Entries from 2009

In the vineyards

By Ray Walker on March 14, 2009 #ray's posts

While in Savigny les Beaune I also met with more courtiers (brokers) that assured me that getting 1er Cru fruit and above is quite likely in this economic landscape. I have been looking at a few very interesting vineyards in both the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune. One vineyard in Nuits Saint George is quite interesting. The vineyard lies on the side nearest Vosne Romanee, very rocky soil, certified organic, vine age of around 45 years old generally and the owners flat out know what is best for the vines and soil. The vineyard is Village level, though the wine should be fairly interesting. I also checked out a 1er Cru in Aloxe-Corton in bold reddish orange soil, huge stones laying on the topsoil, peaking through and buried a good way below. The vines are said to be just a bit older than those at the NSG parcel I viewed just before. It’s not certified organic, but this is the first year they have been doing things organically, and the soil has been responding well with a bunch of topsoil growth.

While we were in the vineyards, the courtier stayed in the car due to a bit of rain making the soil damp. It was interesting to see how the different soils reacted to the same rains. Holding the soil in your hands on a less than perfect day gives you a better idea about what you are working with than simply looking at a photo or asking someone what they saw while visiting the site. I’m digging in deeper to see what else can turn up. Once I have my negociant number setup I will be able to access more fruit options. This should take possibly two more months.

Beaune is where the Heart is

By Ray Walker on March 12, 2009 #ray's posts

Before visiting Burgundy, one question bugged me. ‘If I do find grapes, where in the world am I going to make the wine?’ The production of wines in Burgundy are so low that you cannot expect to find much room if any to make wine short of buying a domaine with a cellar, which is actually hard to find. I was after something a bit more difficult still. I wanted to find a facility that I could share while using some of the equipment such as sorting table, vibrating table, destemmer, etc. I was open to whatever humble facility that would be actually sound for quality wine making.

As it turns out, Olivier Leflaive connected me with a good friend that has room in his facility in Beaune Centre, and is allowing me to rent space for everything from harvest equipment to room to store my wines below in the cellar after making the wine above in the winery. The facility is quite large and the equipment is top notch. A few offices in the front are being taken down to expand the space of the winery. I’m not quite sure I can mention the winemaker’s name just yet, but I am quite thankful for this opportunity to work in the same cellar as this talented and generous fellow. I seriously couldn’t be happier with a different location and team to work with in the cellar. I will be sure to fill in more details when I can. 😉

Shaking hands in Burgundy

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

Well, here we are. Burgundy, in the dead of winter. People are busy working in the vineyards, mainly burning clippings. Things are a bit more chilly than they seemed looking at Bill’s photos from my home in California. Suprisingly, our daughter has adjusted quite well to Burgundy at the ripe age of 7 months. Many of the people that I have read about, domaines which I have dreamed about are just a short stroll away from Puligny-Montrachet where we have been centered most of our time in Burgundy.

Everyone has been extremely helpful here. We have met with a great deal of established winemakers and courtiers and the possibility of working with quality grapes this year from the Cote de Nuits seem quite high…thank goodness!

Also, while we have spent some time with Olivier Leflaive, he has taken it upon himself to present our project to a few of his friends, which one in particular in Pommard might have a facility for us to use for the project.

Another note, speaking some French is better than speaking none at all. I can’t get close to counting the possitive comments I have heard from people in Burgundy for trying to speak the language. I beleive it has made a difference in how I have been recieived.

While I wish we could stay until harvest to go forward with the project right now, the trip has already paid for itself with the great experiences and contacts we have made. We have just over a week more in France and I intend to make the most of this opportunity in Burgundy.


Inching along with details

By Ray Walker on December 31, 2008 #ray's posts

Well, the end of 2008 is closing in on us and I am pushing to get more things checked off the list for the project. We’ve been busy getting passports in order for our five month old daughter, registering the company with the CFE in France, and setting up visas. It’s really the To Do List from Hell. And really, the funny thing about dreams is that they may or may not come with instructions. Suffice to say, there is a great deal of work on my desk (edit: bedside night stand, kitchen table, passenger car seat).

Who would have thought that setting up a company in a foreign country would be so involved (tongue placed firmly in cheek)? There are so many decisions to be made, so many phone calls and middle men. Yet, with each call, each person that balks at my toddler level French skills, and each check next to a task I am just that much closer to my goal. A few friends in Burgundy have been of great help passing me along to other negociants and courtier en vins(grape and wine brokers) that are generous with advice in obtaining fruit sources locally. Currently we’re in the process of setting up a  few appointments to visit some vineyards when I visit in February. It’ll be one more detail to check off and one more inch closer to making wine in Burgundy. Here’s to a great 2009 for everyone out there!

All Dreams lead to Burgundy

By Ray Walker on December 10, 2008 #ray's posts

Well, not everyone’s dreams lead them to Burgundy. Much the same, not all roads lead to Burgundy. In that same thought, I can’t imagine not going to France to make wine. Not too long ago I was on the less exciting side of a Harvest. Just waiting for it kept me up at night. I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty, to see the fruit coming in. And the experience was awe inspiring. Nothing can take away from that.

Now, just to back up a bit, French wines (Burgundy to be exact) were the first wines that set off alarms with me. Californian wines have provided me with many memorable experiences. The ability to age has been at times mind blowing. Yet, with the wines of Burgundy, there is a delicate strength, seductive grace, that just speaks to all of my senses. I have to try to learn how to make something that beautiful. Something that is expected to age. Something that will be given the chance to age, time to develop. I want to make a wine that follows the tradition of a Burgundy or a Rhone. And, I simply cannot do the wine justice by attempting to make a Burgundy or Rhone in California. To me, our local wines are best when they wear their origins on it’s sleeve. At times graceful, other times powerful. Nothing can take away from that. Yet, here in California, I can’t make a Burgundy. And adding my name to the list of others making excellent wines out here does not clear me of this passion and drive that I have for these two specific regions that got me started with this path.

Until recently, this was just a dream. I needed to take a run at it in California first. At first I took a few courses in viticulture at Napa College. After that, I left my job as a stockbroker/financial advisor to pursue wine making. Ed Kurtzman was the one person who would give me a shot. This last year I worked at Freeman Winery and Vineyards in Sebastopol, California and did light duties at August West in San Francisco for a few days. Overall, I worked with Freeman for over five months doing everything from cleaning tanks and barrels to punchdowns, brix sampling and bottling.  I figured that I had to first get dirt under my nails, let pain seep into my back, and earn a few bloody knuckles. I needed to see the work without to silky sheen of romance creating a haze over my view. One thing I have learned is that making wine is never like what you imagine it to be before you actually jump in and do it. No one is waiting to congratulate you when all is done. When the wine is done, hopefully you have learned something that will help in next year’s harvest.

Well, I have been preparing. I have been studying French. Not just the language, but the culture, history and vinification methods. We are set to take a run at it in France. We, as in my family will be taking a small, initial trip to France this coming February to sort things out. I will be going door to door, resume in hand looking for two things: a stagiere (internship) and fruit from Burgundy with the goal of coming back before June for a longer stay. I have been calling France early morning, at times 2am or 3am PST to catch someone for a phone appointment. Speaking French is something I need to get a hold on very quickly if I intend to be taken seriously. Like I say, I can’t guarantee how things will turn out. But, you will all be in on the progress of my journey.

Bill has been nice enough to invite me to be a guest contributor to this site. Burgundy Report has served as an enabler of sorts for me over the years. I’ll do my best to add a real look into what goes on along the way. I intend to maintain the high level of content all the visitor’s are used to reading on this site. In February I will be in Burgundy, sharing my experiences with everyone while I try to lay the groundwork for the chance to work in France. My goals are to learn more of the culture, spend time in the vineyards, study the vinification methods, and lend a solid hand at a Burgundy operation while making my own wine. I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with you all.

Thanks again for the chance Bill

Burgundy Report

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