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Updates from Burgundy

Hello everyone,

I recently mentioned that I would be better about my timing, especially with shipments, updates, etc. Well, here we are a few weeks later and I am still a tick behind the curve. I understand that many are interested in updates, believe that I’m making an effort and will continue to work on being better at it!

There are more than a few things to address. First of all, the 2011 vintage was a huge success for us. We were able to have the type of fruit that got us excited from the word go, decided to not chaptalize in spite of everyone else we know saying it was necessary, and after all of the dust settled we came away more than thrilled about the early results. I say early since even a few years after the vintage, in the scheme of things, the real spirit of the wines still need a good amount of time more to show themselves. As they are at the moment, I’m prouder than hell to have had my feet in the dirt, my hands on the grapes and my sweat on the barrels. It feels me with a pride knowing that every single wine that we bottled came from my tanks, filled into my barrels via gravity, left alone for over two years (besides the addition of marbles for topping/sulphur for protection), and Literally brought up in buckets that I hand carried. I didn’t do this because it was ‘the right way’, I did it because I am still the wine geek that gets excited about everyone of these steps. It may not stand out to someone that drinks the wine but the experience and intimacy that I have been afforded with my wines and this region has been nothing short of amazing. Each and every detail of the process was shaped from sheer intuition and faith that the simplest route would allow the wines to better express themselves. To know the wine in this manner is more than just part of a dream, it is the reality of fulfilling the dream and doing right by it by seeing it through. It is a selfish thing though, as it wouldn’t be much of an experience if I didn’t catch every second of it with my eyes wide open.

With all of this in mind, we didn’t plan on receiving much attention for what we were doing. If I posted my original business plan for Maison Ilan there would be more than a few that would be left wondering how the gap was filled from what I projected just months before harvest 2009, and how things actually turned out. Put simply, going by my long-winded (my unfortunate signature), I should now be onto my seventh vintage in Burgundy, with three wines, producing around 10 barrels, and just three years away from hopefully finding my first premier cru vineyard to source fruit from, thirteen to twenty years from hopefully finding fruit from a grand cru vineyard. I didn’t see any of this coming.

As much pride as we have for our 2011s, it is important to note that fulfilling the orders for the 2011s has been one that has engrained some very important lessons into us. Simply put, our execution of our direct to consumer concept has not met the high level of standards that we have been able to deliver with our wines on the production side. We are in the process of changing nearly every every aspect of how we handle things on the sales/fulfilling side of Maison Ilan. Some of this can be seen in out decision to not offer any 2014s for En Primeur for the first time since our first harvest in 2009. In 2014, we produced around 40 barrels, but we will only begin to offer the wines once we have made a good many changes. We feel that it is best to offer these wines to you once we have refined other aspects of our operations so they will better align with the production side of Maison Ilan. While business is the best it has ever been, we have taken a hard look at many aspects of Maison Ilan and have started to implement changes.

Some of you may know a bit about what we do in the winery, while others might think it is just marketing, something to say to sell wines, there is quite a bit of thinking that goes on behind the scenes – at times, perhaps too much thinking. We aren’t some huge industrialized winery with several teams of employees or a sales staff or receptionist, we aren’t even set up like most of the other family wineries in Burgundy. We are tiny, just my wife and I along with a few, usually three to five volunteers at harvest and maybe two during bottling, at times it is just myself.  The wines aren’t vinified in some state of the art winery with all of the latest conveniences, we work out of a one-car garage in Nuits-Saint-Georges. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was my choice to work where I work, and to work in the manner that I have chosen to. Our indoor space is quite limited which puts us in a unique situation of needing proper weather conditions to allow for some of the winery activities such as bottling, labelling, and packaging. The cave is also short on space, being just a bit larger than what is considered acceptable for personal use. We’ve made the space work while doing everything by hand, being careful and efficient, but we have reached a point where we’ve outgrown our original space. We are now moving forward on building a new cuverie in the Côte de Nuits from the cave up!!

I’ve recently been quite a bit more withdrawn from sharing the intricacies of what we do here at Maison Ilan. While I have (potentially over-)shared in the past (who needs to know what I am cooking on a Tuesday?), I am trying to find a happy medium. While we plan to be more vocal in the future regarding shipments in route and wines produced, don’t expect to see any shots of a new capsule design or videos of the labels whizzing by on the printing press. I’ve learned a great deal about where my focus should be when representing our winery.

While we have enjoyed the relationship we have had with our wines through shepherding them from receiving the grapes in the vineyard to shipping the bottles out, it is important to acknowledge that the aspects around deliveries have not been in line with our standards at Maison Ilan. It has become apparent that much of this is rooted in a lack of foresight, anticipation and control on our part. It is with this in mind that we will be implementing immediate changes in how our wines arrive at the doors of our clients and which entities we choose to be affiliated with. We understand that more is asked of us and we will certainly rise to meet and exceed these expectations.

Besides moving through previous vintages deliveries, the past few months has seen us bottling up a few of our 2012 cuvees. We’ve been quite anxious in getting all of the 12s wrapped up, and we know folks are just as anxious to have the bottles in their cellars but the weather hasn’t exactly been cooperating with a fairly inconsistent Winter, including no small amount of snow…which doesn’t work for bottling and labelling wines, especially when you don’t have much indoor space! Making decisions based upon speed is something that we refuse to do. The wines go into the barrel, move to tank and arrive in their bottles when it is time and for the time being (until the cuverie is built), when weather permits. Being at the mercy of the weather is something that we are working on changing as we are rearranging our facility to prioritise indoor space for bottling, labelling and packaging so rest assured, we will have some exciting news coming very soon!

Thank you again for your support!

Ray

We are just getting started…

Hello again everyone,

last night I wrote a quarterly update on many aspects of Maison Ilan. I needed to be quite precise in what went into this update as several of these details have not been addressed before in this level of detail. More than a handful of the topics I wrote about including the limitations we had regarding space have a substantial impact on how we work, as well as the timing of it all. It may seem like a small thing, but there are certainly frustrations to be had by everyone when you wish to perform certain winery aspects and are slowed by trivial things such as snow and -3°C weather.

Now, there is quite a larger subject that I touched on last night, without actually going fully in-depth, delays/failures shipments, inefficiencies of concept, lack of execution, and outright failure to meet our own expectations. Here is the deal, as the guy at the wheel, every aspect of the business was set up by me. Everything from our fruit sources, type of paper on labels, color and shade as well as weight of the bottles, corks, their quality level and markings/(lack of) treatments, vendors, and everything else that Maison Ilan is has been put together by way of my own intuition, research, assumptions, best guesses, experience, inexperience, and luck (whether classed as dumb or otherwise). With this understood, in my eyes, I have to take responsibility when things don’t line up. While I do this willingly and knowing that it can put me into a space that places the full weight of any shortcomings on my shoulders, I do it because I need to be 100% in it to feel like I am making the most out of this experience. However, shipping delays, decisions on elevage and a sub-standard level of communication is just that – and nothing more that is being intentionally falsely reported with the intention of damaging my family and reputation as a means of sport and entertainment. There have been far too many occasions where shedding the light on aspects of a particular issue would have taken pressure off of me, but I stayed silent, believing that sharing this information would only lead to others viewing it as a lack of taking responsibility. Along with this, I understand that a competent business can make mistakes. My deciding to work with anyone is an endorsement of my faith in them being what I believe to be a great addition to our work. I don’t believe in throwing another business under the bus in order to take heat off of myself but there have been numerous times that this has indeed been taken advantage of in certain corners where all is permissible and worthy of attention, excluding logic and fairness.

Unfortunately, this willingness to take on this level of responsibility has left me open to taking on what I believe to be (dis)credit in arenas that are outside of my role as the co-owner (etc.) of Maison Ilan. I’m actually of two minds about this because Maison Ilan is my experience, my baby, my winery, my work. The direct to client consumer concept that I created was one that at its base was supposed to ensure a better experience for the client, through lower direct prices, a direct relationship between the winery and the consumer and doing away with what I believed to be unnecessary tiers. I couldn’t understand why no one else that I knew of was doing this sort of concept – so I figured I figure it out myself. Besides, if I was simplifying things, just how difficult could it be?

As it turns out, much of the concept was executed well. However, there were quite a few situations that worked against things going as smoothly as I imagined them to. The first detail which created snags was giving estimates based upon the details which I controlled and adding in the estimated delivery times I was given for vendors for things such as capsules, labels and corks. I never should have done this. I looked at my sharing estimates as just that, sharing an estimate. It turns out to be much more than this when you are pre-selling your wines quite early, and doing all that you can to figure out the logistics of starting a small business in a foreign country, in a field that you have just four months of trainee-level experience in, as your sole employee, working with vendors that you have vetted while asking them to go beyond the level of detail they typically work within, while attempting to deliver your wines in a manner that seems incredibly logical – but has not been tested by your peers. Unfortunately these estimates were not something that should have been shared as too much depended on details that couldn’t be rushed or placed onto a timeline.

Adding to this, I made several decisions regarding the 2011s that to many was worthy of an unbelievable (and baseless) level of skepticism and innuendo that truly reached into unprecedented levels of…behavior. But here is the thing, it was my decision alone to ask professional critics to visit and taste but to not share their experiences with the public due to my growing issue of having too much of a taster’s experience potentially colored before they had a chance to view, smell and taste the wine themselves. This decision was also influenced by one prominent critic on more than one occasion suggesting that the final ratings on my wines should have a cap as he felt as though I had not struggled enough (by having lesser classified vineyards or difficult vintages) to have my wines receive ratings beyond a specific numerical level. In this same year, I decided that I should bottle my own wines after growing increasingly frustrated watching a bottling company handle my wines and a worry that handling my bottles after handling cigarettes while on break could influence my bottles. (I know.) This lead to my feeling a larger sense of control in when I would bottle. Previously, it was more of a matter of falling in line with what my peers were generally doing in regard to their timing and when the bottling company could fit us in. That never sat well with me and I saw the opportunity to explore what I began to view as a larger part of the process, length of time in barrel, the elevage.

My mistake here wasn’t in keeping the wines in barrel for a longer period of time, it was in my communication, both in not conveying a sudden change in what I had done in previous vintages as well as my increasing activity on social media. It was a mistake to think that as the wine producer that I had control over the sold out wines in my own cave and that full confidence and patience  was given to me and that any adjustment in timing forecasts would be understood by those waiting to receive their wines…especially by those that were not clients, but vocal onlookers. Instead of speaking about my plans on how they had changed I focused on their evolution, leaving my satisfactory findings to myself as I waited for the moment to bottle presented itself. If I had it all to do over again I would have better communicated how excited I was with the 2011 wine developments while steering clear of social media updates revolving around subjects that really were of no consequence that only served to work against the legitimacy of my efforts.

If it could have ended there, it would have already been an ordeal. However, the delays dragged on further as I wished to have my timing as best as I could. After waiting such a long time for the wines to develop and seeing such progress, I didn’t want to blow it at the end by rushing the final steps. After having our third vintage picked up from our winery in Nuits-Saint-Georges we encountered yet another series of disappointing scenarios involving misfires on shipping addresses, labels either being damaged or completely removed from the bottle, capsules removed from the bottle, unsatisfactory communication between myself and clients, unsatisfactory communication between shippers and clients, and quite worryingly a sharp disconnect between Maison Ilan and the shippers of our wines.

We are already implementing changes to these shortcomings and are working diligently to find more information on recent developments regarding the shipper of our wines.  Among the concerns are discrepancies between the stated inventory and the dramatic differences of how the status of this inventory has been relayed to Maison Ilan and to our clients. Please understand that I am working on this a great deal and will have updates as soon as the information is made available to us. This is the third vintage that we have produced and shipped out to the US, and quite frankly each of these three shipping seasons have proved to be well below the level that they need to be at, and will assuredly reach. For all U.S. clients that are awaiting wines from Amedeo, remaining inventory has been said to be shipping. If you encounter anything other than this, please contact me directly via email or through my personal cell phone that has been listed on all of my websites for the past six years. We understand that many of our clients have certain expectations relating to what they feel constitutes a standard turnaround time for responses to emails. We apologize if we cannot meet a 24-48 hour response time that many have suggested to be standard for other businesses. We respond to emails as quickly as we can. Effective immediately, we are changing course from working with entities such as Amedeo beyond the wines which have already been sent to them. We are finalising details on a more mainstream approach to fulfilling direct client orders and will have news to everyone the moment we can share it with you all. Rest assured, we are moving forward. The evidence will be in our actions, not in forecasts.

Throughout this time, I have been working hard to take a look at the way that we do things and who we entrust responsibilities involving our wines to. In the end it doesn’t matter how capable another entity appears to be at handling something as precious as our wines are. The improvement starts with us, how we do things, being proactive and above all delivering more than what is expected of us. We believe a key detail in our achieving this is to continue to make immediate changes in our business practices on the customer service side of things.

We appreciate everyone that has supported us through the hurdles we have faced in venturing into the uncharted waters of our direct to client model and to those that have been mindful and patient when considering the work we are doing at Maison Ilan. This isn’t a concept winery, something we are just trying out. We have made a home here in Burgundy while consistently strengthening our roots here. Any and all hurdles will continue to serve as a basis for our improvement and development.

Thank you again everyone!

Ray and Christian Walker

Sole Proprietors, Maison ILAN

Bourgogne, France

With harvest just around the corner, there have been a few things to put into perspective. How do you deeply reflect on your experiences with just two vintages under your belt? The reality of it all is that each vintage is different

2011 En Primeur Direct

Hello everyone,

it has been a busy couple of weeks since I last posted. In between posts, I released the offer for our 2011s to all of our existing Client List members. I’ve been able to personally speak with over 300 people by phone about our wines over the last two weeks. Its an interesting dynamic to be able to pick up a phone and to connect with someone that you may have never met, speak with them about wine and to form from that point a connection of sorts. 

 

The response so far has been beyond anything I could have expected. People have been supportive of us since day one. And, I think that this has been essential. When I was setting up an empty one car garage with my first couple of fermentation tanks, I could see how I could fit a few more tanks if I allowed them to nearly touch. I could see that I would have enough room to walk in between the tanks with a full fruit case in my arms, that the ceiling was high enough to allow me to stand atop a mass of grapes, raise my arms to the point where I was pressing off of the ceiling, pressing my legs deep into the grapes below me. What I couldn’t have imagined was that so many people would be behind me while I am going through each step of this journey. 

 

It puts things into perspective. And, while I have been well driven at nearly every moment over the past 40 months, there is something that must be said about the feeling I get when someone tastes the wines and enjoys them or when someone sends an encouraging message. Its a great feeling and one that I cannot altogether describe. 

 

All of this is to say that while business has been exceptional, it means a great deal more to be able to hear the voices and to see the faces of those that will one day enjoy our wines. There really is something tangible that is added to my day each time it occurs. 

 

I’m back off to bed. I felt restless, feeling the need to share this with everyone. 

 

Thank you again

 

Cheers,

 

Ray

Maison Ilan Cartons

Maison Ilan Cartons

It is a question I’ve thought of with increasing frequency. If something tastes good, has it done its job? Think about that for a moment. Don’t worry. I’ll wait for you.

By now, you’ve decided to continue reading or figured out that I’m completely full of it. Either way, it is quite the concept that has more importance today than it did just a few years ago when people were a bit more interested in focusing mostly on how many points were given to a wine, or who was farming the vineyard. It falls squarely into the crosshairs of those curious about where their food comes from, how it is prepared and not surprisingly, for us wine lovers the same sentiments apply to wine. Since I started drinking wines in 2005, (yes it wasn’t so long ago) I was quick to say what I viewed as redeemable qualities in a wine. A wine could be corked and I could see what good lied beneath. A highly alcoholic wine gave me the chance to take a sip and skip any other wine that night, thus saving myself the risk of torturing my liver any further. but what about those wines that were flatly good, sound, but with no soul? What about the wines that had been forced to be something that they really weren’t. Those wines that were picked riper than all hell, watered back to be under 13% alcohol, bumped up with acid and tossed into neutral oak? Did the wine taste good? Well, some of them might. In fact, if you are tasting loads of wines it is damn near without question that you will potentially find a wine that was produced in a manner that would surprise you that you actually enjoyed.

Is there anything wrong with your palate? Oh goodness, please don’t let it be that. Do you unconsciously love super extracted wines that were brilliantly matched to enough oak that made the sweeping under the carpet go unnoticed?  Well, maybe. And, there is nothing wrong with that. But, wouldn’t you like to know more about where your wines came from? Do you feel like you would further or better enjoy the wine that was in your glass if you had more of a complete picture about how it came about? Or, would you believe that the only truth that matters is in the glass, even if some of it were concealed?

Many that are interested in merely taking a wine as a generic beverage, owning only what is residing in the glass make great efforts in attempting to disconnect the aspects which should be connected to place. If you like a wine, that should be enough. But, for those of us that study these vineyards, that feel there is something more to a wine than sniffing, tasting and jotting down, it is difficult to simply say that

To me, as a wine geek, it is something that I feel driven by, to know exactly what I am tasting. Is it terroir, technique or something altogether different that I am tasting. Of course, it is difficult to unravel the two as they are immediately intertwined once a hand touches grapes either in the vineyard or in the cuverie. But nonetheless, I can’t look past this curiosity as a consumer. And I only wish there were more access to knowing what exactly is done behind the curtain. A simple brochure or set of generalities doesn’t do much good when each wine itself is an exception to the rule.

So, here is a push to anyone listening. Tasting good is no longer good enough. We need more information on where our wines come from.

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