Inman Family Virtual Tasting
K athleen Inman was ahead of her time when she began virtual wine tastings in 2007. The public might not have been ready for them back then, but now she is doing more virtual tastings than ever.
During a recent virtual tasting from her winery in the heart of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley she kept things light and breezy, but packed with information about her delicious wines.
“My tastings are couch conversational,” she said. “Virtual tasting has transformed my business. People buy a three pack to get a tasting and then they like the wine. I’m working like a dog doing these tastings.”
The tasting I attended included a 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Special Blend ($68), which blends the best of Inman’s three single-vineyard bottlings as the winery’s premiere Pinot Noir offering. We also tasted Inman’s 2019 Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir, OGV Estate ($38), a single-vineyard “intentional” rosé.
Both were outstanding.
The Pinot Noir blend was a gorgeous pale garnet in the glass with inviting aromas of cherry, blueberry and raspberry. It is a complex wine with a silky smooth mouthfeel with a long finish. Inman also said “there is a fullness in the mid palate and nice length.”
After several years of producing single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the OGV (Olivet Grange), Vine Hill, and Sexton Road Ranch vineyards in the Russian River Valley, in 2017 Inman decided to blend all three together.
“Intellectually, single vineyard wines are more interesting,” she said during the virtual tasting. “I try to make the wine that best represents that vintage and that vineyard, not try to make the best wine. I use a lot of whole clusters in Olivet Grange.”
Following natural wild fermentation in small one-ton fermentation batches, the wine was basket pressed and settled overnight before being moved to French oak barrels. The wines were kept on their fine lees for 12 months and stirred regularly until they were settled for bottling under screwcap.
The barrel aging adds a lot of complexity to the wine. “I use very few new barrels,” said Inman, “only about 12 new barrels a year. I use them for 8-10 years.”
She also likes to drink this wine over a period of time, to see how it changes in the glass.
“I like to see how it tastes, and by the third glass you see it in a different light,” she said. “At a dinner party I would open it 30 minutes before drinking.”
Inman described this wine as “soft and powerful, an iron fist in a velvet glove.”
In 2018 Inman bottled no single vineyard pinots and she said for the 2019 vintage, “I may well do three.” She makes her decision each year based on the fruit from each vineyard. For the 2017 she put together a bench trial of the three vineyards and decided a blend of the three was the wine that best represented the vintage. She has made this blend before, but only for restaurants.
Inman started the Zoom tasting while walking out in the Olivet Grange Vineyard, her estate vineyard. There she organically farms 12,500 Pinot Noir vines and 1,000 Pinot Gris vines. She said she started the Olivet Grange project in 2008 and finished in 2010.
“I’ve always loved my vineyards,” said Inman. “The wines are only getting better as the vines are getting more mature. We have had good luck with the vineyards. It’s a perfect spot.”
The other wine we tasted, the Endless Crush Rosé, is the house specialty. It is an incredible Rosé, but Inman had to work hard to get people to accept it.
“When I started this in 2004, a lot of people expected it to be sweet and didn’t want to try it in the tasting room,” she said. “Go to 2013 and the light switched on and they started enjoying it. It is still taking time for people to see it as a fine wine, a serious wine.”
The oldest of her Rosé she’s had was 10 years old, and it was still tasty. “I don’t know what the max is,” she said. “The flavor profile changes over time. The ideal is in the first three years. After year two it gets more of the secondary notes.”
Inman and her husband call this wine the chef’s helper, because they love drinking it while they cook.
Some customers call it wine crack and other call it pink heroin because it is so irresistible.
Endless Crush Roeé is made from a small block of vines in the Sonoma County Sustainable-certified Olivet Grange vineyard. Inman says she makes the wine the same way she has made it since the beginning. She times the amount of skin contact by how long it takes her to walk to the local tacqueria and get two tacos.
The skin contact adds a bit of grippyness to the mouthfeel.
The Endless Crush is a gorgeous wine, full of ripe fruit flavors, such as watermelon and strawberries. It is a beautiful delicate pink color in the glass with pleasant fruit aromas. A crisp acidity and a mineral hint in the finish make this a great wine for sipping all year long. At only 12 percent alcohol, you can drink a lot of it without getting tipsy.
The Endless Crush also has a great, romantic origin story.
“The first time I had an elegant dry rosé wine was on a simple but romantic picnic with my husband Simon in Provence 35 years ago,” Inman said. “Local cheese, bread, fruit, the fabulous, dramatic scenery and that Provençal wine with its delicate salmon pink color, crisp acidity and floral aromas forever linked in my mind rosé wines with romance.
“In 2004, I harvested Olivet Grange Pinot Noir on September 1st, which was our 20th wedding anniversary. To celebrate and mark the occasion I made a special rosé, which I called “Endless Crush”.”
Some rosés are made as a byproduct of red wine by bleeding off (saigner) some of the juice early in the production process to create a higher ratio of skin to juice, which will concentrate the resultant red wine. Endless Crush is not made in this manner.
The intention from the start was to create a rosé separate from the winery’s Pinot Noir. Rosés made intentionally, rather than simply by drawing off the freerun juice, tend to have greater complexity and structure because the entire cluster is destemmed and then the grapes are pressed within a few hours of destemming.
As for the virtual tastings, Inman said she plans to continue doing them. “It is a good way to have a social, non-work related experience. I’ve watched some customers use this with their clients,” she said. It’s also a good way to have a bachelorette party, which she doesn’t allow in the tasting room.
To get in on a virtual tasting go to the Inman Family Wines website and click on the “Virtual Wine Tasting” button. Then you pick one or more of the six tasting three-packs. When you place your order you will receive an email from Inman giving you options for your tasting. Inman conducts the tastings herself.
It’s a great way to learn about the wines and meet this innovative wine maker.
Inman also is donating a portion of the proceeds from these tastings to local chapters of Meals on Wheels, which provides elderly Americans with meals as well as assistance with errands.
Winery: Kathleen Inman is a third-generation Napa Valley native, but success in the wine business wasn’t always a part of her long-term plan. She didn’t get interested in wine until attending a tasting seminar in college at UC Santa Barbara. That’s when she started appreciating pinot noir.
A summer job at a small startup winery on the Silverado Trail allowed her to lead tours and perform various jobs in the cellar. But she didn’t really dive into the wine business until after a 15-year stay in England, 1983-98.
She began Inman Family Wines in 2000 with the planting of the Olivet Grange Vineyard, a 10.45 acre parcel that she farms oganically in the heart of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.
She specializes in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris but also makes a small amount of Zinfandel and several sparkling wines. A talented chef, she creates her wines to be food friendly. Since Kathleen’s first small vintage in 2002, she has been an ardent supporter of non-interventionalist winemaking practices, ignoring the riper style and leading the movement towards more subtle, nuanced wines with a sense of place.
Ms. Inman is the winemaker and general manager of the winery and the vineyard, or as she describes her role, “Grapegrower, winemaker, salesperson, accountant, and forklift driver.”
She also is passionate about environmental issues and farms using biodynamic methods. Each year, the winery uses approximately 350 cubic yards of compost to spread under the 9.8 miles of wine rows. More than 140,000 pounds of food scraps are used in the creation of 350 cubic yards of compost, much of which is bought.
They also use worm castings, obtained from Sonoma Valley Worm Farm, to create an easily assimilated bio-fertilizer rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.
Everything is carefully thought out: Permanent cover crops and close vine spacing produce smaller, more flavorful berries. The soil between the rows isn’t tilled, so less fossil fuel is used on tractors and worms are preserved.
Since 2003, Inman has used only organic fungicides. Weeds are controlled by the use of mechanical weeders and mulching with compost to suppress new weed growth. This is supplemented by hand weeding.
The winery tore down an old wooden barn (reusing the timber in the tasting room and other public spaces) and built a more efficient metal building. The new metal winery barn was more environmentally responsible than a wooden building because it is made from recycled automobiles and the walls and roof have a high R insulation value so it is more efficient to keep the building cool.
Everything is recycled, and solar panels were designed to provide 98 percent of electricity needs. So far they are producing more electricity than they use, partly because of all the energy saving features built into the new winery.
Within the winery and offices the goal is zero waste. They even change wine packaging as new products become available to ensure that they are made in the United States, have high recycled content, use soy or water-based inks, and are sustainably manufactured. They also changed bottles to domestically produced, lighter weight bottles with a higher recycled glass content.
All bottles use Stelvin closures, or twist-off caps, except the sparkling wines.
When she began making her iconic wines, it provided an opportunity for her to meld her passion for Pinot Noir and what she calls her “eco-ethics” – sensitive farming, natural winemaking, and environmentally responsible business practices.
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Author Dennis Sodomka