In November of 2012, we had the pleasure of meeting Kathleen Inman of Inman Family Wines located just outside Santa Rosa, CA in the Russian River Valley. Her minimal-interventionist technique produces small lot Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that are crisp, well-balanced and very terrior-driven. Each wine has a unique personality and vineyard voice worthy of your time and attention.
The new barn-style winery on Olivet Lane doubles as tasting room and winemaking facility. We were greeted by Kathleen and her friendly staff. While Inman Family wines is not quite a one-woman show, Kathleen is involved in all aspects of the winery including organic grape growing, sales, winemaking and even forklift driving.
For those traveling to Sonoma wanting the full vineyard life experience, Kathleen has the answer. Located away from the winery and on the edge of her Olivet Grange Vineyard sits a quaint 3 bedroom 1 bath farmhouse available for rent or as Kathleen calls it a “Bed-and get-your-own-Breakfast.” We stayed there a few nights and loved the experience. Just minutes away from many other great wineries and convenient to both Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, the farmhouse offers a wonderful wine country lodging experience. Our evenings were spent under the trees sipping Inman Family Pinot Noir and enjoying the very vineyard that produced the grapes. Each morning I strolled through the vineyards or down the road, taking in the beautiful Russian River Valley. Click Here for Rental Information
We arrived just as the 2012 harvest was wrapping up and Kathleen had been working over sixty days without a break. For those who understand the excitement and rigors of harvest and crush…you will find humor in a few of Kathleen’s answers
B&B – Who do you see when you look in the mirror?
KI – A tired woman who needs a holiday!
B&B – Tell us about your background?
KI – I grew up in the Napa Valley and my first winery job was at Napa Creek Winery, which is now the site of Ken Rasmussen’s winery on the Silverado trail. That was my last job in California before I went to England where I lived for nearly 16 years after marrying my husband, Simon Inman. We returned to California in 1998 so that I could return to wine. My passion was then and is now for Pinot Noir so instead of returning to the Napa Valley, we chose the Russian River. I purchased our land in 1999, planted the Olivet Grange vineyard to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in 2000, and I made the first Pinot Gris in 2002 and first Pinot Noir in 2003. I added to what I had learned in my first winery job by volunteering at various wineries while my grapes were getting established and doing classes at UC Davis through the extension. This in my 10 year anniversary of winemaking.
B&B – You were raised in Napa, was your family involved in wine?
KI – No, I didn’t grow up with alcohol at home. My great grandparents and grandparents were prune farmers in the Napa Valley.
B&B – How did your interest in winemaking begin?
KI – Since I did not grow up with wine on the table at home, it was not until I went to university that I began to drink wine. I did a wine tasting class that was offered in the evening when I was at UCSB, and that was where I had my ah-ha moment – “Gee they make this stuff where I am from!” I was fascinated with how one grape variety could taste so similar when grown in different places in the world yet how different two individual wines could be when made with grapes grown in the same place but made by different people. I realized that wine could be endlessly fascinating and from there I was hooked!
B&B – What winemakers either influenced your style or mentored you in your early years?
KI – Tim Marshall in Nuit St George was both influential and very helpful when I was starting out. He is a longtime family friend of Simon’s. He owns 6 premiere cru vineyards in the Cote de Nuits and when I was planning our vineyard he introduced me to a number of producers and spent time with me in his vineyards in the weeks immediately prior to harvest, took me to the experimental vineyards of the University of Beaune and was so kind and supportive of our project. Here in California, Kevin Hamel was a huge help to me in my first few years. I describe Kevin as my training wheels. He was there to help me put my theories and ideas into practice, helping me with the equipment and techniques.
KI – The processes I employ in making my wines are all done because I am trying to make wines that reflect the place they are grown and vintage, but my overall objective is to make delicious wines. Natural Winemaking, Non-Interventionism or Minimalism are very loaded terms in respect of wine. Every choice one makes in the winemaking is an intervention and it begins with the farming of the grapes and ends with the choices in packaging. Never the less, these terms come closest to describing my style.
I am an organic farmer. When the grapes come into the winery, I don’t like to add SO2. I try and pick grapes when they have bright, natural acidity and low potential alcohol so that I do not have to make adjustments of water or acid the way most winemakers do. I don’t add enzymes or other additives to enhance color or aromatics. I do not bleed juice off to intensify the wine or remove alcohol as is so common these days. My chardonnay and Pinot Noirs are made without adding yeast or bacteria (native yeast strains and native bacteria). Although I do use cross-flow filtration prior to bottling my wines, I use no fining agents and I am frankly appalled that people use products like Velcorin (DMDC) to combat Brett so that they can say they did not filter their wines.
B&B – Why did you choose Russian River for your winery and to focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay?
KI – Yes, although I am a 4th generation Napan, I did choose the Russian River Valley. I have always loved Pinot Noir and when we returned from England it was my passion for Pinot that I wanted to pursue. The choice to make Chardonnay came much later – out of frustration with flabby, excessively oak, butter California Chardonnays and lovely French Chardonnays that were too expensive. I made the first two barrels of Chardonnay in 2008 and am now making about 600 cases.
B&B – What is the key to getting the best vineyard expression in a single-vineyard wine?
KI – I can only speak for myself – growing grapes is in many ways like parenting. You have to provide a safe, healthy environment, guidelines, careful training and nurturing, but in the end there is an innate character that ultimately will shape the child into the person it becomes. I just try to let nature take its course.
B&B – What does the future hold for Inman Family wines?
KI – We have only just finished our new winery and have increased our production slightly now that we have more space. I anticipate that we will remain at about 4000 cases, but I can state as fact that the wines in my cellar that have not yet been released are amazing. As the vineyard has matured (and perhaps me as a winemaker too!) the wines are becoming more intense and complex. The best is yet to come!
KI – The first time I had an elegant dry rosé wine was on a simple but romantic picnic with my husband Simon in Provence nearly twenty four years ago. Local cheese, bread, fruit, the fabulous, dramatic scenery and that Provençal wine with its delicate salmon pink color, crisp acidity and floral aromas forever linked in my mind rosé wines and al fresco dining with romance. In 2004, Simon and I harvested Olivet Grange Pinot Noir on September 1st which was our 20th wedding anniversary. To celebrate and mark the occasion I made a special rosé which I called “Endless Crush”.
Some rosés are made as a by-product of red wine by bleeding off (saigner) some of the juice early in the production process to create a higher ratio of skin to juice which will concentrate the resultant red wine. “Endless Crush” was not made in this manner. My intention from the start was to create a rosé separate from my Pinot Noir. Rosés made intentionally, rather than simply by drawing off the freerun juice, tend to have greater complexity and structure because the grapes are pressed.
Although our 20th anniversary and the original “Endless Crush” were made in 2004, I now make it every other year. This 2010 vintage of “Endless Crush” was made entirely from our organically grown Olivet Grange fruit; like that first rosé I enjoyed in France, this wine is a beautiful, pale, delicate pink and is dry, crisp, and refreshing.
B&B – What should a visitor expect from their experience at Inman Family Wines
KI – Friendly people, great wines, good conversation and helpful information.
B&B – Tell us a bit about your life away from the winery?
KI – What life?
B&B – Is there anything else we should know about yourself or Inman Family Wines?
KI – I am the mother of two wonderful women, Ashley and Meredith, neither of whom wish to follow in my footsteps at this stage. I am so proud of both of them for all of their accomplishments.
Read Reviews of Inman Family Wines