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One-woman winemaker

Inman Family Wines cat Stella hops across a row of pinot gris vines as winemaker Kathleen Inman checks the canes after pruning.

Crista Jeremiason / PD
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 at 3:41 p.m.

It's taken a lot of blood, sweat and perseverance for one-woman winemaking whirlwind Kathleen Inman to get from Napa to England to Sonoma County, and for her wines to evolve into the silky, complex Russian River Valley bottles now found in her very own tasting room.

Facts

INMAN FAMILY WINES

Where: 3900 Piner Road, Santa Rosa
When: Open Thursday through Monday with private tastings and vineyard tours with winemaker Kathleen Inman available by appointment
Tasting fee: $10/person, waived with purchase
Information: 293-9576, inmanfamilywines.com

It all started with the 2000 planting of a plot of land that Inman would call Olivet Grange Vineyard (OGV), set on the corner of Piner Road and Olivet Lane. A little over 10 acres, she planted the majority of it to pinot noir and the rest to pinot gris, while sectioning off another 3 acres or so to sow vegetables and herbs.

“When I walked the property I just knew it was what I was looking for, with the Olivet Lane pinot noir vineyard just a few parcels over and the Papera (Ranch) and Mancini old-vine zinfandel vineyards on two sides of me,” Inman recalled.

“I was excited by the potential of this property to grow not just good but outstanding fruit.”

Inman's first wine, a pinot gris, was released in 2002, the first pinot noir in 2003. Her tasting room and winery opened in late 2010.

“It was clear to me even though she was starting out as a novice,” noted winemaker Kevin Hamel of Hamel Wines in Healdsburg, “that she wanted to learn and planned to do things on her own.”

Hamel helped Inman get her first few vintages off the ground and remains a mentor.

“She was more determined than anybody I'd ever met and committed from the ground up to make her wine representative of her vineyard,” he added. “And she was pushing back from the super-extracted, super-ripe style; balance and elegance were important.”

From the beginning, Inman took to farming organically, with a sustained commitment to composting from what she calls “Four Course Compost,” a mélange of fancy restaurant scraps that would otherwise be thrown out.

That eco-sensibility continued with the installation of an electric vehicle charging station fueled by solar power in her tasting-room parking lot. The building is old and new, based entirely on a redwood barn originally built on the site more than a century ago, re-done using salvaged wood, steel, concrete and insulation.

Inman grew up in the Napa Valley but didn't know anything about wine until working a summer job during college at the since-defunct Napa Creek Winery. She detoured to England for 15 years, working in finance there while her British husband, Simon, practiced law. They now live in Healdsburg and are the parents of two grown girls.

“We wanted to change our lifestyle away from careers that never allowed us enough time with our children or for hobbies like gardening,” said Inman.

“During a holiday (here) we had an epiphany to give up our careers in England and move back to California so I could go back to wine.”

Inman makes pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay and Blanc de Noir sparkling wine. In 2009, she started making a single-vineyard designated sparkling wine, something that's not often done in California.

Visitors to the tasting room have responded overwhelmingly to the story behind Endless Crush, a rosé wine she starting making in 2004 to celebrate her and Simon's 20th wedding anniversary.

Made intentionally as a rosé wine from pinot noir grapes and released around Valentine's Day, it is among her most sought-after wines, beautifully coral colored, with pronounced, refreshing flavors of stark raspberry and shavings of orange zest.

Inman's Brut Rosé Nature Sparkling Endless Crush (2009 is current), made to commemorate her 25th wedding anniversary, is similarly blessed, though with bubbles, made in a Méthode Champenoise-style from estate fruit with no extra sugar added in the final dosage.

It is bright and completely dry, worth seeking out at the tasting room. Inman will continue to release the wine in staged disgorgements, with the next set for spring of this year (after 18 months of age) and another (after 33 months of age) for Valentine's Day 2014.

The Inman pinot gris is also a departure from the norm, produced from estate grapes with pronounced minerality and depth of flavor. The chardonnay, a relative newcomer to the lineup, is rich in apple and lemon flavor but also freshly alive with acidity and offering a remarkably low 12.6 percent alcohol level.

The Russian River Valley is known for its pinot noir, Inman's first love, and Inman makes two, one from the OGV estate and another from nearby Thorn Ridge Ranch.

The OGV is restrained, the “Audrey Hepburn of Pinot,” as Inman likes to say — classically elegant, balanced, with lean, tart cherry flavors.

The Thorn Ridge is more Marilyn Monroe — rich, full-bodied and hedonistic. In both cases, Inman stirs the pinot grapes during fermentation to give her wines more mouthfeel while keeping the alcohol levels relatively low. Her vision for balanced, elegant wines is always front and center.

Virginie Boone is a freelance wine writer based in Sonoma County. She can be reached at virginieboone@yahoo.com.

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