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The Unlikely Story of an American Making Wine and a New Life in France

by Ray Walker

Pub Date: July 15th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59240-812-2
Publisher: Gotham Books

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.