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Mendocino County, Calif., grape growers and winery owners Martha and Charlie Barra say JIT – just-in-time – is a concept more premium wine grape growers must embrace to survive the rough-and-tumble world of wine globalization.
At 83, Charlie Barra going strong
Charlie has been around forever. A 1955 Mack truck he bought new will lumber through the Mendocino County hills this fall carrying the 83-year-old grape grower’s 65th harvest to the winery.
“I just put a new engine in the Mack. Just like new,” he says.
He farms 200 acres now, including 50 around the family’s Barra of Mendocino/Redwood Valley Cellars winery in Redwood Valley, Calif., just north of Ukiah, Calif. Until a few years ago, he farmed 400 acres. “I have slowed down. I now work only 12 hours a day,” he laughs. “Farming was cutting too much into my fishing.”
He has experienced a lifetime in the California grape and wine industry — and not from a sideline vantage point. Barra has been directly involved in the evolution of the North Coast for six and a half decades.
He was one of the first to plant varietals in Mendocino; he lobbied to force wineries to put at least 75 percent of a varietal in the bottle if it is on the label and he was one of the founders of the North Coast Grape Growers Association.
Charlie is the grandson of Italian immigrants. He was born a half mile away from the winery he owns with Martha and their children Shawn Harmon, the winery’s chief financial officer and Shelly Maly, sales and marketing director.
“We are so grateful we have the winery. It is tough to sell grapes right now,” said Martha.
“The grape market is the toughest I have seen in a long time,” said Charlie. However, their Barra of Mendocino and Girasole Vineyards wine sales are “pretty good.” They sell about 25,000 cases a year.
Appellation is critical in marketing bulk wine, said Martha, who has long been directly involved in the marketing of not only the grapes and wine she and Charlie produce, but the wine for 30 growers who crush and ferment wine in Redwood Valley Cellars’ 2.7 million gallons of storage. The winery has a crush capacity of 9,000 tons. They also crush for other wineries. The grapes come from Sonoma, Lake, Napa and Mendocino counties.
“We can make wine in everything from 60,000-gallon tanks to barrels,” Martha said.
Some of Redwood Valley Cellars’ growers bottle their own wine and others sell into the bulk market. Martha sends fresh wine samples from Barra’s clients often to wine brokers and other wineries.
“Most of the big wineries are into just-in-time for bottles, corks, supplies and wine. They don’t want to invest heavily in inventory for anything, including the grapes.
“You don’t have to put it in a bottle. Make good wine; let people taste it. If they like it, they’ll buy it. But it has to be good,” she said.
“The industry is changing. Growers need to enhance their position,” Charlie said.