Christine Austin visits a big-hitting Californian winery with a sprinkling of Yorkshire stardust.

‘Yorkshire has been and will always be a major part of our lives, and so we just had to put the Yorkshire Rose on our label.’   When I was speaking to Kathleen Inman of Inman family Wines in Santa Rosa, California it was difficult to remember which continent I was on.  The conversation touched on her two Yorkshire-born children, schools, houses, Betty’s and the York panto – ‘we always try to go, and I am gutted that this year’s panto was the last one for Berwick Kaler’, she said.


But I wasn’t in Harrogate, nor Elvington, both with close connections to Kathleen and Simon Inman, I was in the big red barn, on their property in the Sonoma region of California where they grow grapes and make stunning wines.  The barn itself has an air of a crisp new-build, but when studied carefully, you can see that most of the timbers have been recycled from two smaller barns that were on the property when they purchased it.

That is just the start of the environmental approach at Inman. Recycled water, composting, solar power and biodegradable packaging are all part of the philosophy here and their vineyard of just over 10 acres is cultivated organically with the occasional nod to biodynamics too.

Kathleen’s soft Californian accent has managed to withstand her 15 years spent in Yorkshire, but it is clear that Yorkshire has had a deep impact on her life.  ‘I grew up in Napa Valley and while I was on a summer break from studying art at the University of California, I took a job in the tasting room of a Napa winery.  On my very first day an English family came in and with them was a young man – who actually said nothing, but a few weeks later wrote to me, without even knowing my name.’  That young man was Yorkshire solicitor Simon Inman, and after a long correspondence, Kathleen transferred her studies to London and eventually Simon and Kathleen married and settled in Yorkshire.

Kathleen and Simon Inman, back in Yorkshire last week

But despite loving the Yorkshire life, her huge garden at their house in Elvington and the environmentally friendly techniques she learnt cultivating it, there was a pull to return to California.  Perhaps it was the closeness of England to Burgundy and the many trips they made there that re-ignited her wine interest and in 1998 the family moved back to California and bought Olivet Grange in Sonoma County.  At the time it was planted to fruit trees and oaks, and some of these have been retained, but now there are neat rows of mainly Pinot Noir vines, some Pinot Gris and a few gnarled old vines which seem to have been rescued from elsewhere.

‘When we returned to California I studied winemaking and viticulture at UC Davis which is one of the best wine schools in the world, but it is those things I learnt on my grandmother’s farm in California and in my Yorkshire garden that have shaped the way I cultivate my vineyard here in Sonoma.’

UC Davis has also had an impact on Kathleen’s winemaking.  There is an expensive stainless steel vertical press for gentle pressing of the grapes post-fermentation, lots of French oak barrels and a 6-foot high concrete egg-shaped container, which is at the cutting edge of wine fermentation techniques.

Located north of San Francisco Bay, between the Pacific and the famous Napa Valley, Sonoma is one of California’s most important wine regions. Fog is a feature here, rolling in from San Pablo Bay and spreading north.  It shrouds the vines until mid-morning, keeping temperatures down and retaining fresh flavours in the grapes.  It is these flavours which make Kathleen’s wines stand out for quality and personality.

I tasted through the range, none of which is available in the UK, but given that Simon and Kathleen often visit Yorkshire, perhaps some might eventually make their way here. In California, these wines are difficult to find, with most going out directly to consumers under an allocation system.  With only 4000 cases made across their whole range, this is at the small and beautiful end of California winemaking.

Still Wines

Pinot Noir 2014 Pratt Vine Hill  $68

Made from a range of old clone Pinot Noir vines and Dijon clone 667, planted on sandy soil, this is a soft, perfumed style of Pinot, almost Volnay in style with perfectly balanced acidity.

Pinot Noir 2014, Sexton Road Ranch $68

From a higher altitude vineyard, close to the ocean, this wine has deep, dark cherry and herbal flavours, with racy acidity lifting the finish. Capable of aging.

Pinot Noir OGV (Olivet Grange Vineyard) 2015 $73

This is the wine I bought to bring home and I will age it for a couple of years before opening, if I can manage to keep my hands off it.  Delicious, deep, and dark, full of complex savoury flavours, topped with rose petal, strawberry and black tea.

Sparkling Wines

These sparkling wines are unusual in that they are single property, single vintage wines, very much as a grower in Champagne makes his wines.  They are bottle-fermented, just like Champagne.

Brut Rosé 2016

Made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, picked on 2 separate dates to provide different flavours, then a tiny amount of Pinot Noir red wine is added, not just for colour but structure and flavour too.  Aged on its lees for 18 months it has a classic strawberry taste backed by crisp citrus and hints of cherry.  Perfect for summer drinking, but also with food. Around $68.

Whole Bunch of Bubbles 2014

A Blanc de Noir wine that has fresh, green apple and raspberry notes.  A lovely aperitif wine.  $68.

Blanc de Noir 2012

A classic in style, weight and finesse, this has yeasty notes, baked apple pie and crunchy minerality. An absolute credit to its winemaker. Around $78.

Charity Auction

Later this year, 100 magnums of Inman Sparkling Wine will be auctioned, to raise money for Leeds General Infirmary where 4 year-old Florence Inman, the niece of Simon and Kathleen, has received exceptional treatment.  This auction will be held in California, but it is possible that bids can be made from the UK, although you may need to collect your wine from California.

There is a Yorkshire rose on every bottle


About The Author

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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