Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Women continue to make great strides in all kinds of industries. In California, there are 4,000+ wineries and about 10% of those have a female as the lead winemaker. I recently talked to three of these female winemakers. We talked about how they got their start in wine and turns out they all followed very different paths on their journey.
In the first of this three-part series, we’ll talk to Kathleen Inman and discover how she became so enamored by wine that she decided to start her own winery.
Winemaker & Winery Owner: Kathleen Inman
Kathleen Inman owns Inman Family Wines. She is also the winemaker, vineyard manager, harvester, bottler, marketer, you name it. She takes on every job for her winery.
The winery is located in the Russian River Valley which is part of Sonoma County in California. She planted her vines in 2000 and ushered in the first harvest in 2002. She produces 3,900 cases of Rosé, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Estate Sparkling Wine.
Growing Interest for Wine
Kathleen grew up in Napa Valley, during the time when orchards were being pulled out and replaced by grapevines. Even though wine or alcohol of any kind was not a part of her family life, she started her informal wine education through her friend’s parents who were collectors of fine wine. While others were drinking Gallo, she was tasting old vintages of Riesling and Burgundy wines. This unique opportunity was not lost on her.
She continued to learn about wine through wine tasting classes, working at a variety of wineries, and through her own growing collection of wine. However, she didn’t initially pursue a career in wine. Instead she married a man from England, whom she met while conducting her first wine tasting at one of the wineries in Napa. Kathleen and her husband, Simon, lived in England and raised a family, while she pursued a career in Finance.
Ever Present Love for Gardening
Kathleen always had a great love for gardening. She gardened with her father while growing up and continued gardening while in England. She has always incorporated organic practices, long before it was a trend. Her love for gardening was so strong that many times she would come home from work and go straight to the garden without changing clothes.
A Career Change to Winery Owner & Winemaker
Kathleen’s love of gardening along with her love of wine made a perfect combination. These passions led Kathleen, her husband and two daughters to move to Healdsburg in Sonoma County where she established her winery. She is a one woman show, tending to the vineyards, harvesting the grapes, making and bottling the wine. Phew! That’s a lot of work.
To learn the formal processes of wine making, she took classes at UC Davis where she learned about wine production and microbiology. She also volunteered at different vineyards to gain more experience. Then during her winery’s first two vintages, a mentor consulted on the harvesting decisions and showed her how to operate the winemaking equipment.
Practices in the Vineyard & Winery
As the trend for organic and sustainable practices continue, we are seeing more vineyards adopting these practices. For Kathleen, this is already part of her DNA. For her vineyard, she uses compost from the San Francisco compost program, actively recycles, and uses environmentally sensitive products.
She also follows a unique practice to determine when to harvest Pinot Noir. Most winemakers test for sugar levels (Brix) in the grapes. Once the sugars reach a certain level, they’ll start harvesting. Kathleen follows a different approach. She likes Pinot Noir to have high natural acidity which gives her Pinot Noir backbone and lower alcohol content.
When grapes develop, they have high acidity levels and low sugar. As grapes ripen the acidity level drops and the sugar levels rise. She harvests her grapes while they still have high acidity which means the sugar levels will be lower and as a result, the alcohol content will be lower. Kathleen determines when her Pinot Noir is ready by feeling the grapes and tasting them. She says she’s a self-professed “Grape Groper.”
When it comes to winemaking, she follows a minimalist approach. She does not add water, acid, enzymes, or yeast to her wines. Her customers have said they can truly taste a difference in her wines.
Advice for a Career in Wine
For those wanting to pursue a career in wine, Kathleen recommends networking. She feels that is one of the most important things anyone can do, regardless of industry. She recommends creating contacts in the wine industry, finding a mentor, and joining associations like Women for WineSense.
Advice to Learn More About Wine
For consumers wanting to learn more about wine, Kathleen recommends trying lots of wine. It’s important to taste and experience wine in order to learn more about it. She says you can learn by traveling to wine country or reading books about wine. She recommends that each time you visit your wine shop to ask for a recommendation. That way you are trying something different every time.
Purchase Inman Family Wines
Kathleen finds the biggest challenge of owning a winery is selling the wine. She explains that the distribution system in the wine industry is not friendly to small producers. It’s a three-tier system and each tier wants its cut, making it tough for small producers to price their wine competitively. Small producers just can’t absorb those extra costs the way larger producers can. This is why she sells direct-to-consumer.
You can get your own bottle of wine from Inman Family Wines. Check out their website and online wine shop.
Join the Wine Club. Get great discounts and perks when you’re part of the club.
I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to try wine from a woman who has put so much thought and effort into creating them!
Read about these Female Winemakers Making History:
Erica Stancliff: Lead Winemaker for Pfendler Vineyards and Trombetta Family Wines.
Erica focused on a wine career from the start. Find out how she worked her way to become the lead winemaker for two wineries.
Laura Díaz Muñoz: Lead Winemaker for Ehlers Estate. Laura grew up in Spain, where her love of food and wine drew her into a career in the wine industry. Find out how she found her way to Napa Valley to become the Lead Winemaker and General Manager for Ehlers Estate.