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Kathleen Inman of Sonoma County’s Inman Family Wines wins Wine, Beer & Spirits Industry Awards winery owner and winemaker category

Kathleen Inman

Winemaker and owner

Inman Family Wines

3900 Piner Road, Santa Rosa 95401

707-293-9576

www.inmanfamilywines.com

The winner of the winery owner and winemaker category in North Bay Business Journal’s beverage alcohol industry awards says consolidation has been taking place among small producers.

How did you get into the industry? And what has been your career track since?

I grew up in Napa Valley but surprisingly my family was not involved in wine - they were fruit farmers.

My formal love of wine was piqued in a wine class at the University of California Santa Barbara. Upon returning home for the summer before my junior year, I took a job at Napa Creek Winery in St. Helena.

While working at the winery, my work in wine led me to the love of my life: my husband.

On my first day at work I met a visiting Englishman named Simon. We were married two years later and spent the next 15 years living in England. I began training as a chartered accountant at a large international firm and later obtained my MBA in corporate finance and strategic marketing.

Eventually I was named an associate partner at the UK’s largest executive search firm prior to moving back to my native Northern California in 1998. While I did not make wine in the UK, I spent many years passionately tending my organic garden, and collecting and drinking wines from around the world. Excellent preparation for things to come!

A trip to Mendocino County finally sealed the deal, and in 1998, our family packed our bags and left London in pursuit of my love for pinot noir. I launched Inman Family Wines in 2000 when we planted our 10.45-acre estate in the heart of the Russian River Valley - the Olivet Grange Estate.

Currently I produce pinot noir, an intentional direct-to-press Rosé of Pinot Noir called Endless Crush®, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and several sparkling wines. I endeavor to produce wines that are naturally low in alcohol, high in acid, and food friendly.

Over my career I have sought to create the best expressions of the unique vineyard sites I have access to while continuing to develop and refine the style my customers have come to know me for- balanced wines with high natural acidity and purity of fruit, made with integrity and respect for the environment.

How have you or your company influenced the industry in the last five years? What are key accomplishments?

Much to my delight, on the winemaking side I have seen a few key techniques that I have been practicing since the early 2000s find broader acceptance in the market.

I have been producing my intentional direct-to-press rosé Endless Crush® rosé since 2004 and have always been a major advocate for premium, vineyard-driven rosé, treated every bit as serious as my other flagship wines.

It seems as a wine culture we are finally moving past the notion that you can only drink rosé during the summer or on a warm day - I am noticing that more and more individuals are enjoying rosé year round and as a pairing for elevated cuisine. With the proliferation of cheap pink wines on the market, consumers are increasingly sophisticated in their palates for pink wines and are seeking terroir driven expressions such as our Endless Crush®.

In the last five years I have seen a broader acceptance of alternative enclosures for wines as well. I was the first luxury producer in California to bottle all of the still wines under high quality Stelvin screw caps with Saratin liners, I have done this continuously since 2002 and am happy to see this broader shift taking place.

Finally, the past year has been a reckoning and awakening broadly in the wine industry in regard to calling attention to issues of systematic racism, sexism and other widespread abuses against marginalized communities.

From the beginning I have used my voice and my wine to support changes to legislation regarding the rights of same sex couples as well as being a committed advocate for women in the wine industry.

I aim to set an example for future generations of women and other minority communities who aspire to be winemakers.

Many years I hire an all-female harvest and winery crew, and I regularly host wine events for women business executives. It is my goal to continue to support women, people of color, and other marginalized communities in the wine industry in the ways that I can.

What changes have you noticed in your industry in the last five years, and how have you and/or your company moved to capitalize on or adjust to those changes?

Small producers like us have witnessed the dramatic consolidation of the distribution landscape over the last five years, though this has been going on for much longer than that.

In 2019 Inman Family Wines went 100% DTC, and we have not looked back. I have long been spreading the word to consumers that the best way to experience wines from boutique operations focused on quality and limited production is to purchase straight from the source.

Kathleen Inman

Winemaker and owner

Inman Family Wines

3900 Piner Road, Santa Rosa 95401

707-293-9576

www.inmanfamilywines.com

By removing myself from the corporate distribution chain and going fully direct, I have been able to connect more deeply with my customers and have come to love the extra layer of personal interaction this has afforded me.

By investing in my DTC infrastructure, I also had a more sustainable revenue stream to be able to continue making wines and engaging with my customers though this pandemic.

Hands down the biggest change I have made to our business strategy has come in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late February and early March, I decided to launch virtual tastings. This was before I heard of any other wineries doing this. The idea had originally come to me in 2007 when I created a series of virtual wine tasting video…. sadly, a bit ahead of their time because without social media to promote the YouTube videos…they had very few views, but I held that it was still a good idea!!

I then set up to infrastructure to make this happen and when lockdown occurred, we hit the ground running.

I have done nearly 200 virtual wine tastings and even when we are past the pandemic, I will continue to offer these for family, friends and corporations as I believe they are excellent ways to keep in touch and have the benefit of reducing travel and therefore minimizing pollution.

How have you responded to growing competition from craft spirits and alternatives such as hard seltzer?

I cannot say I feel like I am competing with craft spirits or alternatives such as hard seltzer. The wines produced at Inman Family Wines are unique and are not in the same category as craft spirits and alternatives.

While I am impressed with the growth of these categories and enjoy exploring these products, especially from local Sonoma producers, its “apples to oranges” in my mind. I do love a well-crafted cocktail but cannot say the same for seltzers.

How has the pandemic affected your business? What has been the impact of restrictions on visitors, closure of restaurants and bars, surge in online shopping, and rise in digital consumer experiences and marketing?

Travel and other restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of visitors.

I was one of the first to develop and market virtual wine tasting experiences. Our “Meet the Maker” virtual tastings allows me to continue to connect with my customers and reach new audiences.

Furthermore, we have expanded our virtual tastings to not only include consumer tastings, but also bachelor and bachelorette parties, corporate tastings, and other specialized events.

We’ve found these virtual tastings to be not only safer and more convenient, but they also generate more sales, repeat purchases, word-of-mouth referrals and wine club sign-ups than could be accomplished in our tasting room.

In addition to its impact on the consumer side of the market, the COVID-19 pandemic has created some uncertainty in our supply chain for goods, such as shippers. We had to be quick on our toes to find alternative suppliers and resources to avoid delays in our shipping.

As a small winery, it was difficult navigating the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, however we did so with finesse. Now that limited outdoor visitation is permitted in Sonoma, we have seen an increase in guests. \

How have you responded to the challenges and opportunities of the virus-influenced economic downturn? How much are these measures making up the difference in sales? Which of your adjustments and initiatives do you think you will continue past the pandemic, and why?

Virtual tastings and events will remain a key part of our business for the foreseeable future. They have been highly successful, well received, and not to mention, very fun and rewarding to host. I care deeply about my customers and have cherished the opportunity to connect with them, even if virtually, during this unprecedented time. Virtual tastings in the future will allow our customers to experience an Inman Family Wines tastings anywhere in the world.

We are also offering a new customized wine club. In addition to the many perks included in the membership, customers can choose the wines they want. We were one of the first wineries to offer customizable shipments to our customers, whereas most wineries offer their members pre-selected wines.

Now, our customers can create their own perfect wine shipment – I like to say “choose your own wine adventure!”

How are the North Bay wildfires and power shutoffs affecting the outlook for your business?

The fires this year were devastating. We are fortunate that we did not sustain any damage to our structures or vines. Committed to only bottling the best Inman Family Wines, like so many others, I had to make the hard decision to refuse some fruit.

However, 2020 is not all bad news. I have some beautiful wines coming out of this vintage. Fruit for our 2020 OGV Estate Endless Crush, sourced from our organically framed OGV Estate Vineyard, was harvested before the fires. We are pleased to say that our OGV Pinot Noir also was harvested in pristine condition.

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