Pioneer Wine


who? what? when? where? why? how?

who grows the grapes? who sells the wine?

The Barra Family, Charlie and Martha, along with son Shawn and daughter Shelley, own and farm more than 200 acres of organic vineyards in Mendocino, California.   Charlie Barra is a visionary with a great team around him.  The modern winery is built on the gamble that he took in high school in 1944.  After leasing a neighbor’s farm, Charlie struck a deal with his Principal so that he could farm each afternoon after morning in class.  The gamble worked, and before Charlie was of age to serve in the military, he had enough money to saved to buy and plant his first vineyard.  67 harvests later, Charlie and the Barra family have laid the foundation for a thriving grape and wine industry in Mendocino.
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We would suggest without hyperbole that if a Mt. Rushmore of American Wine were ever to be carved into the side of a cliff, that Charlie’s deceptively impish grin deserves a place in the pantheon.  His life’s work includes contributions to the creation of the first American appellation, innovative uses of run-off water that drastically reduces waste, and myriad technical advances now used worldwide for grape farming that have made him the Pioneer that this wine honors.

Pioneer is a wine that the Barra’s make in an exclusive collaboration with Standard Market and Bakersfield of Westmont, Illinois and the 2011 vintage is the first release.  Leaders of the Standard Market wine team traveled to Mendocino to taste from diverse barrel samples before the Barra’s created the final blend.  In addition to Bakersfield and the Market, Pioneer will be available at the Standard Grill, opening in Lakeview this summer.

Videos on Barra of Mendocino

Charlie on the Barra History.

what is Pioneer Cabernet Sauvignon?

Pioneer is Cabernet Sauvignon from the Barra’s ranch blend with small amounts of Merlot and Petite Sirah for complexity and body.  The Cabernet vines that produce the Pioneer were planted by Charlie and his team between 1955 and the early 2000’s.  Thanks to the cool, even climate of Northern Mendocino County, the vines produce grapes with layers of flavor and a nice balance of ripe fruit notes that are intense but always clean.  In the cellar, the wine’s “elevage” or upbringing, has lasted 19 months and those red and black fruit flavors are now joined by notes of mocha, baking spice, and a bit of vanilla from the French oak the Barra’s used to help mold the wine into the bottle it is today.

Each vintage of Pioneer will by definition be limited.  Every grape in Pioneer was grown on the Barra’s farm and as such, the wine is limited to a few hundred cases per year and it will be available while supplies last.

For more details on the wine and information on how to order, please visit Standard Market in Westmont either in person or on the web.

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when did the winery start? when was Pioneer born?

The Barra’s grapes have long been sold to some of the most renowned wineries in California.  Charlie speaks with great pride of a handshake deal with Robert Mondavi made after the two men toured the Barra’s ranch and which served as the base of decades of business.  Barra of Mendocino was born as a winery in 1997 and the family now pours their expertise and the wine from their old vines into Barra bottlings. 2011 marked Harvest #67 for Charlie, #14 for Barra of Mendocino as a winery, and it is the inaugural vintage for Pioneer.

The idea for Pioneer was born when Sam McDaniel and the team at Standard Market reached out to the Barra Family in 2012 about the possibility of collaborating on a domestic wine with a sense of place and integrity which of course, would also be delicious as a compliment to myriad foods at the Market and at Bakersfield.  After tasting possible blends as a team in California and then revisiting them in Westmont, the Standard Market team settled on the blend (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% old vine Petite Sirah).  Once blended, the wine rested at the winery to develop until it’s bottling just a few weeks before coming to Illinois for it’s launch on July 26, 2013.

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where is the winery? where can you find Pioneer?

The vines and the winery are in and around Ukiah, California in the north of Mendocino County. If you were to fly into San Francisco, you’d have a two to three hour drive north, well beyond Napa and Sonoma before you reached this remote and stunningly beautiful area. This is Redwood country, and one of the greenest counties in the US, where the balanced, cool climate paired with a progressive culture has lead to widespread organic farming and a ban on the agricultural use of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a law that Charlie Barra helped push into existence.

The Petite Sirah is from the Barra’s “Bella Colina” Vineyard, as can be seen in the video embedded in the slideshow, adds more than one might expect with only 5% in the blend.

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why might you want a taste?

Mendocino produces some of the most balanced and healthy grapes grown anywhere in this country.  Pioneer represents the distillation of decades of experience among the vines and in the cellar at Barra of Mendocino and delivers an incredible value for those who love deep, broad Cabernet Sauvignons.  Like many young Bordeaux, the wine opens slowly and puts on weight with time in the glass.

The Barra’s never embraced the race for points and alcohol. Their dedication to the fruit first simply runs counter to the idea of picking anything that is overripe, to manipulation in the winery, and to masking the flavors of the grapes they’ve grown in oak. We’ve found that the wines live gracefully for a decade after harvest.

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how is it made?

The Barra of Mendocino wines are made in ways that aim first and foremost to preserve the nature of the fruit that the family grows. They a picked with balance in mind, when the grapes’ flavors need no alteration in the winery, and vinifications happen without a pursuit of extremes, whether they be extremes of extraction or extreme use of oak. The barrels are generally neutral and come from both French and American forests.

Pioneer reflects all of this, with the added twist that the team at Standard Market had a say in the final blend, deciding which combination of the Barra’s fruit they thought would work best for their customer base in Illinois.

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Videos on Barra of Mendocino

No GMO’s in Mendocino County: Grape Grower Charlie Barra explains
Water into wine? Charlie Barra does it every year, sustainably.