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.
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I picked up the book because I liked the premise; mid-career American guy gets bitten by the wine bug, drops everything and moves to Burgundy to make wine. Lots of great press too. Modern day "American Dream".
Unfortunately, I couldn't stand the self-aggrandizing tone that the book is written in. The first few chapters REALLY got to me. He starts off with a belief that wine is just alcohol, nothing special, then he has a great wine in Italy, then he goes all bonkers over Bordeaux just by name-chasing the classified growths, and almost refuses to taste Burgundian wine because he thought it was inferior to Bordeaux (at the wine tasting that eventually changed his life). At first I thought he would talk about his erroneous prejudices and how he learnt to temper his appreciation of wine, but it seemed like he just converted his classified-growth-chasing obsession for Bordeaux to a terroir-chasing obsession in Burgundy. A true oenophile would love all wine -- some more than others -- but would never have such a narrow-minded, bigoted approach to wine. (And obviously, you should NEVER interview at a Napa/Sonoma winery and tell them how Burgundy is obviously better than them. come on dude.)
Also, for all his respect for Burgundian tradition and terroir, his traveling to Burgundy with "just one harvest", having never made wine, not speaking a word of understandable French, and with the arrogant belief that someone would sell him their precious grapes and allow him to make wine, is just plain hypocritical. People apprentice for YEARS to learn how to make wine, it's an art and a science. (There was a line that really rubbed me the wrong way, which went something along the lines of "If Burgundian monks without technology could do it, so can I" -- these monks have hundreds of years of collective experience, how arrogant must one be to compare himself, with no experience, to those monks??). There's a reason why he just kept getting turned away by everyone he approached. If I were a grape grower, I wouldn't trust this guy with my grapes either! I think the only great thing is that his passion led him to read and learn, and not screw up those amazing grapes. On the one hand, having a "newbie" mindset made him question, for example, the frequency of punching down, and made him decide to try a more gentler approach -- I admired that -- but more often than not, his "know-it-all" attitude was off-putting.
Lots of his behavior mades me cringe. Leaving for holidays during harvest/winemaking season with no-one else in charge? Leaving a barrel in the garage because he had to catch a flight? I'm sorry but that is just plain lack of professionalism. Yes, he has a family, but Burgundian wine (heck, I would say all fine wine) is built upon people's hard work, experience, sacrifices, professionalism, and most of all HUMILITY (to respect the forces of nature, etc). Grape growers don't take holidays during growing season, in case of a sudden frost or change of weather.
All in all, the author was a very lucky guy. His passion probably contributed 20% to his success: the rest, at least what was told in the story, was all luck. Having everything fall into place; grapes, funding, materials, etc. Heck, I think even the grape growers contributed more to his success than he did. I admire his passion, willingness to learn, and his conviction to chase his dream. The fact that he was successful when there were hundreds of possible ways he could've failed makes the story even more special, and I suppose, contributed to the popular press, etc. I just fear that people will learn the wrong thing about wine from the story, especially given some of his bigoted attitude towards wine and his self-aggrandizing egotistical attitude.
Regarding the narration: I appreciate the hard work of the narrator (I couldn't stand his rendition of the author's wife's voice), and I would say most of the French was alright, but it could've been much better, especially the names of the towns/places, etc.
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
yes, it's a great story, lots of inspiration. The French narration was terrible, I speak French and struggled to understand the spoken French at times. Don't let this deter you from getting the book, it's only a small part of it and doesn't change the great story.