Laurie, the janitor.
When the pandemic began in February 2020, Kathleen Inman shared the fears of winemakers around the world, who feared a decline in tasting room attendance and wine sales. As founder, owner and winemaker of Inman Family Wines, she recognized the warning signs, such as the cancellation of events she had been involved in for years. With 100% direct contact with customers, the closure of the brick-and-mortar tasting room, which has been in Healdsburg for 22 years, could be disastrous.
She realized she had to get back quickly. It decided to be one of the first wineries to introduce virtual wine tasting. She called in her digital communications advisor. It was his daughter, Ashley Zancelli, who had just started her own business a month after starting her career as an educational consultant.
Mum said: I’m going to do virtual tastings, like Meet the Maker, Ashley says. She trusted me to find the technique, and we got to work. It’s amazing how fast his mind works.
Although other wineries had the same idea, Inman Family Wines took off early and the press got their story. These articles raised awareness and she quickly built a successful business despite the pandemic.
People have decided to do these tastings with their businesses, Kathleen says. They’re big companies, so I started doing business over and over again. I’m the first virtual business tester on Google, so my schedule is full and I had to go bankrupt in December. I just reached my 200th virtual tasting. It was a good hinge.
Kathleen Inman with her daughters Ashley (left) and Meredith
Kathleen thanks her team for supporting exponential revenue growth through 2020. But Ashley notes that much of her success is due to her loyal clientele, which she has built over the years through Kathleen’s ability to build strong personal relationships.
I participated in the first six virtual tastings, Ashley says, and I found that each tasting was different because it had a personal relationship with the tasting participants. They will be joyful meeting places where one also learns something about wines. At a seance, someone took his Maine Coon, and the mother exclaimed: О ! Is that a Maine Coon? Ashley has one too. So I got mine, and then someone got their cat, and pretty soon everyone was laughing and talking about cats. She has the magical ability to find connections between people and then facilitate a conversation to open them up.
One of those relationships is with Regine Russo, the owner of Shall We Wine, whom Kathleen met eight years ago when she was planning her first trip to Napa and Sonoma. Introduced by a mutual friend, she planned to attend an Inman family wine tasting and write an article about the event. But he’s gotten a lot bigger. Regina eventually stayed at Kathleen’s boarding house and recorded her wine in the book In Search of Carnation and Lily : Wine Edition. Since then, they have maintained their friendship and organized professional events together.
It was love at first sight sound! Regine laughed. Kathleen is such an amazing person. She is fully committed to her business. I like to see her work with both parties – a successful business person and a creative person. She is also a winemaker who cleans the trash cans during your visit. I feel like this world forces us to be one, to show only one side of ourselves. It’s wonderful when someone like Kathleen finds a way to put all her parts together.
Jim Pratt, owner of Cornerstone Vineyards in the Russian River Valley, has run Kathleen’s Olive Grange vineyard for 20 years and knows exactly how dedicated she is to her business.
She is very dedicated and passionate about what she does, he says. She is a winemaker, but she is also very adept at working in the vineyard. We let it grow for them, but we put together an annual business plan and stay in close contact throughout the year. I think this adds a lot to their winemaking skills.
Kathleen buys grapes from Jim and other winemakers, highlighting the characteristics of each vineyard while maintaining her unique style. One example is her live press coverage of the Endless Crush Rosé, which she started before the dew became popular.
I forgot it was my birthday, and when I got up early in the morning to harvest, my husband surprised me with a card and a present, she laughs. Since I had nothing for him, I thought quickly and told him I would only make wine for him that day. It was the first Infinite Crush. In 2004, winemakers often removed some of the juice before it was fully red to achieve a more concentrated red color. The excess juice would then be used to make pink. But their intention was to make red wine. I chose pinot noir with the intention of making rosé and pressing the grapes like a white wine to get everything out of it, which makes the rosé much more complex.
Jim points out that Kathleen not only honors the grapes, but also celebrates the producers. This is consistent with her holistic approach to everything she does. She looks at everyone around her and all aspects of each project and brings them together into a cohesive whole that reflects her style.
She is very open-minded and environmentally conscious, Jim adds. It has led us to cultivate our vines organically. Kathleen wants to make the world as safe as possible. It’s more expensive, but she thinks it’s the right thing to do. And we’re happy to do it for them.
At first I thought I would just grow grapes and sell them, Kathleen explains, but the premises were too small for that, so I decided to make wine and sell it directly to consumers. Even if you could only go to ten states, I was sure I could do it!
This was in 1999. When their wine was finished in 2003, Inman Family Winery was the first small vineyard to offer a real shopping cart on their website. It was also the first luxury winery in California to bottle wine with screw caps, even though market research showed that no one would buy more than $20 worth of wine with a screw cap. But she did it anyway, and people bought it, and some of the best restaurants in the country carried it. A few years later, producers called Kathleen for advice on switching to screw caps.
Ashley says her mom always wanted them to work together, but she wanted to go her own way. She thought working with her mother would be a safety net. But then she realized that being her own boss offered a better work-life balance and discovered that working with her mother was not a safety net at all. Stimulating, fun and super exciting work!
Kathleen’s commercial success, first as an influential headhunter in London’s financial world and now as an innovative winemaker and viticulturist, is inspiring in itself. But the special magic inspires people, allows them to find a personal connection and integrate into their extended family.
More information can be found here: The most inspiring wine people of 2021.