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