Stepping into the Inman Family tasting room, guests may see a bubbly, blonde-haired woman behind the counter pouring wines and socializing with patrons. Glancing out the window, they may find the same woman repositioning shoots throughout the vineyard. That woman is Kathleen Inman: a savvy entrepreneur with a robust do-it-your-self work ethic; a lover of food, family and nature; a woman who loves both Target and Valentino; and a woman with an inspiringly steadfast integrity. For over ten years, she has served as grape grower, winemaker, general manager, sales person, accountant, operations manager and forklift driver for Inman Family Wines, a winery that she built from the ground up with her own two hands. Every aspect of the winery, from the farming and winemaking, to the eco-friendly wine labels, to the ultra-sustainable tasting room is inspired by her deep love of the land and a desire to share her passion with the world.
As a third-generation Napa Valley native, it’s no surprise that Kathleen developed an interest in wine. However, it wasn’t until she attended a wine tasting seminar as a college student at UC Santa Barbara that she took an active interest in her revered grape: Pinot Noir. When she returned home to Napa in the summer before her junior year, she took a job at Napa Creek Winery, which was a small startup winery on the Silverado Trail where Kent Rasmussen Winery now resides. At Napa Creek she had the opportunity to lead tours and perform various tasks in the cellar.
“Most of that summer was spent cleaning equipment and bottling wine by hand,” says Kathleen. “While a modern bottling line can now bottle as much in one day as we had all summer, it taught me some very valuable lessons about the wine industry. Running a winery is wonderful, but very hard work.”
Serendipitously, on her first day at Napa Creek, she met a man named Simon who was visiting from England. Three weeks after his visit to the tasting room, she received a letter from him addressed to the “pretty blond assistant.” This would be the first of many letters as the two embarked on a long distance courtship. They were married two years later, and spent the next 15 years living in England, where Kathleen worked as a finance executive at Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lyband, and later, in executive search at GKR Group. It was also in England that Kathleen became a passionate organic gardener. At the family’s home in England, called The Grange at Elvington, she managed an 11-acre organic walled garden of fruits and vegetables as well as more formal gardens and a conservation meadow. One afternoon while the two were enjoying a fancy al fresco lunch, Simon suggested the family throw caution to the wind, and leave their lives in England to pursue Kathleen’s desire to start a winery in California. “That lunch was a turning point for me and for our family,” says Kathleen.
In 1998, Kathleen and Simon relocated to California and began scouting for a property. In 1999, the Inmans obtained the Olivet Grange property in the Russian River Valley, a name that paid homage to the home that they left in England, and Kathleen’s dream of owning her own Pinot Noir winery became a reality. Kathleen immediately began taking winemaking classes at UC Davis while at the same time developing her vineyards according to organic and sustainable practices. In 2002, she produced her first vintage for Inman Family Wines.
In the years since starting the winery, her love and devotion to her family has remained constant. Her appreciation for her husband’s ongoing support and encouragement is evident. Every other year she celebrates her anniversary with Simon, who is now a lawyer in Santa Rosa, by making a Rosé called “Endless Crush.”
“I’ve often said that I operate Inman Family Wines as a one woman show since I manage the vineyard, make the wines and answer the phones,” says Kathleen. “None of this would be possible had my family not encouraged me to take a risk and pursue my passion. My husband and two daughters help make up the cultural terroir behind the wines.”
Kathleen is a member of the American Society of Viticulture and Enology and serves on the Board of Directors of Wine Road. In 2011 she was awarded the Best Practices Award from the Business Environmental Alliance of Sonoma County Award, and in 2012, she was awarded the Rising Star Winemaker Award by Women for WineSense.