Carlisle Winery is owned by Mike Officer, a former software developer and home winemaker, and his wife Kendall. Based on their success making up to 300 cases of mostly Zinfandels at home, they launched a commercial winery in 1998 in Sonoma County. Jay Maddox, an old friend of the Officers and graduate of the U.C. Davis winemaking program, was brought on as the winemaker. Today the winery is known for its limited production Zinfandels, Syrahs and Petite Sirahs. Grapes are sourced from vineyards in Sonoma County, and more recently, Paso Robles on the Central Coast of California. About 5,000 cases are produced annually. Robert M. Parker Jr. calls Carlisle’s wines “stunningly rich, opulent, intensely flavorful. Loaded with soul and personality…”
Sonoma County is not an AVA, but it is a commonly used informal designation for wines made outside of more specific AVAs within Sonoma, which is a large wine producing region just west of Napa Valley. Though Sonoma is often overshadowed by its glamorous neighbor Napa Valley, it has a long history of wine production. The area specialized in jug wine until the mid-20th century, when Sonoma producers took a cue from Napa and started improving quality. Unlike Napa, where Cabernet Sauvignon is king, Sonoma specialized in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, though excellent Cabs are produced too. There are at present 16 AVAs within Sonoma County, and, like much of the West Coast of the United States, new AVAs are created in Sonoma County with regularity. Some Sonoma appellations, such as the Russian River Valley, are renowned for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape, but 85% of the wine produced is made into a rosy “White Zinfandel.” Red Zin is far more complex and bold, while still being light-bodied. It grows in popularity as winemakers continue to experiment with new styles and blends.