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American Pleasures #7: Barra of Mendocino

October 31, 2022 Leave a comment

Wine should give you pleasure – there is no point in drinking the wine if it does not. Lately, I have had a number of samples of American wines, that were delicious standouts – one after another, making me even wonder if someone cursed my palate. I enjoyed all those wines so much that I decided to designate a new series to them – the American Pleasures. 

One of the great pleasures of drinking wine is a surprise factor. When you open a bottle you know nothing about – maybe you recognize the grape, and maybe you have an idea of the place, but you never heard of the producer, you never had this wine before – there lies the best mystery. This mystery is the best because you don’t need to work too hard to come upon it. Mystery makes life fun, especially when this mystery is as safe, simple, and innocent as opening a bottle of unknown wine, unlike wondering over a dark path in the forest, not knowing if you are in a way of a raccoon or a bear.

Of course, the surprise can work both ways – you might not be happy about your discovery, you might not be happy at all. But when you take a sniff, which is magnificent, then take a sip that fully matches your initial expectations, you can’t help but have an ear-to-ear smile on your face. And instantly pour yourself another glass. There, this is the surprise and the mystery I’m talking about – a simple pleasure available to you on any day you desire one.

Don’t take it for granted – it doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes, you don’t want another glass, and simply move on. But when you are in luck, it is not just a pure hedonistic pleasure that is offered to you. It is also an opportunity to learn something new, to discover something which will serve you well for a long time.

At this point you already know that this conversation is not theoretical – we will be talking about my recent discovery. As the subject of this discovery is the wine made in California, I thought it perfectly falls into the American Pleasures series.

Bella Colina Vineyard. Source: BARRA of Mendocino

Please meet Barra of Mendocino.

The history of Barra of Mendocino started in 1954 when Charlie Barra purchased Redwood Valley Vineyards, which today boasts 256 acres of organically farmed vines. Original Redwood Valley Vineyards was planted with “standard” grapes suitable for making table wines. Over the course of a few years, Charlie recognized the potential of varietally-specific wines, and he started working with Karl Wente, Louis Martini, Robert Mondavi, and other pioneers of varietally-specific vine-growing and winemaking to move in that direction.

From the beginning, Charlie Barra was focused on organic farming – no pesticides or herbicides, no synthetic fertilizers – just the natural habitat, allowing Mother Nature do her best. While banal, here is an interesting tidbit – before World War II, agriculture was all organic. Now we have to pay dearly for simply returning to how it should be. Nevertheless… Redwood Valley Vineyards was one of the early officially certified organic properties in California, obtaining its certification in 1989. Mendocino County appellation, home to the BARRA of Mendocino vineyards, today has close to 25% of all vineyards certified organic.

Today, BARRA of Mendocino organically farms more than 350 acres of vineyards, growing Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Sirah grapes. It is also home to the 2.8 million gallons CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) certified custom crush facility.

I had an opportunity to taste 2 wines from the Barra family – as you can tell, I was sufficiently impressed to add this post to the American Pleasures series.

First, Girasole Vineyards Pinot Blanc. All Girasole Vineyards (Girasole means sunflower in Italian, hence the label) wines are not only organic they are also vegan-friendly. Pinot Blanc is not a grape typically associated with California. Alsace, Germany – of course, maybe even Oregon – but Californian Pinot Blanc was a bit of a concern to me. Which dissipated instantly with the very first sip of the wine.

2021 Girasole Vineyards Pinot Blanc Mendocino County (13% ABV, $15, vegan)
Straw pale
Whitestone fruit, herbs, lemon, distant hint of the gunflint
Wild apricots, Whitestone fruit, plump, round, perfect mid-palate weight, good acidity, perfect balance, delicious.
8+, excellent. Hallmark of quality – very tasty at room temperature.

Petite Sirah can be safely called a signature grape of California. Okay, okay – it is not Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, and it is not even a Pinot Noir. Nevertheless, Petite Sirah is very popular among those who know, and if you need confirmation, don’t look further than Turley, Carlisle, Retro, Stag’s Leap, Ridge, and many many others. At the same time, Californian Petitte Sirah is one of the most challenging wines for wine lovers, because more often than not Petite Sirah wines are massive, and require 10-15 years in the cellar to even start opening up. Thus you can imagine that I approached Barra Petite Sirah with a good dose of trepidation, even though it subsided somewhat after tasting the delicious Pinot Blanc.

2019 BARRA of Mendocino Petite Sirah Mendocino (14.8% ABV, $26, 89% Petite Sirah, 11% Zinfandel, 18 months in 25% new French oak, balance in neutral barrels)
Dark garnet
Dark fruit, fresh and succulent, blackberries, espresso
Polished, elegant, voluptuous. Beautiful supple dark fruit coupled with salivating acidity and roll-of-your-tongue texture. Layered and sophisticated.
9-, truly outstanding.

Two outstanding wines from California – certified organic, super-reasonably priced (both $15 and $26 are almost a steal and offer an insane QPR), and most importantly – absolutely delicious, pop’n’pour wines. A rare treat for sure.

Besides, these wines can be a jewel of your Thanksgiving wine program. Yes, you can thank me later. Until then – cheers!

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