Girasole Vineyards

Organic Cabernet Sauvignon Pinot Noir Mendocino California Girasole

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

who grows the grapes at Girasole Vineyards? who makes the wines?

Charlie and Martha Barra oversee everything that happens on the more than 200 acres of organic vineyards that they own and manage in Mendocino County.  Charlie’s roots run as deep as anyone growing wine grapes in the United States with more than six decades of harvests under his belt.  Inveterate entrepreneurs, Charlie and the Barras are intertwined with the past, present, and future development of the California wine industry, from agricultural innovations to visionary marketing of organic practices.  A family operation through and through, Martha’s children Shawn and Shelley manage the dollars and cents and sales and marketing of the wines in the US and abroad.
Charlie and Martha Barra in Chicago
At the winery, Owen Smith brings to the Barra’s perhaps the most diverse winemaking experience of our partners.  While he’s been working in California for a number of years, ee’s made wine from Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and The Golan Heights in Israel.  At last count, he’s made wine from over 60 different grape varieties so he brings a wealth of knowledge and curiosity to each vintage.

Charlie Barra sat down with us in Chicago a few years back to chat about the winery, his family history, and his place in the history of California wine.  You can watch the short video here.

what wines do they make at Girasole Vineyards?

Mendocino is something of a climactic wonderland when it comes to grape growing.  Diverse varieties thrive in the area and the Barra family is able to produce clean, bright Pinot Blanc alongside Chardonnay, elegant Cabernet and Zinfandel next to fantastic Pinot Noir.  There are few regions in the world that allow for the successful cultivation of such diverse grapes, and that is part of what drew Charlie’s parents to the region so long ago.  To end a meal, their Muscat Canelli consistently surprises us with it’s balance between ripe sweet fruits and clean finish.  We drink a lot of well made sweeter wines from Germany and the Loire Valley and rarely expect this sort of balance from inexpensive sweet wines, particularly from the new world but the Girasole Muscat Canelli is a winner.
Girasole Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2011

The latest addition to the Girasole lineup is Hybrid Red, a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet, Merlot and sometimes Petite Sirah.  It’s bolder than any of these grapes individually, yet has interesting layers that keep it interesting in the glass.  

when did Girasole Vineyards start? when might you open a bottle?

In the fall of 1945, Charlie Barra harvested his first grapes after being excused from high school for a few days to help his uncle who needed pickers. He helped quite a few farmers harvest that year as many of the men in the area were overseas fighting, and his effort was rewarded handsomely.  So handsomely, in fact, that Charlie has never missed a day of harvest in the more than six decades since.  In 1955 he bought the 175 acre “Redwood Valley Vineyard”, literally planting the foundation of one of America’s most successful, family owned organic farms.
Charlie Barra circa 1960 (at right)

As California wine came of age over the last fifty to sixty years, the Barra’s have been in the thick of the industry’s growth, selling grapes to other pioneering families like the Mondavi’s and the Wente’s while introducing innovative viticultural practices to protect grapes from frost, to improve the efficiency of hand harvesting, to preserve and promote grower’s rights, to collect and reuse water, and many more.  The family launched their own winery at the end of the 1990’s, completing the path from farm to bottle.

Girasole Vineyards’ wines, as clean as they are, they tend to work in all sorts of situations, from a stand alone glass of wine with friends to rather elaborate preparations where they support the quality of ingredients without overwhelming them.  This is a rare ability, especially for inexpensive wines, but it’s hardly surprising given the decades of knowledge that the Barra’s press into each bottle.

where is the winery?

Mendocino County is north of the usual California wine destinations, in the heart of Redwood country where the last of these massive, ancient trees still grow.   The winery sits at the headwaters of the Russian River, near the town of Ukiah, halfway between the mountains of the Pacific Coast Range and the sands of the Pacific Coast.

The Barra’s 200 acres of fruit are tucked into this green, well preserved country.  They have three main vineyard sites, all of which they own and farm themselves, meaning that the wines are made exclusively with organically grown, estate grown fruit.


why is Girasole Vineyards a Candid Wine? why might you want to taste?

Our introduction to Girasole Vineyards came in the form of a glowing review that called their Pinot Noir one of the “best values” in America.  What the review did not say is that it is also hand harvested, family owned, and organically farmed.  We learned all of that as we started to read about the winery and get to know the Barra Family.  Today, we consider ourselves fortunate to represent The Barra’s here in Illinois.

One reason the wines are so affordable is the same reason we are proud to be associated with the family: the vines are watered with reserves from a reservoir the family built among the vines.  Instead of buying water each year from the State of California and taxing and already strained supply of clean water, the Barras use water that collects in their reservoir system each year.  That keeps the bills low and contributes to a truly sustainable farming model that is rare in the wine world.

Connor Barra Girasole

Year in and year out the wines they bottle reflect the work they do and the choices they make in the vineyard and they seem to grow in popularity with each public tasting we host.  As a restaurant buyer or retail manager, you might want to taste these wines because they represent an almost unheard of price to quality ratio for domestic wines, with a track record for consistency to match.  Most of the people who buy wine from Candid Wines purchase them based entirely on wine quality and price.  Some of our customers also focus on offering wines made from organic grapes, wines that contain no genetically modified organisms, and Vegan wines.  Girasole Vineyards’ wines cover all these bases, should they be important to your customers

how is the wine made at Girasole Vineyards?

Girasole Vineyards’ wines are made to reflect the purity of the fruit that goes into each bottle.  This means a gentle touch with any oak and strict adherence to organic principles.  Winemaker Jason Welch uses as little sulfur as needed and avoids any other additives (and there are many additives that are commonly used in winemaking).  The wines are consistently well balanced between ripe fruit flavors and the brightness that comes from the cooler nights in Mendocino County; fruit forward, yes, alcoholic fruit bombs, never.

No animal byproducts are used in making the wine, and they are vegan friendly.

Estell Girasole

Videos on Girasole Vineyards

No GMO’s in Mendocino County: Grape Grower Charlie Barra explains

Water into wine? Charlie Barra does it every year, sustainably.