One woman's winemaking mission in California's Russian River Valley

Kathleen Inman is a woman on a mission. Born in Santa Barbara, California, she has lived and worked in England for many years after meeting her English husband.
Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot NoirInman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Having developed a passion for wine and gained considerable winemaking knowledge from some top international producers, she and her husband left Yorkshire and returned to California, buying a wine estate in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. 21 years later, she has just launched her wines on the UK market, and now lives part of the time near Bath, unable to let go of her love for England.

Talking to Kathleen recently, it was clear that she is passionate not only about producing top quality wine, but also about protecting the environment, sustaining and recycling before most people had heard of the concept. Her own vineyard extends to 10.5 acres and she leases two other plots, managing them and making the wine almost entirely on her own. With an organic land management policy that promotes biodiversity and protects wildlife, foxes, coyotes and even hummingbirds are regular visitors.

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Making wine in the hot climate of California presents a number of challenges, exacerbated by the global warming phenomenon. Wildfires recently came within 2 or 3 miles of Kathleen’s vineyard, home and winery. Although she is very much aware of the upset in weather patterns caused by climate change, she is also thankful that her location is only 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Fog rolls in regularly up the valley, having a dramatic cooling effect and moderating the temperature throughout the year.

Kathleen also uses clever techniques in her winemaking in order to create wines which are different to many others in the region, with less obvious ripe fruit and greater acidity balance. Grapes are harvested at three different times in succession, the earlier pickings having greater acidity and the later pickings riper fruit. The batches are vinified naturally in separate tanks and then blended together for the finished wine to create the perfect balance of ripeness and acidity, at the same time as keeping the alcohol level in check.

Maturation of the wines is undertaken in a mix of old and new oak barrels from Burgundy and the objective is to produce wines which, although true to their terroir, are unashamedly ‘old world’ in style, with balanced acidity, depth and complexity, eschewing the jammy ‘fruit bomb’ style of certain other Californian producers.

One wine which is not oak aged is the Pinot Noir Rosé, romantically named ‘Endless Crush’ in reference to how Kathleen still feels about the love of her life from England. Fashionably pale, it has considerable depth of flavour, with evident fruit on both nose and palate, with an off dry finish, perhaps due to the fruit character.

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The 100% Pinot Noir red wine, however, is a different kettle of fish entirely. Whilst maintaining its sense of Russian River Valley origin, this is an elegant and sophisticated red with multiple dimensions, akin to high quality Burgundy. An outstanding wine from California’s Sonoma, with delicate but definite aromas of raspberries and red cherries, with a hint of mushrooms and forest floor. Soft, mellow tannins with ripe fruit, perfect acidity balance and an elegant and sophisticated palate. Retailing at around £70 a bottle, a memorable Californian red well worth tracking down.