Kathleen Inman has just finished loading three new French oak barrels into the back of her pickup. Used more for their subtlety and spice rather than the sweeter, creamier textures that American barrels produce, the French barrels are a $1200 necessity for oak-aging Inman's wines, and likewise hefty reminders of the costs of a growing wine concern.
But adapting to accelerated growth is not the daunting challenge it may seem when you've got a tight knit family by your side. From their first harvest in 2002, Inman Family Wines has been committed to a non-interventionist attitude on winemaking and an uncompromising representation of the grape, from seeding to packaging, from ground to glass. Perhaps a more socially conscious consumer base (numbering also more self-styled connoisseurs and foodies) has hastened what was otherwise Inman's steady line of growth.
Like the biennial "Endless Crush" she created in 2004 for her 20th wedding anniversary, to commemorate Inman's 10th anniversary, Kathleen has made a special edition sparkling wine, as well as arranging a special dinner and retrospective tasting of both reds and whites from her vineyard. Though the glistering 10th anniversary juice won't be available for a few years, it gives us yet another solid reason to keep Inman Wines in our sights. And, of course, we were able to get our hands on a few bottles of the tasting-room favorite, "Endless Crush." After a glass of the particularly peppery, but smooth and citrusy ros√©, we gratefully forgot what there was to forget, instead giving our minds over to the pale pink of the wine, the slow color of evening infusing itself into our cheeks. Now in the mood for a little chitchat, we asked Kathleen a few questions. Our conversation went as follows.
Tell us about the role your family plays within the winery?
When I created the brand and I called it Inman Family, I jokingly said it in hopes of getting free child labor, but really I did it so that everyone in my family felt included in what I was doing. I am a winemaker, a grape grower, and a mother. The challenge is to create not only a balanced wine but a balanced life.
I used to just make a white wine and red wine, and I have a blonde daughter and redheaded daughter. I made a late harvest wine in honor of my elder daughter, Ashley, a Pinot Gris, and that was the white wine. Then my younger daughter, Meredith, she's nearly 21 now, she said she thought she needed a red wine. So I actually made a wine called "Meredith" for her that raised money for the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra. They were starting a tour of Europe and a lot of the young musicians couldn't afford the cost of participating. So I created scholarships for three or four musicians.
When I named the wines for each of the girls, it made them feel more connected to what I was doing, and that's what this is all about.
Do either of your daughters foresee a future in winemaking?
I don't think so now. I didn't create it with some sort of legacy for them in mind. My eldest daughter is in education policy in Washington DC. She works at the Brookings Institute as the Communications Director. My other daughter is in Spain this year and says every time she and her friends go out, they all say, "You have to choose the wine! Because you know all about it!" She could be [a winemaker]. She has the palate to do it. But she wants to be a political journalist and is studying Middle Eastern history.
What is your main focus when developing your wines?
I'm more of a natural winemaker so I try to make my wines so that they're representative of the place that they are grown. I try not to control. Even though I'm a bit of a control freak in the rest of my life. But wine is basically a natural spoilage product, so the role of the winemaker, and I think this is true for brewmaster as well, is to really try and shepherd the process so you don't get any spoilage that's producing unwanted flavors. I am not trying to actually create certain flavors. I really want to focus on wines that are going to go with foods, so I pay attention to when we choose to harvest. I am not only looking for attractive food flavors in the grapes, I'm looking at what is a good Ph and the natural acidity for the grape. I want to make sure the wines have a nice, bright acidity so I don't have to add any extra acetic acid.
What's the story behind your wine, "Endless Crush?"
It was a harvest day in 2004, and I had forgotten that it was my 20th wedding anniversary. My husband and I were up at 3:45 AM because I had to go. He had this very nice diamond, an unset stone for me, because I can't wear jewelry. The things that I do, you know, my hands are always in stuff. He wanted me to make a necklace or something. I felt so bad because I had been so busy with the vineyard that I hadn't had the chance to get something for him. I said,"You know what honey? I'm going to make you a special wine today." So I set aside a couple of bins, and I just made a very small amount of ros√©. Everybody that had it loved it.
We named it "Endless Crush," you know the double entendre of our endless crush and because of our long relationship. I make some every other year, so it's 2012, and I'm making the endless crush again. It's a special wine because it only gets made every other year and it's hugely popular in our tasting room. It's mostly available online and in our tasting room.
Written By Alexis Sophie Kozak