5 Questions for Ray Walker
The American winemaker is making Premier and Grand Cru Burgundy... and crushing it.
In Ray Walker’s memoir, The Road to Burgundy, he chronicles how he left a comfortable life in finance to try his hand at winemaking in France’s preeminent region. Now with his own label, Maison Ilan, we talk to the 32 year old on the decision, how he owes his newfound life to his wife and why he’s never looked back.
Wine Enthusiast: You traded a career for your passion. Did your wife think you were crazy?
Ray Walker: My wife made the irrational seem logical, so I felt safe in jumping into the business. She looked me in my eyes and believed in me, even when the words coming out of my mouth must have made me sound like a madman.
Before Burgundy, you almost bought Petite Sirah grapes in California. What stopped you?
I could have a crack at some grapes, but within the hour, they rescinded. When I brought it up to my wife, she said, ‘What the hell, you don’t know anything about these grapes. Why settle?’ That’s one of the many points where my wife knocked sense into me. I just wanted a taste of the dream, and at each turn, my wife would say, ‘Wake up. Keep on going.’
Anyone sneer at you when you, an outsider, arrived to make wine?
Maybe people were just taken aback by how crazy I am. ‘Let’s give him some room to do his thing...’ Who isn’t charmed by the fool?
You make wine, but why do you call yourself a preservationist?
Growing up, California’s vineyards felt accessible. In Burgundy, they’re sacred. It seemed silly to leave my mark on my wines. I’m very hands-off and don’t chase trends. There are so many differences between the vineyards of Burgundy, so why not celebrate just that?
As a newcomer, did any of the old-school winemakers give you trouble for your approach?
Locally, in Burgundy, I haven’t felt it. Everyone that knows about my wines knows what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. People in the U.S. have commented on my lack of experience when I started out, but besides that, I haven’t heard much. Not that I’d listen.