Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review: The Road to Burgundy by Ray Walker

Title: The Road to Burgundy
Author: Ray Walker
Source: Publisher for review

From the Penguin website:

An intoxicating memoir of an American who discovers a passion for French wine, and gambles everything to chase a dream of owning a vineyard in Burgundy 

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 winemaking 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 winemaking 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. 

My thoughts:

Who doesn't dream of one day quitting their job, following their dreams, and starting over? I know I do! And when that is rolled up into becoming a wine maker in France, the daydream gets even better.

Ray Walker wasn't a wine drinker. Growing up, he thought it was for snobbish people, and that it didn't taste very good to boot. However, his mind was changed one night in Italy, after drinking the house red at a small Italian restaurant. Walker discovered that wine wasn't bad, and didn't have to belong to primarily to the elite- it was a drink for everyman.

That night changed his life. He became an afficionado, reading and learning all he could about wine, and began to chase a dream of expensive Bordeaux, believing it to be the end-all be-all of wine. However, he was about to have his head turned again. Walker and his wife Christian headed off to a nearby Bordeaux tasting, to learn when they got there that they had missed it. Instead they were treated to Burgundy. And there in that tasting room, surrounded by bottles and shelves of wines of all different types from all over the world, a dream was born.

Walker was bewitched. The taste of the Burgundy infatuated him. How could he go back to his job in the finance world, when there was a whole new world out there that he wanted to be a part of? The answer is, he couldn't. With the support of Christian, Walker quit his job to pursue his new purpose in life - Burgundy. And he pursued this dream hard and tenaciously, running down every lead he could from their home in California, calling wine vendors in France, asking in his broken French for what he could. He joined online wine forums, he looked for investors. One day this hard work paid off, and he had financial backing. All he needed now were grapes.

The office walls gave way to grape vines, and Walker eventually headed to Burgundy alone, kissing his wife and baby goodbye, and set out to find grapes. He pounded the pavement, talking to everyone he could. The soles of his shoes wore out. But eventually he got what he needed - grapes and a space to work. This is where the real adventure begins. You will have to read to find out more!

I just want to say here, that his wife Christian seems like an amazing woman. I am not sure I would have the courage to allow my husband, the main bread winner in our household, to quit his job without knowing how it would turn out. Christian was patient and supportive, even when she was in the United States with their daughter alone. She gets huge props for this, in my opinion.

Now, I don't know much about wine or have much of a palette. I can kinda-sorta tell the difference between expensive and not, but..not really. I don't think I have ever tried to Burgundy, but after reading this book, I definitely want to. For those of you who may be like me, and need a little extra info, you can read more here.

This book is for anyone who has daydreamed of doing something different. For people who like wine. For people who like to read about the lives of other human beings. For people who applaud those who go after their dreams tooth and nail. For armchair travelers and bookworms. A book for everyone, really.


  1. I'm always amazed at the courage of people who leave to start anew. So glad to see how well this venture turned out.

    Here's my Paris in July post: The Perfect Meal!

  2. Yes, I think about a complete change - and yes, I would choose an outdoor life, and yes - France would be a dream come true. But alas - I wander through books, movies and other peoples reviews to get my fix of a different life. And I'm constantly reviewing and rethinking my own place in time... Thanks for posting this review - sounds like a good read.

  3. Nice review, and sounds like a great book. It would indeed be scary to make a change like that, but kudos to them for doing it and so glad to see it worked out. I'll definetly keep an eye out for this book as I want to read about all his adventures (and learn more about wine as well!).


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