the 1950s and sold grapes to others before making the decision with his wife Martha to make their own wine. One big advantage to being an early entrant into California’s wine business is that the Barra family owns both their vines and their winery. Carrying very little debt, they choose to pass affordable pricing on to their customers.

Meyer says that the current global climate change situation has benefited the Redwood Valley, where Barra is located. It is cooler than Napa and Sonoma, but with very little frost (in fact none in 2021). The area experiences a huge shift from day to night temperatures, known as diurnal swing, which is ideal for grape growing, as it allows the grapes to ripen in the heat of the day, but to cool off and retain their acidity at night.

Additionally, even during severe drought, the Barra estate has deep ponds that provide enough water to irrigate their vines (they are not dry farmed) and, when necessary, for frost mitigation. Barra wines are OMRI (Organic Material Review Institute) certified. This private nonprofit determines whether or not a product qualifies as organic under the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). Helping in the vineyards are osprey (to keep vermin away), owls, egrets, hawks, foxes, deer, bobcats and turkeys.

The vines are all hand harvested and sorted in the vineyard. Barra produces 40K to 50K cases of wine, plus they continue to sell grapes to other wineries. Shawn Barra, the son of founders Charlie and Martha, runs a custom crush facility called Redwood Valley Cellars, while daughter Shelley runs the marketing activities.

Winemaker Randy Meyer is a UC Davis graduate who started his wine career at Corbel and worked there for 23 years before moving to Barra in 2019. Meyer took the LA Wine Writers through a tasting of three Barra/Girasole wines, as follow:

2020 Girasole Rosé: This is a lovely blend of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel with acidic freshness and aromas and flavors of red fruit and a touch of sweet spice. Winemaker Meyer destems the grapes, and does direct press, but carefully extracts so it’s not too dark (Zin can do that).  This retails for around $15.

2019 Girasole Charlie’s Bend: This is labeled a “red wine” and was first produced for the 2019 vintage, in memory of founder Charlie Barra. This juicy, oak-touched red has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah in the blend, and features a tannic, chewy finish and flavors that conjur up the spice rack. This can be enjoyed youthful, no need to age it, and it retails for just $16.00.

2018 Barra of Mendocino Petit Sirah: This is Barra’s flagship, having provided the winery more awards than any other of its wines. This small production wine is grown at Barra’s highest-elevation vineyards and it’s a “bomber” per winemaker Meyer. Petit Sirah is high in anthocyanins (dark pigment) and tannin, and it’s a wine that’s not for everyone, but paired with a rib eye steak with black pepper and blue cheese, it’s a great pairing. This bomber wine, aged in French oak, offers spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and retails for $26.

Where to Purchase

Barra’s wines are not available everywhere, but can be found in California, Colorado, Illinois and New York. Most of their sales are in these four states, and the rest are sold in Barra’s tasting room and through its wine club.

To order Barra’s wines, go to

Until next time, Cheers!