I had the opportunity earlier this week to pay a visit to Carlisle Winery and catch up with Mike Officer. I’ve been on the Carlisle mailing list for almost 20 years. The first vintage I purchased was the ’02’s. Prior to tasting wine though, Mike and I walked both Carlisle Vineyard and Papera Vineyard.
Carlisle vineyard was planted in 1927 by Alcide Pelletti. The vineyard is a Zinfandel dominant field blend with other varieties including Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Grand Noir de la Calmette, Tempranillo and Peloursin. In fact, to date, Mike has identified 40 different varieties. It is fascinating to walk the vineyard and see the differences between not only the vines but the various blocks due to factors like elevation. I asked Mike if he would ever consider bottling portions of Carlisle Vineyard separately. He has thought about it but for now it is not on the roadmap.
Papera Vineyard was planted in 1934 by Celestino (Charlie) Papera and is located at the intersection of Piner and Olivet. While many old-vine vineyards contain plenty of mixed black varieties, most of the blocks at Papera Ranch are 95+% Zinfandel. In surveying the vineyard the consistency of the various blocks is notable. One block, however, is an outlier. It easy to see that this block differs from the rest of the vineyard as the vines do not all look alike and that is because this block contains a significant amount of Carignane with a sprinkling of Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Valdiguié. This also happens to be the block being used by Bedrock Wine Co.
After the vineyard tours Mike and I drove back to Carlisle Winery on Starr Road. While preparing to try some barrel samples a conversation ensued around the vintage quality going back the last 5 years. We all know 16 and 18 were exceptional. Mike said he slightly prefers the 20’s over the 19’s and is optimistic about the 21’s although it will really be site dependent.
The 2020 vintage is known for the devastating fires that blazed uncontrolled in Northern California. The list of wineries that will not be making wine is staggering. For Carlisle, case count will decline from roughly 8000 cases in a normal year to just 4000 cases in 2020. Some of our favorite Carlisle wines like the Papa’s Block Syrah and Limerick Lane Zinfandel will not be made. In fact Carlisle will only produce a single Syrah, the 2020 James Berry.
The wines Mike did make in 2020 are truly exceptional. I was able to try the Old Hill, Bedrock, Saitone, Mancini, Papera, Carlisle, Sonoma County and 2 Acres. For me the standouts were Saitone and Papera but each wine in the bunch was special. It is worth nothing that the Sonoma County is just a remarkable appellation wine. This is the first Saitone Ranch Zinfandel Mike has made since the 2014 vintage. It sounds like Mike has an agreement with Williams Selyem to continue purchasing fruit and I am glad this wine is back in the Carlisle lineup.
I’ve seen more than a few people state that they will not being buying any wines from 2020. I’ve never really understood this approach of sitting out an entire vintage and what is in the barrel at Carlisle only confirms my convictions.
Lastly it is worth noting that the ideals Mike continues to strive for are exceptional wines at fair prices. He is humble, unassuming, incredibly passionate and an absolute pleasure to taste with. It is so easy for me to support a winery like Carlisle and I look forward to following Mike’s wines over the next 20 years.