Growing up in the adult-playground of New Zealand, Ray Walsh found fun in life, photography and in nature. Vineyards were simply places to pick up and expend ammunition to shoo away countless birds descending on the latest crop of grapes in the countryside surrounding his hometown of Auckland. Walsh found his calling in the wine industry in the late 1980’s while a young lad backpacking through Europe and working a harvest in Germany’s Mosel region to finance his travels. The breeze, the high cliffs, the gentle sounds of the Mosel river was the perfect canvas for a budding artist to enrapture his imagination and find his hands wrapped and entwined in the vines of a new medium — the vineyard.
Bitten with the wine bug, Ray hurried back to New Zealand to complete his enology studies, earning his degree in fermentation science. Soon after, he began working alongside Kim Crawford and with New Zealand giant Villa Maria Estate before being recruited by Ed King of King Estate Winery in Eugene, Oregon. Drawn to Oregon’s terroir and the growing reputation as the top region in the world for Pinot Noir, Walsh excitedly began his new life as an Oregon winemaker in 1993. Working alongside colleagues Will Bucklin and Sean Minor, and with their help, raised King’s profile and reputation as a top producer of quality Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, garnering many top awards, including placing King Estate wines into Wine Spectator’s top 100 list. Walsh continued to lead King Estate’s winemaking team for a decade, but with his young son Desmond to look after, and it becoming apparent that family time would only become more scarce as King’s operation grew, Ray made a choice to step away from the rat race so to speak, and started his own craft artisan brand, Capitello Wines in 2003, which is now running 10 years strong.
“I’ve never regretted that decision,” says Walsh. After meeting his partner Jennifer, a former restaurant & wine industry professional, in 2008 and again expanding their family to include Olivia and Owen, Capitello’s future is in place. Jennifer adds, “We are raising them to appreciate this craft at a very early age, and with three kiddos, hopefully one of them will possess some of the passion for this as we do."
Ray and family’s home is in Eugene, where their wines are produced and the tasting room is located, but all head to New Zealand each spring to work harvest and produce additional wines from the Marlborough region.
“I learned about grape growing in New Zealand, and I learned about winemaking here in Oregon, so I feel really blessed to be able to produce wines from each distinctive region to showcase the stark contrasts of terroir from opposite ends of the world."
Ray Walsh, Winemaker
"I have a very simple winemaking philosophy...
It is to feature the nuances of the land and the fruit my wines are made from. I pride myself as a New World winemaker. I'm very interested in new techniques. I want to play. I fiddle to the nth degree. I try to express a full degree of the varietal, and maybe not all of that comes from the vineyard. I think that the days of making wine and selling it amongst our own village are a thing of the past, and now we ship it all over the country and the world. I need to make something I can stand behind. Even in the most challenging of vintages, our wines are made with extreme pride, integrity and artisan craftsmanship that have come to define Capitello Wines. I buy from growers I know and trust, sourcing from just a handful of highly sought after and well respected vineyards, managed by the best in the industry."
"In a sense, I'm an artist in that area [of winemaking]," he said. "Good viticulturists are artists in their area, and I'm not. I want to leave it up to them. . . . It's a lot of work!"