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Day 2 in Sonoma: A Hit Parade of Pinot and Chard at MacPhail and Inman Family

Wine for Normal People
May 12, 2015
By Elizabeth Schneider

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Inman Family Wines (3900 Piner Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95401)

I didn’t know what to think about Inman Family Wines. A dear friend recommended I go visit and I interacted directly with the winemaker, Kathleen Inman, on the Facebook page. I promised I’d stop by, so we did.  I couldn’t be happier about that decision! 

Kim, in the tasting room was fun, lively, and very knowledgeable. She took us through the wines and told us a little about the winery.

Established in 2000 with their estate Olivet Grange Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, winemaker Kathleen Inman set out to make balanced, food-friendly wine mostly from her favorite grape, Pinot Noir. This is not a contract operation: Inman grows many of the the grapes, makes the wine, manages the winery, and sells the finished product. She has reverence for the land and tries to make Pinot that reflects the terroir.  

Inman’s production is less than 5,000 cases and her style and nuance seem to be reflected in every bottle. We tried six wines and there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch, and some were truly outstanding. I hope to have Kathleen on the podcast to talk about what it’s like to do everything as a one-woman show, so stay tuned for what I’m sure will be a fabulous segment!

Here are the notes on these wonderfully nuanced wines:

2012 Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Gris, $35
A very pale color with light herbal, citrus aromas. A total summer sipper — with lovely parsley and basil notes wrapped in lemon flavors. The acidity was prickly, in a good way, and the touch of creaminess from the quarter of the wine that went through malolactic fermentation, was a great complement to the bite of the acid.

2012 Inman Family Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $35

Unusual for Russian River Chard, this is a very low alcohol (11.6% ABV0, native yeast fermented version.  It was aged in 40% new oak, 60% stainless steel, underwent a native yeast fermentation, full malolactic fermentation in all barrels, with lees stirring — the full arsenal of winemaking tricks were deployed. And yet it seems like it has such a light touch! The wine was golden with aromas of caramel, white flowers — gardenia and honeysuckle, and it was a little musty (but not in a flawed way). The flavor was refreshing — green tea, green herbs, and a citrus zing lightened the wine and make it one of the most refreshing oak aged wines I’ve had. Excellent.

2014 Inman Family Rosé of Pinot Noir “Endless Crush” Russian River Valley, $25
Made of Pinot Noir, this wine is lightly pressed instead of allowing the weight of the grapes to “bleed” out free run juice, which then turns pink from skin contact. The wine smelled just like a French rosé — minerals, hay, grass, and fresh cut herbs with flavors like strawberry and raspberry and excellent acidity. I had to bring a bottle home to sip! Delicious enough even for my rosé hating dad to drink the glass and want more!

2011 Inman Family Thorn Ridge Ranch Pinot Noir, $68
2011 was a cool year in Sonoma, but I suspected after tasting Kathleen’s restrained style that she would relish the opportunity to work with grapes from a cooler year. Indeed, she worked magic with this fruit. The grapes for this wine were bought from a vineyard in the Russian River Valley that is near the Pacific but above the fog-line so it gets the benefit of lots of sunlight without the downside of too much heat.  Brown-red with raspberry, strawberry, and fruit tea notes the clarity of flavors blew me away! Dark and red fruit with an intense smokiness — the wine reminded me of Scottish breakfast tea. Great use of oak against the earthy fruit. Outstanding.

2011 Inman Family OGV (Olivet Grange Vineyard) Estate Pinot Noir, $68
A great contrast of wine styles against Thorn Ridge, this organically farmed, estate grown wine was brown red in color and had lots of red fruit – cherry, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry notes with minerality. More classic and subtle than the Thorn Ridge Ranch Pinot, it had a wonderful red fruit flavor, with medium tannin and acid. A good wine but I kind of wish I’d tasted it before the Thorn Ridge Ranch, since it’s flavor was lighter and I don’t know I appreciated all its nuance.

2013 Inman Family  “Whole Buncha Love” Pinot Noir (whole cluster fermented, native yeast fermentation), $45
The final in the series of three Pinots each sourced and made differently, this wine was made to express bold fruit flavors using whole cluster carbonic maceration (fermentation takes place inside each grape instead of in the must/crushed grape soup) to emphasize full, soft fruit. It was a light color with aromas and flavors of rose, raspberry, and strawberry. The wine was creamy with soft acid and it reminded me of a Beaujolais Village wine. Definitely not the top of the heap for me,  but enjoyable nonetheless. 

Kathleen Inman is clearly a talent. Her vision for each wine is so clear in the flavors and she seems to achieve her goals masterfully. A must-visit place, indeed.