Kathleen Inman - Winemaker & general manager of founded business, Inman Family Wines.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I guess you could say I started back when I worked in a winery in the Napa Valley — where I’m from — when I was a junior at University, but I’d say I officially began working in the wine industry, in earnest, in 2000. Between that time, I moved to England, got my MBA and worked as an executive headhunter. When our family moved back to northern California, we chose Sonoma County because of my interest in the region and my passion for Pinot Noir. I bought the land that became Olivet Grange Vineyard in 1999 and founded Inman Family Wines in 2002. I am the grapegrower and winemaker as well as the general manager of both businesses.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Growing up in the Napa Valley, I was aware of the growing wine industry at the beginning of the 1980’s. I first worked in the cellar of a small winery as a summer job, but I had no intention of a career in wine. I left for England when I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Art History, and it was not until 1997 that I made the decision to return to California and to make wine. My “aha” that led to my passion for wine — as a consumer and later as a maker — was probably when I did a wine tasting class offered by a Santa Barbara retailer when I was an undergraduate. I was fascinated by how the same grape grown in different places could result in wines that tasted so different, and then grapes grown in the same place but made by different people into wine were also different. Add in vintage differences and the variations were endlessly fascinating! Pinot Noir and Riesling were my first wine loves, but when I discovered Champagne…wow!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Just one? It is difficult to choose! Having a job which has so much variety — in rhythm with nature — is very rewarding and good for my soul. I love being outdoors, growing wine as well as fruits and vegetables, and then being able to make things from what I grow to share with other people heightens the enjoyment. Seeing people drink and share my wines with family and friends, enjoining it with special holiday meals, and toasting proposals and weddings with my wine makes me feel like I am part of their story, just as my customers are part of mine.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
The most common is that people don’t assume I’m the winemaker. If I am with my husband at wine events, people who are not familiar with our brand always ask Simon the technical questions and assume he is the winemaker. My daughters and I made a T-shirt for him years ago that said, “I’m not the Inman Family Winemaker, I’m just the trophy husband”. He does call himself that… we didn’t coin that expression!! Even when I say I’m the winemaker, I often have people who are surprised that I don’t employ a consulting winemaker and that I actually drive the forklift, scrub tanks and “make” the wine. I think many people think that winemakers are just sampling wines and putting together blends. That may be the case in larger wineries, but in a small one like mine, I touch every aspect of the winemaking process.
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and often are more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we as women become more aware of our own prejudice towards each and change that behavior?
I think that several of the “pioneering” women in our industry developed a reputation for not being good at mentoring other women. Whether it is because they got used to being the only ones and therefore always in the spotlight, or whether it is because they had to work so hard, they wanted others to experience that same struggle, I am not certain. I liken the latter to my time training as an accountant in the UK. In the large firms when you are on the bottom rungs of the ladder you get given the worst jobs, are highly criticized and under-rated, and it is somehow with the understanding that when you get to the management position, it will be your turn. I rebelled against that and in my own business I have been very fortunate to be able to mentor a number of women…even in the vineyard I often have an all-female crew helping with the detail jobs like pruning, shoot thinning, and harvesting. Having seen women I mentored start their own brands has been wonderful. I am so happy for them. I think leading by example is the way to change that prejudice and culture to ensure more women do succeed in senior positions in our industry – and in others.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
I’d say the same benefits you see across any industry that has more diversity. More interesting, innovative, and inclusive products and consumer experiences. It’s exciting now to not only be talking about making sure we shine a spotlight on women in the wine industry, but also people of color who are in the wine industry, that are too often overlooked. On your fabulous Wonder Women of Wine webinar you hosted with Regine Rousseau in June, she made so many wonderful points about her experience as a Black woman in the industry and one point in particular that has stuck with me was: don’t make the excuse that you don’t know any people of color in the wine industry. They’re out there. You just need to make the effort to find them. As a woman in the wine industry, I feel responsible in making sure we’re heading in the right direction to becoming a more inclusive industry. Our vineyards, our wines, and our industry will all be better for it.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I generally think of myself as a winemaker, not as a woman winemaker. Although I am a champion of women, it is important for me to be judged by my products, by the health of my business, and by the way I treat my team and my customers. I do not want to be judged as a woman in my field, but as a person in my field. We should all know that our gender doesn’t affect our ability to do any job in our industry. However, there are some situations that may make some women decide that cellar work might not be for them, causing them to leave the production. Many times, I hear of women who are well-qualified, very experienced, who then train men in their team, only to see them be promoted ahead. This type of behavior has been going on for years, and although it would be wonderful if it changed in the next five years, I am afraid I am not optimistic. A second change that would be wonderful would be the halt of inappropriate behavior or unwanted attentions from male colleagues. This will decrease as women stand up for themselves. I hope this will be the case not only in our industry but in all industries. Whether that will happen in five years, who knows!
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Never stop networking. This is how you find opportunities and continue to learn. Seek out mentors. Make sure the culture of the business you are in is a good fit for your personality and your work style. It does not tend to be a Monday-Friday gig. The wine industry feels glamorous from afar but it’s seriously hard physical work. Besides physical strength, you need emotional strength — a tough skin, generally. Wine is very subjective, and people have very strong, passionate feelings about the wines they like and don’t like. You have to stand confident in your own tastes and opinions — and those of confidants whose opinions you choose to welcome.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality in the industry would mean not having to have this conversation in the first place! When every person, regardless of their gender, orientation, or race, is able to rise to the highest levels in the area they desire to work in the same way that a white cis man would - I’d say that is when we’ve reached equality.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I work hard to hire and mentor women to work at Inman Family Wines. I also try to put my money where my mouth is by purchasing wines made by women and sharing their stories and products with my friends and customers.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Leadership, inspiration and inclusiveness
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
There are so many others I admire! Sommelier Tonya Pitts, Vintner Theodora Lee (Theopolis Vineyards) and wine entrepreneur Regine Rousseau (Shall We Wine) are all amazing women in wine. They are inspirations to me because they’re not only phenomenally talented and wonderful friends, but as Black women, they are facing an uphill battle every day in this white-male dominated industry. Also on my list: I love Pam Starr’s wines (Crocker & Starr). Katherine Jarvis (Jarvis Communications) has a verve and energy that is contagious, and she has worked very hard at promoting and supporting women in our industry. She has been a tremendous ally to me. Melissa Hackett, a young winemaker from Martin Ray Winery is a wonderful wine friend who deserves more recognition for her management, winemaking and blending skills. Melissa and I have created a women winemaker tasting group together - “G.L.O.W.S -- Glamorous Ladies of Wine, Sonoma” - and she has been working very hard behind the scenes on it so I can’t thank her enough for that!