It all started innocently enough. When I was 19, my older sister who was throwing a dinner party offered me a small glass of amber-colored syrup. “Ambrosia!” I exclaimed upon tasting the late-harvest Riesling. That was it. I was hooked. I started reading everything I could on the subject of wine. In college, I became a collector, attended numerous wine tastings, and even taught a course on wine appreciation.
After graduation, I settled into a software development career. But after five years of sitting in front of a monitor and keyboard, I realized I wanted to do something in which I truly felt passionate, something where I could still use my analytical skills and yet also be creative. I knew the answer would involve wine but in what capacity? Production perhaps? Hmmm…
I started with 5 gallons of Zinfandel in my kitchen. Over the next several years, I made a barrel of Zinfandel each vintage with the help of some friends and my wife, Kendall Carlisle. The results were encouraging. Kendall and I moved to Santa Rosa in Sonoma County to be closer to the “source”. I found myself increasingly drawn to the old-vine vineyards of Sonoma County. There was something special, even magical, about those ancient, twisted vines with their deep roots and long histories. By 1997 we were producing over 300 cases of “garage” wine, mostly vineyard designated old-vine Zinfandels, and winning numerous gold medals in amateur competitions.
Hence, it was with our meager savings and some family support that Kendall and I launched Carlisle Winery & Vineyards in 1998, concentrating on our two loves, old-vine Zinfandel and red Rhône varieties (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah). Our goal was simple but ambitious: to create small lots of distinctive, world-class wines from some of California’s most exceptional vineyards. With the belief that great wine begins in the vineyard, we sought out Zinfandel from some of the finest vineyards in the county, planted between 1888 and 1934, including our own vineyard planted in 1927 by Alcide Pelletti. For our Rhône varieties, we contracted with small, family growers, just as dedicated and passionate about growing grapes as we are about making exceptional wine.
Using vacation from my “real” job in San Francisco, we produced 650 cases in our first vintage, 1998. However, after growing to nearly 1000 cases in 2000, I found myself over-extended in trying to balance the demands of our growing business and my career as a software developer. It was obvious that if I wanted to be a full-time winemaker, production needed to increase. The catch, however, was that in order to increase production, my salary was needed! The solution? Enter Jay Maddox, an old college friend who had just finished getting a second degree in viticulture and enology (with honors!) from U.C. Davis. Jay joined Carlisle in February 2001, bringing a wealth of knowledge, a keen palate, and a desire to produce nothing but the best without compromise. Together, we have been able to grow to nearly 10,000 cases, garnering high praise from wine critics and consumers alike. With the increase in production, I finally shed myself of the commute, saying goodbye to corporate America in March 2004, with Kendall following suit soon after.
We hope you enjoy the realization of our dream, our passion and labor of love.
The old Pelletti Ranch. We always dreamed of owning it someday. The oak was the inspiration for our label!
In the meantime, we continued to hone our craft through our garage wines.
Mike doing a punchdown by hand in the garage.
We started a family and the garage winemaking continued to grow.
Finally, in 1998, we bought the Pelletti Ranch (now Carlisle Vineyard), ...
And moved into the old farmhouse and started Carlisle Winery!
Mike and Kendall running Carlisle out of their home office.
Longtime friend Jay Maddox joined us in 2001.
Our son helping pick at Carlisle Vineyard while our daughter directed.
New vineyards were added each year, including Rossi Ranch in 2003.
Jay and Mike sorting at the custom crush facility.
In 2013, we left custom crush and bought our own winery facility. Yay!
The tank room of our winery.
Celebrating our first crush at our new winery.
Jay and Mike continue to collaborate on each lot.
Our son (all grown up now) still enjoys helping in the vineyard.
It’s been a wonderful journey together.
Our dream has come true!