Ray Walker, 28, was a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch in San Francisco when he was romanced by wine. “I was initially not that interested in wine – but when I took my wife to Italy to propose I decided to open up, be less boring,” he said. “In Italy, wine was given to us with every meal – for free. I couldn’t say no. I knew nothing about wine, and that just interested me to no end.”

Walker came back to the U.S., began studying about wine and eventually worked with mentor Ed Kurtzman, at his winery August West in San Francisco, and at Freeman Winery in Sebastopol, where he’s head winemaker. Now Walker has his own wine company – Maison Ilan – and he’s set to live in Wine Country a portion of the year, and a portion in France, producing Burgundy.

Gladys Horiuchi of the San Francisco’s Wine Institute tracks second
careerists, people who have converged in Wine Country from all walks of life.
They have had varied careers, with titles ranging from Air Force attack pilot
to race car driver to physicist to Warner Bros. executive. Many still find
themselves working long hours in the wine industry, but here’s the upside:
They don’t mind.

Walker said the best part of his winemaking adventure has been the groundswell of support. “You do truly know who is a friend when you have a crazy idea and people are there to support and guide you,” he said. “I would never have thought that so many people would be interested in this project. It’s also been really cool to see my daughter and wife responding to all of it. It’s like having the most amazing, incredible dream with people around you telling you they believe in you.”

Are you a second careerist? If so, what made you decide to go into wine business? What was the crucial turning point?