The People Behind Pioneer Cabernet Sauvignon

[portfolio_slideshow id=12826]

Pioneer Cabernet Sauvignon is made from 100% estate grown fruit from Barra of Mendocino in Ukiah, California.  2011 is the first vintage and marks the debut of a collaboration between the Barra Family and the team at Standard Market in Westmont, Illinois, which wanted to find a domestic producer capable of making a great wine for them at a surprising price.

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.  They have been responsible for agricultural, technical, and economic innovations that have dramatically expanded fine wine production in Mendocino over the last seven decades.

The modern winery is built on the gamble that Charlie Barra took while he was still 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.  This was the first of many well educated bets that Charlie has made and it worked.  Before he was of 18, 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.

The Barra Family

Right to left, Shawn, Shelley, Martha and Charlie.

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 innovations are myriad.  A few of the most important include:

  • Planting Cabernet and Pinot in Mendocino in the 1950’s when most everyone else was growing fruit trees.  If he had not convinced the banks to loan him money and people like Robert Mondavi to buy the grapes, Mendocino’s evolution into a major area for fine wine would have happened a lot later than it has.
  • Overhead spraying of water for frost protection as Charlie developed it is now used worldwide.  Prior to the 1960’s it was used in limited applications in agriculture in Israel, but Charlie researched the technique and it is now the standard in most winemaking regions threatened by frost in the early spring.
  • The development of mechanized picking bins allowed grapes picked by hand to be transported to the trucks and thus the winery a lot faster than before.
  • The move to make Mendocino County the first in the country to be GMO free.



In creating Pioneer, leaders of the Standard Market wine team traveled to Mendocino to taste from diverse barrel samples before the Barra’s created the final blend.  It is a pleasure for Candid Wines to connect Standard Market and the Barra’s in this way, and we’ve had great fun making it happen.


Hear no Evil...

Goofing around on a vineyard tour with Charlie Barra.


, , , , ,