The Road to Burgundy: The Unlikely Story of an American Making Wine and a New Life in France

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Overview


Ray Walker had a secure career in finance until a wine-tasting vacation ignited a passion that he couldn't stifle. Ray neglected his work, spending hours poring over ancient French wine-making texts, learning the techniques and the language, and daydreaming about vineyards. After Ray experienced his first taste of wine from Burgundy, he could wait no longer. He quit his job and went to France to start a winery?with little money, a limited command of French, and virtually no ...
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The Road to Burgundy: The Unlikely Story of an American Making Wine and a New Life in France

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Overview


Ray Walker had a secure career in finance until a wine-tasting vacation ignited a passion that he couldn't stifle. Ray neglected his work, spending hours poring over ancient French wine-making texts, learning the techniques and the language, and daydreaming about vineyards. After Ray experienced his first taste of wine from Burgundy, he could wait no longer. He quit his job and went to France to start a winery—with little money, a limited command of French, and virtually no wine-making experience.

Fueled by determination and joie de vivre, he immersed himself in the extraordinary history of Burgundy's vineyards and began honing his skills. Ray became a pioneer in his use of ancient techniques in modern times and founded Maison Ilan. In 2009, Ray became the first non-French winemaker to purchase grapes and produce a wine from Le Chambertin, long considered to be one of the most revered and singular vineyards in the world.

Along with his struggle to capture his wine's distinct terroir, Ray shares enthralling stories of late-night tastings, flying down the Route National on a vintage Peugeot bicycle with no brakes, and his journey to secure both the trust of his insular Burgundian neighbors and the region's most coveted grapes. Capturing the sunlight, the smell of the damp soil, and the taste of superlative wine, The Road to Burgundy is a glorious celebration of finding one's true path in life, and taking a chance—whatever the odds.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Walker's tale evokes the exquisite thrill of finding and following your passion, no matter how crazy it might seem." —-Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly
Drinking wine and talking about it is pretty much a given when you live in California’s Bay Area, near multitudes of vineyards. Nevertheless, Walker inherited a disdain for wine from his parents who proclaimed it a drink for snobs. But during a trip to Italy with his fiancée, Walker tasted a new world. “I took a bite of my spaghetti, working the tender noodles and rich tomato, herb and olive oil around in my mouth, and then swished with a sip of wine. It was alchemy.” His curiosity about wines blossomed, then grew into a full-blown obsession, until he found himself living out his dream in the vineyards of Burgundy and making a wine of his own. In this rich account, Walker chronicles his five-year journey from Northern California to the French countryside with self-deprecating humor and earnestness. Whether he’s learning French from cable television, convincing his wife of the validity of his plan, deconstructing the terroir of Burgundy, or negotiating a price for some of the “most precious grapes in the world,” Walker fearlessly plunges in. Wine geeks will enjoy Walker’s blow-by-blow account of the winemaking process. Those less inclined to appreciate wine’s back story can revel in his descriptions of Burgundy’s food and lifestyle. Walker’s tale evokes the exquisite thrill of finding and following your passion, no matter how crazy it might seem. Agent: Sharon Bowers, Miller Bowers Griffin Literary. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
A family man recounts the improbable journey that made him a critically acclaimed winemaker in France. Walker never understood the fuss over the drink around which an entire culture and industry was built in his native California. It wasn't until a trip to Italy on which he proposed to his wife, a grounded and supportive voice throughout the story, that he fell in love with a restaurant's house wine. The experience turned him into a self-proclaimed wine geek who bought gadgets, joined online forums and desperately tried to enjoy Bordeaux. Upon accidentally discovering Burgundy wines at a store tasting, Walker and his wife promptly fell in love with this special wine that tasted like "something living and undisturbed in nature." With a baby on the way, Walker quit his stifling job in finance to pursue his dream of making wine. Like the Burgundy monks of centuries past, he sought to shepherd grapes into wine that reflected terroir, instead of overemploying modern techniques. He gained a few months' experience at small California wineries before contacting courtiers (grape brokers) and making two trips to Burgundy, the second of which landed him a deal for grapes from Chambertin, one of the world's most sought-after vineyards, from which no American had ever produced. Walker acknowledges the somewhat miraculous nature of this event, given his inexperience and outsider status, with self-deprecating thrill. From here, the book shakes its initial navel-gazing drag and becomes far more engaging and educational as it acquires characters, plot and pace (even if the writing remains pedestrian). Through diligence and luck, Walker navigated the ins and outs of the local culture and wine business, raised money, protected his wines from the jealous sabotage of another winemaker, processed grapes from three harvests by himself and transferred the wine into caves in a literal race to the finish. An appealing success story and a wide-eyed homage to Burgundy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452641874
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/11/2013
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Library - Unabridged CD
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ray Walker is the founder and owner of Maison Ilan in Nuits-Saint-Georges, France.

Sean Crisden is a multitalented actor and an AudioFile Earphones Award–winning narrator who has recorded audiobooks in almost every genre, from science fiction to romance. He has also voiced characters in numerous video games and appeared in many commercials and films, including The Last Airbender.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My bag was packed. One small black suitcase placed next to our front door. The house was still dark in the moments just before the sun would come up. There was a chill to the house, a briskness that kept me too alert for that time of morning. I tiptoed out, their trying not to awake my wife and my one-year-old daughter, Isabella. It was four in the morning, but they had just fallen asleep a short while ago. They wanted to see me off, but when their eyelids started getting heavy we had said our good-byes. Kissing my daughter’s forehead and my wife’s lips hours before made me realize that I would miss them the moment my hand touched my luggage. “Good luck, honey,” said Christian. She’d said it a million times to me before that moment. She’d said it before my meetings with potential clients, before starting on a long drive, before any task that required strengthened resolve. But this time was different. I wouldn’t hear her voice in person for another three months.

I shut the door quietly behind me and felt surprisingly calm. I knew my family was safe. And I knew that while I was entering into a situation filled with endless possible outcomes, I was undoubtedly walking toward a much brighter future.

Until now, every part of my life had been in the United States. Everyone I knew was here, the boundaries of my experiences were defined by this country. I only thought about going to France, not of leaving California. It was as if I had closed my eyes on the flight up to altitude only to notice how high we actually were above ground just as I was leaping from the airplane. Suddenly, I was feeling more excited than ever before. While planning everything leading up to this moment, I never gave into this feeling. I worried that it might jinx it. But the moment was finally here, and once I got into the car taking me to the airport, there would be no turning back. I would be calling Burgundy home.

As the driver pulled away from the curb I prattled manically about the turn of events that put me on this path—wine, history, movies, learning French, the possibility that every aspect of my family’s life was changing during that car ride.

“You know, I’m from Brazil,” he said. “I came here with a dream as well. I’m a musician but I also own this shuttle company. My friends at home were telling me that it would be tough on me and my family. But I believed that what I felt in my heart was the right thing. And that this feeling was best for my family. I’m sure it’ll work out for you.”

His words echoed the sort of mantra that had been playing on repeat in my brain for the past eight months. Hearing it spoken aloud by somebody else made me feel better about the giant leap of faith I was about to take.

Arriving at SFO, I found the Air France desk and queued behind a young French couple with their young daughter. I leaned in toward them, hoping to make out a bit of their conversation and hoping to validate my months of studying. I’d stayed up late every night watching old French movies and reading antiquated books about Burgundy. Now, eavesdropping as best I could, I celebrated a small victory every time I caught a word or phrase I understood.

This was the first time I’d be going on an international flight by myself. Gone was the fuss of getting Bella situated with toys and videos and other distractions, or helping Christian get her carry-on in the overhead bin. I was traveling light—just a few pairs of jeans, some T-shirts, and a wallet that had seen fuller days. Practical, yes, but perhaps more so if I’d also packed some formal winemaking training or experience beyond one brief harvest in California. Or maybe a location to produce wine. Or tools, equipment, the basics. Barring that, even having a place to live once I got to France would have been nice. That, or grapes. Or a visa. But this was my last chance. It was the only chip I had left. Failing in Burgundy would mean going back to a life that wasn’t mine. It would mean working on someone else’s time, for someone else’s dream. There’s no way I could go back to sitting at a desk hemmed in by monitors and memos and bad coffee, suits and ties, and central air; not after I’d gotten a taste of freedom.

I got comfortable and closed my eyes, but opened them again when I noticed the woman next to me needed help lifting her bag above our seats. Jumping up to help her I accidentally elbowed the headrest of the guy in front of me. “Je m’excuse, pardon.” It seemed like every passenger turned around to see who was recklessly destroying the grace of their language.

“You’re American?” the woman’s husband inquired. “You speak . . . lovely French.”

“Really? It’s not too bad?”

He offered an even wider smile, but saying nothing, glanced nervously at his wife as she sat down between us. “What are your plans in France?”

“I’m going to Burgundy,” I answered, a bit relieved we were switching tracks from praising my clearly subpar mastery of his language.

“Burgundy?” he said. “Why not Paris?”

“Well, Paris is nice, but they don’t have any wine.”

“And what do you know about Burgundy?” the man and woman seemed to ask at the same time.

“I can’t say that I know a lot, but I love Burgundy enough to change my life for it.”

“We’re from Champagne. It is quite close to—”

“Of course I know Champagne!” I explained that my wife and I had traveled there just months before with our baby girl. It was just over two hours away from Burgundy, but at the same time, they were worlds apart. To my mind, the fussy estate-riddled Champagne lacked the grounded, rich, agriculture-centric culture of Burgundy, but even I knew better than to say so.

“That’s not a bad place to live!” I said, making my envy apparent to even those a few rows over from us. I might not have wanted to make wine there, but you couldn’t beat the scenery.

“Burgundy is beautiful as well. Have you been?”

“Just once. I went there with my family earlier this year, in January.”

“So, you will be living in France? In Burgundy?”

“Well, that’s the plan. Well, actually, I don’t really have a plan, but that’s where I would like it all to end up.”

“Oh, well, we must speak more French then. You need to practice right away. That is”—she looked at the Wine Spectator on my lap—“unless you are too busy.”

“No, I’m not busy at all,” I said, throwing my magazine under my seat as if I were in grade school and clearing the baseball cards off my desk before the teacher came back into the classroom.

For the rest of the flight we spoke in French. We exchanged thoughts about wine, food, their life in Champagne. I loved watching how alive they were when they spoke, so animated. Their eyes would open in excitement or for emphasis only to close narrowly to convey the gravity of a pronouncement. “You must visit the market on Saturday! [eyes wide] And then be sure you try the Époisses. [eyes narrow]” Their hands too said nearly as much as their lips did—opening, closing, widening, waving above them, or tightening down to a point with a finger pressed into their lap tray. I’d try to mimic the fluidity, repurposing their words in an attempt to learn more nuanced expressions. They were patient and kind, and seven hours later, we’d learned an incredible amount about one another, perhaps to the chagrin of those trying to sleep around us. The ease I felt in speaking with them erased much of my nervousness. They weren’t “French” people waiting for me to slip up on a French word, they were just good people.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2013

    Enjoyed this one from beginning to end

    Ray Walker is bold.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2013

    I read the entire book the day I received it. It is a wonderful

    I read the entire book the day I received it. It is a wonderful story of how vision, determination and hard work lead to success and happiness. Apparently sometimes nice things happen to nice people. Fans of Burgundy will be engrossed both by the cast of characters and by the locations of specific sites. People who are not knowledgeable about the wines or the region will want to buy a plane ticket. The best part of the story is that it is ever evolving as the author follows his dream.

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  • Posted July 13, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I loved the book. It was very entertaining and a quick read. I w

    I loved the book. It was very entertaining and a quick read. I would definitely recommend as a wonderful summertime book. After reading the book, I'm ready to book a flight to France and go wine tasting in Burgundy. Like the author, I am not the biggest fan of Napa Valley wines - heresy for someone who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. I can relate in many ways to his discover and passion for wines after his trip to Rome. The author does a great job conveying his newfound passion and knowledge of wines and wine making. I found myself rooting for him as he leaves his high-paying job in San Francisco to spend a year learning to make wine before heading to France to buy grapes, in Burgundy of course, so he can make his own wine. My only negative comment is that at times his luck/success seems unbelievable. That aside it is still a fun book to read. My husband is now reading the book and thoroughly enjoying it. Disclosure: This book was received as part of a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that it would be reviewed it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2013

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