She says: French. Oy. I studied it for a while after college, but it never stuck in my head like Italian. Italian is simple. It’s a game of See-and-Say. If you see a letter – you say it. French is a game of “Maybe I will pronounce that letter and maybe I won’t. You’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?” Grrrrrrr. But those French lessons helped me understand the mystique of the French and their game of (begin French accent here) “Maybe I will and maybe I won’t.” And Ray Walker’s book helped me understand the mystique of French wine.
The Road to Burgundy, The Unlikely Story of an American Making Wine and a New Life in France is a joy. Similar to my early years of “What’s all the fuss about wine?”, Ray’s unexpected discovery of the true gifts of wine – love, friendship, life, etc. – happens unexpectedly (in Italy, thank you) and pierces his consciousness. The reader is then joining him on the bumpy ride of all of the highs and lows of where that discovery leads him.
It you’re looking for an ultra-romantic view of Burgundy, wine, and life written in prosaic language that knowingly entices you into a journey – this isn’t your book. If you enjoy reading the gritty details of a man’s personal struggle to discover the seeds of his true self and then make that true self a reality – you’ll love this book.
Once Ray feels that spark of “This is the real ME!” he’s off on a journey of deep learning about wine. From his first harvest cleaning steel vats in California to his first harvest in France, he shares every details of how his own mind challenges, ha – no – tortures him – bouncing between doubt and belief.
His diligence to learn winemaking eventually leads him to study ancient wine texts (cool!) and then figuring out how he can re-create those ancient wines himself. Maybe modern techniques are only that – modern. Are they necessarily better? He doesn’t make that assumption.
Sometimes his insistence on doing things the “original way” leaves him all alone in a wine cellar for 30 hours with no break (Hello? Got any crazy friends who would have loved to help?). I felt his physical pain and it hurt twice as much when he discovers it wasn’t really necessary. How? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Spoiler time: Eventually it all works out, his wines are praised by critics – and here’s the best part. He has the courage to respectfully ask the critics not to judge his wines again. SAY WHAT!? Gotta love a man like that. He wants to be sure people are able to taste the wine and decide for themselves. Damn! I love it!
I devoured the book in a few 2 hour chunks of time on a Kindle reader. I also bought the audio, but the reading of the audio was too slow for me. The recording is probably fine, I was just really, really, excited to read it. I plan to also buy a paperback copy for notemaking and (if you’re a regular reader you know what’s coming next) add a map. I loved the book, but I was a little lost geographically. And the land is a very important character in this story.
Other musings: I hope it’s a movie soon. In the hands of a capable and loving director.