Aaron and Jesse Inman are brothers, sharing a past with a unique paradigm. They are also partners in Lucky Rock Wine Co., all in to make the wine culture more accessible by promising high quality, affordable releases that are “made with intention, not pretension.” Aside from that, they are, in Jesse’s words, “yin and yang to the max.”
Until they were 5 and 6 years old, Aaron and Jesse lived in a bus while their prospecting parents sought fortune at various California gold mines. They described their Vietnam veteran father as a hippie, libertarian type with a pony tail, a Harley and some mining equipment. In time, they moved to the town of Yreka in Siskiyou County where they lived until after graduating from high school.
Both brothers spent three years, beginning in 2003, working for their uncle and noted Calistoga winemaker August Briggs, intending to learn a lifetime craft. After an initial stint at the winery, Aaron left to pursue a master’s degree in business while Jesse remained as the assistant winemaker. In 2011, he became the lead winemaker at August Briggs, overseeing all grape sourcing and wine production.
Both Aaron and Jesse support a healthy range of artistic tattoos. At one point during our conversation, Aaron pulled up his shirt sleeve to reveal a new design that he got at a Fresno tattoo festival. He was there to sell and promote his wine.
The Inman brothers have a modern, relatable take on wine, something they describe as a food truck mentality. They are in the wine business because it is what they learned, what they know. They are also aware of the fringe and realize that wine lacks excitement for many millennials. As Jesse — or maybe it was Aaron — put it, “We don’t want to die on the vine of benign.” They have strong ideals but are both quick to point out that idealism doesn’t sell, good winemaking does.
They want to bridge the gap between high-end and affordable and see the niche in marketing to taprooms and casual outlets rather than upscale tasting rooms. They envision a future venue that has the look and feel of a taproom, complete with the food trucks.
Aaron and Jesse developed their winemaking chops with pinot noir, a difficult grape that has broken the hearts of many before them. They learned to make pinot noir when they had nothing to lose. Today, Lucky Rock is their career, their family’s livelihood, requiring them to always be at their best. Their current focus is on pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, both popular, abundantly produced varietals. They see this as the time to use their experience and skills to inspire a new generation of wine lovers, built on an old premise that consistent quality is where it starts.
A few weeks ago, I selected the 2019 Lucky Rock County Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc ($17) for a blind sauvignon blanc tasting with friends that included five other releases from top California producers. Of course, the consensus was that they were all great, but the Lucky Rock held its own among the other higher priced wines.
The mouthfeel is a balance between crisp and round while the aromatics and the lingering flavors are fully present. The balance comes from combined aging in stainless steel (60%) and French oak barrels (40%) for six months. All of the fruit is sourced from one sustainably-farmed vineyard in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley.
In contrast to the sauvignon blanc, the grapes for the 2018 Lucky Rock County Cuvée Pinot Noir ($22) are sourced from four very different vineyards spread across Monterey, Sonoma and San Benito County, home of the popular Vista Verde Vineyard near the town of Tres Pinos.
They reference recording artist Lamar, an icon from their generation, remixing James Brown, one from mine, as they describe a passion for blending. Sourcing grapes from multiple selected vineyards and integrating distinct terroir is what defines their pinot noir.
The texture and balance is derived from 100% French barrel aging and attentive winemaking. A fruity nose precedes typical red fruit and spice flavors, but the mouthfeel is befitting of a pinot at twice the cost.
The backbone of their cutting-edge approach to the wine experience is that Aaron and Jesse Inman are seasoned winemakers and businessmen. Their “old school” genes understand that high quality and affordability will be the drivers of their success.