In 1983, Nancy and Ray arrived in California from Cape Cod to fulfill Ray's dream of making wine and Nancy's taste for adventure. After working harvest at Mt. Eden Winery in Saratoga, they moved to Napa Valley and became innkeepers for a bed &breakfast. Ray then spent formative time at Tonella Vineyard Management, where he gained philosophical perspective and practical knowledge working in the vineyards. Ray's nine year tenure at Whitehall Lane Winery under the tutelage of Art Finkelstein first as a cellar worker and then as head winemaker honed his skills in the art of blending and was the inspiration for Ray's winemaking style today.
In 1987, Ray & Nancy started Elyse Winery with 286 cases of Zinfandel from the Morisoli Vineyard, which is still a cornerstone vineyard source for the winery. After a decade of nomadic winemaking at various custom crush facilities, in 1997 they purchased a small winery and vineyard on Hoffman Lane, the home of Elyse Winery and tasting room.
Elyse's founder, Ray Coursen and his wife, Nancy had quite the varied life before starting their winery in the Napa Valley.
Ray grew up on a dairy farm in northwest New Jersey and tended various crops before tiring of milk and leaving the roost. After a two year stint in the army and extensive travel in Europe and Africa, he returned to the states and attended Stockbridge Agricultural College at the University of Massachusetts. While at school, he worked at a fine wine shop in Boston, and it was here that he discovered fine French wine. With Coursen's background in farming and his new appreciation for wine, the idea of making wine took hold.
Nancy is a third generation Californian and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Following her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Occupational Therapy, she worked with special needs children in the educational systems of the Boston area. It was in Boston in 1982 that Nancy met Ray and shortly thereafter his interest in the wine business brought them to the Napa Valley.
In 1983, Ray and Nancy Coursen arrived in California ready to turn their dream into reality. Ray’s first industry job was working a harvest at Mt. Eden Winery in Saratoga. Looking back on this first winery position at Mt. Eden, Ray notes, “Thirty years later, I can still smell that vineyard when I drink their Chardonnay.”
The next stop for the Coursens was Napa Valley. Upon moving to the valley, Ray and Nancy became innkeepers for a bed & breakfast – perhaps only because they were allowed to plant a vineyard in the back. Ray then spent a formative amount of time at Tonella Vineyard Management, where he gained philosophical perspective and practical knowledge of working in the vineyards.
The year 1986 saw the arrival of a daughter, Elyse Sarah.
Next up for Ray was nine years at Whitehall Lane Winery in Napa Valley's historic Rutherford appellation. His dedication took him from tasting room to cellar to head winemaker. It was with owner, Art Finkelstein that he honed his skills in the art of blending. Ray calls Finkelstein the inspiration for his winemaking style today and says "Art’s theory was simple – fruit first, and then wine is a collection of nuances and balance."
In 1987, Ray and Nancy were ready to start their own wine label. Elyse Winery began with 286 cases of Zinfandel from the Morisoli Vineyard, which is still a cornerstone vineyard source for the winery. After a decade of nomadic winemaking at various custom crush facilities, the Coursens purchased a small winery and vineyard on Hoffman Lane in 1997, the home of Elyse Winery and Tasting Room today.