Kathleen Inman Soaks Up the Sun

Published August 15, 2014

ABOVE: KATHLEEN INMAN OF INMAN FAMILY WINES

This past weekend, San Francisco played host to Outside Lands, a music festival with a lineup similar to Lollapalooza’s (but with fewer bros in the audience). This festival is more than music, however. In addition to the musical lineup, the festival also includes subsidiaries like Wine Lands, Beer Lands, Chocolands and Outsider Art, all of which feature winery, brewery, chocolatier, and artist lineups. Artisanal wines and craft beers are served alongside Escape from New York Pizza, farm-fresh fruit, Kung Fu tacos, and brownie sundaes. Empanadas and donut cheeseburgers are eaten with organically and sustainably made wine as well as pale ales, amber ales, ivory ales, and session stouts.

“There are a lot of wineries that are not dissimilar to mine, in that many of them make natural wines or have organic vineyards,” Kathleen Inman of Inman Family Wines, which was one of 36 wineries at Wine Lands, says. “I think sounds, smell, and taste all evoke memory so strongly. Music does, but wine does too,” Inman continued. “So I was like, ‘I want to be part of Wine Lands! How cool to go and share your wine with the people who are going to the festival.'”

Before her trip to Outside Lands this past weekend, Inman—whose solar-powered winery is in the Russian River Valley, north of San Francisco—spoke with us about the overlap between music and wine, her interest in music, and what it takes to maintain an environmentally conscious winery.

EMILY MCDERMOTT: So starting with Outside Lands, what are you going to be doing there?

KATHLEEN INMAN: What I’m going to be doing changed in the last six weeks. I had bought a ticket to go on my own to see the bands without any regard to my wine. I was looking forward to it, but I’ve always wanted to pour my wines there. When I was introduced to the [wine] curator a couple months ago, I asked if I could be part of Wine Lands. He said all the slots were filled, but he would keep me in mind. I felt like it was a bit of a brush-off because every year; the same people are in it. About a month later, he emailed me and said, “Someone who went last year is not going to be there and if you would like it, the spot is yours,” so I got very excited. We have some fun things to keep people interested in our table—we bought a 3-D camera, took photos of the vineyard and winery, and had them turned into View-Master reels. So we’ll have old school, very retro red View-Masters at our table. We’re bringing the vineyard, the chickens, and all the other silliness of Inman Family Wines to Outside Lands. Then we have temporary tattoos of the rose from the rosé wine bottle, so we’re gonna be tatting everybody up at our table as well.

MCDERMOTT: Have you ever poured at events like Outside Lands? These more alternative events not specifically focused on wine?

INMAN: I have poured at a number of unusual events, and I think one of the more unusual ones was in the Hollywood Hippodrome Theater for an AIDS charity that’s more of a hospice care for LGBT. That was kind of unusual, being under the disco balls and other stuff. [laughs] But as far as music goes, we actually have bands play in our cellar. In the summer, when I’ve taken most of the barrels out because the wines are in tank or just bottled, I have extra space. I had a band from Austin called WinoVino come and play in the cellar. They’re sort of cabaret gypsy rock, you know? I’ve had a band from Petaluma called The Easy Leaves that are more of a bluegrass indie-folk vibe. So pouring in the cellar with music or pouring out of the cellar with music, I can do and have done!

MCDERMOTT: Do you play any music yourself?

INMAN: I used to, but not the kind of music I was interested in listening to. When I was a kid I took piano and played trumpet for a few years in school. I played in concert band, a little bit of jazz band, and with different groups with friends. Music has always been very much a part of my life, from being a young kid and dancing in the kitchen with my mom to being a punk rocker in the late ’70s.

I like classical and world music—the usage of not just a drum, lead guitar and bass guitar, but using more strings and lots of brass and banjos. I think of bands like Beirut or Blind Pilot or even some of the smaller little bands, Misterwives, who opened for the Mowglis. Those bands have people playing all sorts of instruments on stage. One of my favorite bands right now is only a three-piece, but they play like 47 instruments between them. They’re called Yellow Ostrich. That sort of music, particularly in the last five years, has made music so much more interesting to me. So I don’t play in any bands, but I know a lot of musicians.

MCDERMOTT: Music is an integral part of your life.

INMAN: It is, absolutely. My youngest daughter, Meredith, had a radio show for the last four years at a community station while she was at university. Her show was called “Eternal Sunshine of the Melodic Mind.” It was about songs that evoked memory, and that’s one of things I like about music that I see also with wine—so how cool to do music festivals where they have wine, like BottleRock or Outside Lands! You have wine, not just to be getting drunk while listening to bands, but cool and interesting wine, good food and music. It’s the perfect recipe for creating really cool memories.

MCDERMOTT: Yeah, it sets the stage for an entire experience, rather than just listening to music.

INMAN: Exactly. You can sometimes eat a certain thing and it brings you back, or you drink a wine that that evokes a memory of something when you were a child. You weren’t drinking wine then, but something about it reminds you of picking a cherry off of a tree with your dad or eating a peach. All of a sudden things come flooding in.

MCDERMOTT: I know you kind of just decided to open up the winery as a one-woman show one day, so how did you first become interested in wine?

INMAN: Even though I grew up in the Napa Valley, I grew up in a family that didn’t drink alcohol, so I first got interested in wine when I was a student at UC Santa Barbara. I remember tasting these fabulous Rieslings and I thought, “Wow, these are really interesting.” I started learning more about wine and I did a wine tasting class. The first night when they took the bags off the six bottles that we’d been blind tasting and three of them were from Napa, I thought, “Of these six wines, three of them are from the same area, yet they are all so different.” That’s what attracted me.

My passion for wine was more about wine as part of a meal. I was geeky in my knowledge, but I didn’t feel the need to write every note down about wines that I tasted. I just really enjoy the combination of wine, food and, conversation. My other passion, though, was gardening. I absolutely love growing things. In 1997, when we had a vacation to California, my husband and I watched his parents, who had just bought a piece of land that they put a vineyard in. I started to think, “Maybe we could do this.” My interest in wine and knowledge was always growing and it seemed natural. It didn’t even seem very risky or scary. It just seemed like what we needed to do to call it home.

MCDERMOTT: California is very eco-friendly to begin with, but what inspired you to make a winery run on solar power? What are some of the struggles that you faced? I imagine that can’t be easy.

INMAN: In 2008, when I started planning to make the winery, the struggle was that there weren’t other wineries that had done this. There weren’t other fully solar powered wineries that I could look at to figure out how much I needed of this and that. I wanted to look at reusing wastewater to flush toilets and using rainwater, but I hadn’t realized there are rules that mean you can’t do those things. I also didn’t use anyone who had built other green buildings, so I had to teach my builders, too—we only want to use this material, when we need plywood it has to be from a certified forest, when we use any medium-density fiberboard it has to be the one that doesn’t have any formaldehyde. I had to research all these different products, learn about them, and then specify.

MCDERMOTT: So how long did it take you from start to finish?

INMAN: It was about two and a half years, but I still haven’t quite finished it because there were some hiccups. I didn’t put in a solar thermal hot water heating system and that is one of the things that is on my to-do list. And another is to do with the aesthetics of things. I have a plan for an old-fashioned water tower because I repurpose all of my wastewater and could do with more storage.

MCDERMOTT: So when you’re not working on wine and your garden, what do you do with your spare time?

INMAN: I listen to music and I go to gigs. When I travel and I’m on my own in the evenings and don’t have winemaker dinners, I tend to go out for music. But most of the time I seem to be in the winery. Like I jokingly say, because I’m the grape grower, winemaker, sales girl, forklift driver, and accountant, I don’t have a lot of spare time.

MCDERMOTT: I didn’t imagine so, but you never know.

INMAN: [laughs] But I’m a lucky woman because I have made my hobbies into my business. My interest in gardening, I do industrial gardening now. My love of wine, I get to taste lots of wine for work. So sometimes for fun it’s walking into town and going to the movies. We go to the movies, go to a wine bar and taste different wines we haven’t had and eat tasty treats.

MCDERMOTT: Sounds like a good way to spend your free time. What’s the last movie that you saw?

INMAN: I saw Chef. I loved that. And I also saw Begin Again with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo that just came out where she’s a singer—just to come full circle on music! [laughs]

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON KATHLEEN INMAN AND INMAN FAMILY WINES, VISIT THE WEBSITE.