The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: Barra of Mendocino Winery

Sustainability Series: Barra of Mendocino Winery


June 27, 2010

Barra of Mendocino has been producing organically-farmed winegrapes since 1955, when Charlie Barra – who is now 83 years old and still working at the winery – purchased an old vineyard and began planting new vines on 200 acres of farmland. Over the years, the winery has worked hard to help raise awareness around the benefits of environmental stewardship, and most recently started a cork recycling program that works with Mendocino residents to collect the material and ultimately convert it into footbeds, socks and sandals. We talked to Martha Barra, co-owner of Barra of Mendocino, about the importance of supporting companies practicing techniques that are in harmony with the environment.

How does your business define sustainability? 

Because our vineyard operations have been certified organic since 1988, we needed to look beyond organic for other ways to pursue sustainability. Our business model defines sustainability as the pursuit of raising the bar in every facet of growing grapes and producing wine that will leave a softer footprint on all natural resources and leave the land, water and air in as pristine condition as possible. Charles Barra has been a steward of the land or “Earthkeeper” even before organic certification came into being. He has humorously stated, “I’ve been growing organically for 50 years; the first 30, I didn’t know it.” 

How are you incorporating sustainable practices in your business? 

In the vines we are:

  • Complying with all rules of organic production and undergoing a strict, third-party inspection by California Certified Organic Farmers ( each year. No pesticides, herbicides (or any other –cides), or petroleum-based fertilizers are used in our vineyards.
  • Restructuring waterways and banks of reservoirs to allow for wildlife habitat and protection.
  • Recycling – not burying: Farmers are noted for burying worn-out or unusable metal, etc. Our model is to make frequent visits to recycling centers for such items.
  • Using organic weed eaters – in the form of seven goats which have voracious appetites.
  • Adapting vineyard cultivation equipment to remove grass under vines instead of spraying with harmful herbicides.
  • Training employees to be aware of environment-damaging activities in their work and at home.
  • Practicing water conservation by placing restricted use in all farming operations as well as labor housing, using drip irrigation in the vineyard (instead of overhead sprinklers) at a water savings of up to 40%, and monitoring soil condition before applying irrigation.
  • Strictly monitoring for low temperatures in the vineyard before starting pumps for frost protection.

In the winery we are:

  • Using only certified organic grapes to produce wines that meet the “organically grown” certification status.
  • Maintaining pH balance and aeration in our waste water pond so water can be reclaimed for vineyard irrigation.

In the tasting room and event center we are: 

  • Using compostable party supplies or washable, real glass.
  • Recycling cardboard, glass and other packaging materials.
  • Instituting a county-wide, used natural cork recycling program, the end product of which will be made into shoe soles, etc. (See

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact? 

We feel that our certified organic farming and winemaking practices impact a variety of constituents. Through our ongoing commitment to chemical-free farming over the last 40 plus years, we have been modeling a behavior that has encouraged other farmers and winemakers to raise the bar on their own practices. In Mendocino County, over 25% of our vineyards are now either certified organic or in the process of being certified. 

This momentum then carries over into the stores and restaurants that we sell to, as well as to the customers that drink our wine. By leading through example, we are able to raise awareness regarding the importance of minimizing our impact on the environment. 

How do you measure your progress?

Our progress can be measured on two different levels – environmental return and sales return. Because we are 100% free of pesticide, insecticide, herbicide and petroleum-based fertilizers, the wildlife in our vineyards is flourishing. The biodiversity of our soils are reflected in the health of our grapevines and their ability to resist infection. And our water supply is pristine. 

With regards to sales return, our progress is directly tied to an increased demand for our products. Year over year, our wine sales continue to grow. Additionally, more and more wineries continue to enter the organic marketplace, thereby validating our efforts (and progress) over the last 40 years. As one of the early pioneers in this arena, it is rewarding to see the role our efforts have played in the overall certified organic wine market. 

How do retailers factor into your efforts? 

Retailers play a critical role in our organic efforts. They are our direct connection to the consumer – playing the part of not only a sales person, but an educator on the role that environmentally conscious business practices play in the wine on the shelf. Five years ago, people were not asking the same questions they are asking now. Retailers are the key to helping us educate consumers. 

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry? 

Sustainable business practices are important to the food industry on a variety of levels, with the most important facet being the long-term sustainability of our farms. Whether the crops are grapes or tomatoes, all businesses must find a way to do their part to act as proactive stewards of the land. With wine, it starts in the vineyard. With tomato sauce, it starts with the tomato. Our entire food chain is interconnected. By working towards a baseline approach to protecting all links in this chain, we have greater prospects for a long term, healthy, productive and environmentally focused food industry. 

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer? 

In general, consumers want to feel good about the purchases they make. They have worked hard for their money, and they expect to receive a good value in return. However, in the last several years, consumers have added another criterion to their list of expectations – vendor business practices. They are becoming more educated on wading through all of the green washing, and very soon, seeing the word “natural” on a label will no longer be enough. 

And when it comes to wine, discerning consumers are all about the story. Where did the grapes come from? Is it a small, family owned winery or a multi-national conglomerate? Environmentally conscious business practices are becoming a very important piece of this story as consumers seek to align their consumption habits with their overarching “be a good citizen” philosophies. 

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom