Sonoma Winemaker Kathleen Inman Returns to her Napa Roots

This story originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register.

After much anticipation, The Studio by Feast It Forward is opening in downtown Napa. Bringing together food, wine, design, art, music and philanthropy under one roof, The Studio is a live studio experiential showroom and wine collective. The wine collective includes 16 producers, most of whom are from Napa Valley. But one of these producers is Inman Family Wines from Sonoma whose roots are in Napa.

Inman Family Wines is owned by Kathleen Inman, née McGowan, who was born at the St. Helena Sanitarium, as was her mother. Her father was also born in Napa, as well as some of her great-grandparents. Kathleen attended Napa High and was the editor of the high school page that used to run in the Napa Valley Register. As a featured vintner at the wine collective at The Studio by Feast It Forward, Kathleen is “excited to have my wine be in Napa because it is my hometown.”

Kathleen grew up in a family that did not drink wine. Her grandmother, a Seventh-Day Adventist, never understood when walnut and prune trees were replaced with grape vines in the 1970s.

But when Kathleen left Napa to go to college at UC Santa Barbara in the early 1980s, she started going to weekly wine classes led by Doug Margerum who had just purchased the Wine Cask. Margerum rented a room on campus in the engineering building and a dozen people, both students and local people, would pay a fee for the tastings. Each week, they would blind taste wines by variety, or by the same vineyard with wine made by different winemakers.

Kathleen was fascinated by how different the same grape could taste when it was grown in different places. She was intrigued and wanted to learn more and decided to get a job in wine during the summer. She moved home to Napa and tried to get a job at a winery but her first job was giving bus tours to wineries in Napa.

Neighbors across from her parents’ home had just opened Napa Creek Winery on Silverado Trail, and that winery later became the Kent Rasmussen Winery. Kathleen got a job helping with production and tastings. On her first day of work, her future husband, Simon, visited the tasting room with his sister and her husband. As Simon was British, Kathleen mentioned to him that she was planning to study in the UK for her junior year. Simon and his family bought some wine and left but two weeks later, a letter arrived with no street number or ZIP code but there was a note to pass it on to the “young assistant.” Kathleen and Simon became pen pals for one year. She moved to London to study and they began dating and have been married for 33 years.

Kathleen and Simon lived in Yorkshire, England for 16 years. With 11 acres of formal gardens and a conservation meadow, Kathleen’s love for growing plants and vegetables was nurtured. It was during a family holiday in 1997 to Napa that they “had a hair-brained idea to give up our jobs and move here.”

It took Kathleen and Simon one year to plan their move. They moved back to the U.S. on Memorial Day weekend in 1998. Knowing that she wanted to grow Pinot Noir, they looked at Carneros, the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino. They found the property in 1999 and established Inman Family Winery in 2000 with the planting of their 10.5-acre Certified Organic Olivet Grange Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

More than 15 years later, Kathleen’s Inman Wines will be featured for one year, at least, in the winery collective tasting bar at Feast It Forward. “One of the things that attracted me to this new venture, in addition to being a native of Napa, is that they are also a music venue,” Kathleen said. An aficionado of contemporary indie-rock, Kathleen loves music and goes to a lot of music festivals, including BottleRock in Napa.

Kathleen will be able to share her love of music at The Studio’s Vintner to Vinyl events. Taking place the second and last Thursday of each month, the winery collective vintners will select vinyl records that best represent their wines. “Pairing music chosen by the vintners with their wines if right up my alley,” Kathleen said. Inman Family Wine’s Vintner to Vinyl date is not until July 2018, but, Kathleen gave me a little taste of what music she would pair with some of her wines.

Drink: 2013 Olivet Grange Vineyard Pinot Noir ($73)

Eat: Seared Duck Breast with Mushroom Bread Pudding

Listen: Classic: The Kinks, “Lola” or New: Cigarettes After Sex, “Apocalypse”

Drink: 2016 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris ($35)

Eat: Halibut Crudo with Piquillo Pepper Grilled Lemon

Listen: Classic: Blondie, “The Tide is High” or New: Robert Delong (with K Flay), “Favorite Color is Blue”

Drink: 2017 Endless Crush Rose of Pinot Noir ($38)

Eat: Spring Crostini with Pea and Fava Spread

Listen: Classic: Neil Young, “Harvest Moon” or New: Nothing But Thieves, “Broken Machine”

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.

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