Entries from 2010

just got back to california, so here is an update…

By Ray Walker on February 03, 2010 #ray's posts

maison ilan wall plaqueJust back from Burgundy, and I feel such a relief knowing that my wines are under my own roof. Everything just seemed to fall right into place. The day of the move, I received my long awaited negociant license allowing me to move my wines to my own facility. Within two hours, I had rented a truck, found some friends to lend me the use of their forklifts and threw myself into the moment without taking time to think too much. Thankfully, this tactic didn’t bite me on the butt…too much.

With six of my barrels loaded up on the flatbed truck, silicon bungs in place, I headed out from Saint Aubin making my way to Nuits-Saint-Georges. Shortly after making a left around Puligny-Montrachet, I looked in the rearview mirror to spot wine spouting upwards and out of the barrel due to an escaped bung. Looking inside the barrel and on the floor of the flatbed, just a small amount managed to get out the barrel. Coming to a quick stop, I checked for the bung coming up empty handed. I was lucky enough to have a fresh dress shirt I had planned to wear after working. Today, it worked as an emergency bung until I got to a winery equipment shop in Meursault. I replaced all the silicon bungs with wooden bungs. These bungs are used along with a piece of burlap which sits between the wooden bung and the bung of the barrel. I pushed on toward Nuits, realizing that at any moment my move was being put in danger.

Arriving in Nuits, I picked up the forklift of a friend and went to work. It was quite an experience having my new neighbors stand outside the door to my courtyard watching, waiting for the new guy to mess up. Well, never to let anyone down I did just that. Luckily, no one was watching. Getting off the first two racks went quickly. The last was where things went pear shaped. I ended up driving too deep onto the dirt near my courtyard. Due to the recent snow and rain (you can see where this is going…) the dirt was now mud in some spots. I ended up digging the right side wheels deep into the mud, causing the drive wheel to be raised off the ground. I tried all sorts of ways to get the wheel down, at times just managing to burn rubber on the ground. Due to this delay, I was unable to make another trip that night. My friend came by later that night and helped free the forklift. He had a rope and I basically used the truck to drag the forklift in a downward motion which gave him traction to be freed.

The next day, my last of the trip, I started out at 6am. Two trips were made bringing the barrels over. I had made the choice of foregoing pumps early on which left just a few options. I could find a way to bring the barrels down my cave stairs full or siphon out using a tube. I chose the tube method. Placing empty barrels in the cave on the mares (runners) went without a hitch. Full barrels were placed at the top of the stairs with a food grade silicon tube measuring 15 meters stretching from the cave entrance to the placed empty barrels inside the cave. My friend was there to help siphon the first three barrels with me. At around 11:30pm, my friend noted how it would be impossible to finish that night. I said I would continue on, though I had a 5:30am. After he left, I just went about it knowing I had to finish up.

The empty barrels were easy to bring down. I placed them horizontally, wrapping my arms on each side. Walking backwards I would make the trip down the stairs without stopping. If I needed to rest, I’d place the barrel on the closest step above me. Once the process was in motion, the last barrel drained was left with it’s lees (I did cuvee by cuvee) so I had to be sure to carry the barrel, bung side up. Of note, when the temp dropped below freezing, all of the water that I sprayed at the top of the stairs turned to ice. A bit more dangerous. But, things still went rather quickly and efficiently.

By 5:30am I had completed the last eight barrels without issue, leaving just one barrel of Morey Saint Denis – Les Chaffots to be siphoned. My friend had offered to finish up whatever I left. And, with a 5:30am cab, 6:31am TGV in Dijon and a 1pm flight from Paris, I needed to get going. Just as I was about t close my eyes on the TGV my other friend called me up asking if I needed help. Within an hour, the last barrel was siphoned. With all the Maison Ilan wines finally under my roof I could rest. I can say that I have never slept that good before.

updates from nuits saint georges

By Ray Walker on January 12, 2010 #ray's posts

It looks like my year is off to a promising start!

After dealing with so many moments of success bookended by
changes of plan (largely location) it was an incredible feeling to
receive the keys to the house in Nuits Saint Georges, in the center of
town where my family and I will live and make our wine. We are set to
move here from Marin County, California in April and I couldn’t be more
content about it all.

Picking a house/cuverie/cave in Burgundy is a bit more difficult than it
may sound. More difficult when you sign the lease before your wife has
viewed the house I might add. With that in mind, I was relieved when my
wife let me know that she loved the house and location…as well as the
wine. My 2010 is looking quite promising early on!

The garage in Nuits-Saint-Georges will be ‘converted’ to a cuverie. What’s
involved in the conversion? Removal of some shelves, placement of tanks
and tools and…voilà! Instant cuverie. Thankfully, there are a few
water sources in the garage and solid drain points for easy cleanup. The
location I used in Saint Aubin this year had zero drain points which
required the use of sponges and buckets for water removal. All things
considered this encouraged efficient water use and a heightened level of

The cave below the house measures roughly 45 meters squared. Visiting a
friends cave with the same proportions, I will be able to fit at least 4
rows of 8 barrels ending with a capacity just over 32 barrels if left
unstacked. Great news as I was well unsure of how two vintages could
possibly fit together.

I spent the larger part of this snowy week working down in the cave,
making preparations for next week. Easy to do when the cave is 10°C
warmer than the courtyard above. There was a great amount of debris in
the cave. Broken bricks, broken bottles, old stones, old bags, and dirt
on the bottle storage areas which all needed to be cleaned out.

The cave consists of two chambers. The closest section to the cave
entrance is for bottle storage. Two levels of arched brick storage
spaces are located at both sides of section. Going further into the
cave, down three stairs, you arrive at the door to the chais, or barrel
room. Using my new thermometer/hygrometer I note that the chais has a
higher relative humidity than the bottle storage area with chais door
and cave door closed.

With heavy snow coming in, I will take delivery of the gravel for my
cave floor next week along with more cement runners to hold the barrels
which I will move over from Saint Aubin a day later. After spending the
week in the cave and house, I feel quite comfortable down there and
excited about finishing the remaining steps to having a new home for my
wines as well as my family.


Maison Ilan

cuverie update – from ray walker

By Ray Walker on October 08, 2009 #ray's posts#vintage 2009

Sent from my iPhone
Sent from my iPhone
Not too long ago I was truly naive. I was looking forward to becoming busy. I had no idea what busy was before a few weeks ago. My lovely clutch on my new 1987 cheap BMW 3 got angry at my sloppy heal toe activities and grew bored with my eager turns through the roundabouts on the route de Pommard so it decided to take the week off and simply lay on the floorboard. Never mind the amount of errands I needed to complete.

A few days later and a bit flatter in the wallet and I was back on the road. Briefly. I certainly underestimated how much I would need a truck in Burgundy. I needed to rent trucks for picking up fruit, destemmers, barrels, presses, and the other day racks. Most of the winemakers out here have Renault Kangoos, a type of car/van/truck which is ever efficient as things seem to always pop up. Forgot fruit bins as well. You see you can’t just simply miss a beat and expect to fall back in line with your plans.

As an example, I was later getting fruit bins and couldn’t find then anywhere. I would have had to piecemeal together what I needed had someone not let me borrow his. I waited an extra week on picking up
racks trying to be too specific and Poof, gone. You can’t find them
anymore. So I lucked out and found some racks and had to get them that
minute. Things move slow in Burgundy, but deals and wine necessities are
finite and sell quickly.

The wines have been finished with fermentations for a short amount of
time and at the last moment I found out the press was non operational. A
quick phone call and I was being helped out with the use if someone’s
vertical press. Today my largest lot went to barrel and I couldn’t be
more pleased. The appellation is of little importance as I am just in
awe of how everything is developing. The community in Burgundy has been
key in making me feel at home and being there to help when a situation
gets tight. It would be silly to state that things have gone perfectly
in Burgundy. I am learning something new each day and it really helps
knowing that I have a strong network of friends willing to help me if
something goes pear shaped.

Time for rest now, tomorrow the smaller lots get barreled down. One of
the tanks has a door to take the solids out, an extreme luxury. Today
was nothing but endless bucket lifting. I wouldn’t be surprised to see
buckets in my sleep, while being trapped in a wooden cuve. But who can
complain when you wake up to your dream every day?


maison ilan – update

By Ray Walker on September 29, 2009 #ray's posts#vintage 2009

Things have been very busy at the winery lately. With all the fruit in
tank and fermenting I have been focusing on tasting, testing, punchdowns
and of course more tasting. I decided to use a fair amount of whole
cluster on the Morey half way because I was curious about doing it, the
otherhalf because my destemmer broke. Luckily a new destemmer came about
an hour after I went from hand destemming pergatory to whole cluster
just 2 clicks before madness.

I decided also to be quite quick to initially punchdown and then to not
be overly pushy with the must and just quickly get to once a day
punchdowns. This of course raised eyebrows in the winery with my mates,
but the results are brilliant.

During the harvest it seems things went too slow and rain was always
tapping on our backs, the fear of berry burst and dilution of flavors
seemed to be my fear alone withthe more seasoned producers (read:any
Burgundy experience at all) were much more calm and content. Now on the
other side of harvest it all went too fast. I took pictures amidst the
sticky grape sorting and bin lifting but was it enough?

Looking at my clean tanks and clean floor it barely looks like someone
did anything here, what a loss. As clearly there is much more to ths
winemaking process than what shows when it is all cleaned up. Working
for someone, for someone else’s wine is so very different than making
something with your name (our daughter’s name) on the bottle. There is
of course a level of pride in doing a great job for someone else that I
have always had. However the situation where you have no one else to
correct for your errors and no one tells you what to do or that you are
mad for doing something makes every step far more painstaking.

Well, there is much more work still. I will be sure to update.


moving along – with grapes!

By Ray Walker on September 09, 2009 #ray's posts#vintage 2009

Well, here we are with just under two weeks before my first harvest and things are moving along rather quickly. Besides the administrative tasks which keep me leapfrogging the Cote, I am sorting out bits in the cellar as well as the vineyard. It’s difficult being your own secretary, chauffeur, cellar master, and it certainly adds up to making plans and preparing for the bad surprise as they call it locally.

Just last week, I sorted the grapes situation. In short, I came away with some tidy material from Morey Saint Denis, Charmes-Chambertin all from Aux Charmes, and two barrels worth of grapes from Le Chambertin! Those who had read my thoughts prior to coming to Burgundy are aware if the change in sources as I was both prepared and honored to possibly only have an option to make village Aloxe-Corton. What a difference 180 days can make when partnered with persistence.

Since I have been in Burgundy, there have been figurative and actual blue skies and grey. Many days have seemed dark only to shift toward brilliant light. Missing trains, misreading train timetables, failing at hitchhiking whilst walking past Gevrey-Chambertin ‘a pied’ to Nuits St George with men the senior of my own father passing me at high speeds on bicycles has been how some days have gone. You can’t help but laugh and then feel tired, almost defeated with the now raging sun nearly cooking you alongside Route National 74. But showing up to the appointment (sweaty, 15 minutes late and 3 hours past fresh) someone pours me a glass of something red in a proper glass and the cool breeze in the cave makes me forget all about my tough walk just moments before.

Here comes Harvest…

By Ray Walker on August 20, 2009 #ray's posts#vintage 2009

Well, not too long ago, I was planning my first trip to Burgundy. Now, days away from leaving to Burgundy to begin my first Harvest in Burgundy, I simply cannot believe how fast time has flown.

My days leading up to my Saturday departure are filled with contracts on facilities, barrel purchases, and a host of other things to work out such as cleaning supplies and basically all of the bits no one goes in thinking about.

After a few hurdles (…well, much more than a few) such as changing facilities twice, it seems that things have worked out exceedingly well. Grapes are sorted, along with facility, legal obstacles, tanks (1 wooden, 14 cement vats by Marc Nomblot) and I couldn’t be more pleased with how things are progressing.

I will keep everyone updated once I am in Beaune.


a new home in beaune

By Ray Walker on June 11, 2009 #ray's posts

Hey guys! Well, the great news keep on rolling in. A few months back I was told about this facility in Beaune that was available for my project. At the time, I was just a bit more interested in sharing a facility. Well, as things have a way of doing, something better came along.

This facility is from the early 1910’s. While attached to a home, the building has a great amount of character and charm. There is a main winery, attic for storage (not sure I want things stored above my head in an old building) and a well sized cave below ground. I am moving forward with this facility. Harvest is closer, and it simply feels appropriate for my humble needs.

Here are a few pics. Remember, think potential…

a day job in Burgundy

By Ray Walker on June 04, 2009 #ray's posts

While in Burgundy earlier this year we met a lot of new friends and contacts. While in Puligny Montrachet we met Olivier Leflaive. I had read about his hotel and wine bar on wineterroirs.com, a link that Bill links to from this blog.

Upon stepping into the hotel looking for food, Olivier showed up and we started to talk about wine. After about an hour we wanted to be shown around the hotel. Olivier took it upon himself to show us around. After a generous offer we were anxiously moving our things in to the hotel. While there, Olivier befriended us. We met for lunches, and toured the vineyards around Puligny. He was really generous with his time and genuinely interested in my humble project. After helping me with setting up my connection for the shared facility in Beaune we kept in touch.

A few short weeks ago I was speaking with Olivier and he offered me a position during harvest with him at his domaine in Puligny-Montrachet. Needless to say, I accepted. I will be leaving back to France in August, ready to get my hands dirty and back tired.

Testing the water in Burgundy

By Ray Walker on March 16, 2009 #ray's posts

Right. It’s been a short while since I’ve added an update. Burgundy has been amazing. The region is similar, yet different than I had expected. For one, by car, the region is a lot larger than I had expected. The villages themselves are intimate places with Boulangeries (bakeries), Bistros, and churches standing tall with ringing bells that bring in the hour, every hour. Looking in from the Route de Grand Vins you pass by many villages. They look so tiny from the road at times in front of rolling hills of vines, yet once inside the villages, there is so much life to see.

Each village is different. Sure, Burgundy is Burgundy, I thought before visiting. Yet, the vineyards aren’t the only thing showing complexity within a tiny amount of space. The food tastes different, the people are different and the experience is completely unique depending on which village you find yourself in.

Living in Burgundy has been going quite well. When I say living, I don’t mean when we were in hotels. We decided to rent a house in Savigny les Beaune after leaving Puligny-Montrachet to see how it was to walk the roads, buy at the market, cook at home- clean up, basically treating it as if we were at home. We managed well, much better than our first try at the supermarche in Paris. In that instance, while our items were rung up, I watched the clerk and the prices fly by. Well, after I paid we noticed the collected lot of items sitting there, waiting to be bagged. With a large line behind us we went scurrying for bags. No bags? Turns out that we needed to purchase the bags that we were to use. Out in the US, we have a bagger and the bagger has the supplied bag. Different system, small detail, but to say the least it was as if someone turned on the blinking neon red ‘Foreigner Alert’ sign above our heads. We learned from that experienced and were actually able to later help others in similar situations.

As many things are different out here, its amazing how comfortable how many things are the same. The feeling of comfort, kindness of people (rare at times in both places, but still present and welcomed), and general activites are enough of a foundation that will make the move less complicated. Nothing you read about a place tells the full story of how you yourself will feel once there. And having a place feel right is a great feeling.

Burgundy Report

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