WineInk: A 21st Century Sonoma Winery
Inman Family is up to date in the Russian River
“When we decided to buy this land in Sonoma County back in 1998, my family said, ‘Can’t you do something on this side of the Mayacamas?’” recalled Kathleen Inman of Inman Family Wines with a chuckle.
It was an understandable request, as her family’s roots in the Napa Valley go back three generations, dating to 1869. But Kathleen and her husband Simon had found just the place they wanted to launch their wine dream: the Russian River Valley. On the other side of the Mayacamas mountains.
The decision has proven to be a wise one.
In a world overflowing with corporate and big money wineries, it is refreshing to come across a producer like Inman Family Wines. They combine old world artisan winemaking techniques and sustainable farming with 21st century business and technology practices. Talk to Kathleen and you can instantly sense the enthusiasm she has for the not so simple acts of growing grapes, making wines, and getting them into the glasses of people who appreciate them.
On the October day that I spoke with her, she was divvying up her morning between tending to the grapes in the winery from the recent harvest, filling boxes with bottles to ship wines to her customers and waxing poetically with the press (yours truly) about the splendor of the Russian River Valley. Oh, and she hoped she might make a quick trip to her local taqueria for sustenance in the form of a Birria (goat) taco or two. And you thought your day was busy.
Inman Family Wines is located in a very special spot in the Russian River AVA at the corner of Piner and Olivet Road in Santa Rosa, just down the road from Deloach Vineyards. “There is something about the texture of the wines made here and the diversity of the soils in Sonoma and this place,” Kathleen said about her decision that the Russian River was the right site to indulge her passion for producing the Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.
“Did you know that there are more different soil types in Sonoma County than can be found in the entire country of France?” she asked. It was news to me, but further research indicates that she is not alone in her claim. The diversity of the dirt can be attributed to the river that runs through it, the proximity of the valley to the Pacific Ocean and the meeting of tectonic plates that have shifted (and continue to shift) underneath the land for eons. Yes, the San Andreas Fault intersects land in Sonoma County at Bodega Bay and south of Fort Ross, and runs north to the county line, just east of the coast. This combination of factors contributes to make any given patch of dirt in the County, well, unique.
The working Inman Family winery, the tasting room, and the 10.5-acre Olivet Grange Vineyard (OGV) are the heart and soul of the Inman’s small, quality-driven empire. In a good year they may produce 3,800 to 4,800 cases of wine, including Pinot Noir (from both the OGV and Jim Pratt’s Vine Hill Vineyard), still Chardonnay, a couple of limited-edition sparklers, and a much beloved Rosé called Endless Crush. (see box) Last year, when fires burned during the harvest season and smoke was an issue, that number of cases was reduced by nearly half. But this season Kathleen is overjoyed with the bounty provided. “This year’s vintage has been a dream, knock on wood!” she enthused about the 2021 vintage that is, as they say, in the barn.
As I noted, you will not find Inman Family wines in your local wine shop or on a wine list. But you can join their wine club and have bottles sent directly to your door. There are a number of different options on the website, including monthly or quarterly deliveries and two traditional 6 or 12 bottle installments that ship twice a year and offer savings and special access to limited releases. Cheers!
Chronologically speaking, Inman Family can be described as a 21st century winery. Founded in 1999, they produced their first vintage in 2002. But even more than the calendar, it is the mindset and practices used, from the vineyards to the marketing methods, that make Kathleen’s winery thoroughly modern.
“When we first started to design the business, I envisioned our sales being 100% internet,” she explained about her business plan in 1999. This was at a time when state regulations and national shipping laws were still vestiges of the past. At the time almost all wines were sold through a three-tier distribution system and the internet sales were in their infancy. “We had worked with an e-commerce site and our first release (made in a barn at the Santa Rosa Airport) was sold through it.”
With the 2019 vintage, Inman Family sells 100% of their wines on a direct-to-consumer (DTC) platform with wines sold via their website and to members of their mailing list and clubs. This model is becoming more popular as it eliminates middleman costs and fosters direct relationships with consumers. During the pandemic, direct sales became the norm for many wineries, especially smaller ones, but Inman has made it a pillar of their business model. “We have done over 200 virtual wine tastings and I think it brings us closer to our consumers,” she noted.
Also, early on, Kathleen made a decision to put all of their wines under Stelvin screwcap closures rather than cork. “We were the first luxury brand to go 100% Stevin in 2002,” she says proudly about a decision that was certainly against the grain. “We’ve never looked back. I am able to use less sulfur in the wines because there is less oxidation than wines with corks.”
But it is Kathleen’s commitment to sustainable farming and winery practices that may be the ethos that most defines the winery. Since the first vintage of Inman Family Wines, the goal has been to utilize organic and sustainable growing practices. While limiting the use of pesticides is one element of a healthy vineyard, so too is the cultivation of a healthy ecosystem that surrounds the vineyards.
“From the start, I sensed that we should move forward with sustainability,” she said about her wine producing philosophy. The winery building itself, built in 2010, utilizes repurposed and recycled materials to reduce the impact on the environment. It is topped by solar panels which produce all the energy required to make the wines. There is even an electric car charging station, something that is becoming more ubiquitous at winery tasting rooms by the day.
But do these practices and commitments influence the wines Kathleen makes? She believes they do. “Pinot Noir should have supple tannins and complex and delicate flavors,” she explained. “By making wines as naturally as possible, we can produce balanced wines that express their true character and place.”
That place being on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas Mountains.
One of the most popular wines that Inman produces is a Pinot Noir Rosé sourced from their own Olive Grange Vineyard. In 2004, Kathleen harvested the grapes on September 1, which happened to be her and Simon’s wedding anniversary. She made the wine to commemorate the occasion and has been producing it ever since. It is made in an “intentional” manner, which is to say that the Pinot Noir grapes are grown intentionally to make a Rosé, and the wine is not simply a by-product of making a red wine. The wine is fresh, delicate, and reminiscent of wines produced in the same intentional manner in Provence. It is a wine befitting a celebration.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org