The End of the Trail


This past Thursday a number of Redwood City staffers joined K&L owner Clyde Beffa to send our former Southern Hemisphere wine buyer Jim Chanteloup off into retirement. Jim has been a vital force of the K&L direct import wine program for more than two decades and he's one of our favorite people in the whole world. This wasn't going to some small time party where we all drink a glass of Champagne, say a few words, then do a simple farewell toast. No, no, no. Jim Chanteloup is a K&L legend. He's practically royalty. To lose him to retirement was going to break all of our hearts, so Clyde rented out the back room at nearby John Bentley's, created a menu, and pulled some absolute gems from his heralded cellar. This was going to be an epic evening. There was no way I wasn't going to be in that room.

I actually got to the restaurant an hour early to help Clyde decant the bottles and to snap a few photos. I wanted to make sure this evening was properly documented so that we could all remember it. There were nothing but cannons on that tasting table—nothing but epic wines from as far back as 1951. Lucky me, I got to sample them with the big boss as we opened them.

The guest of honor arrived soon after and he was in fine form—all smiles and ready to party. He grabbed a glass right away and began to stare down the intimidating line-up.

By the time 7:30 rolled around we were a rowdy party of sixteen. Sixteen hard-working K&Lers with big appetites and immeasurable thirsts. We said a toast to Chanty, drank a few glasses of Champagne, then sat down for the first course: grilled quail and duck confit paired with Bordeaux from 1961, 71, and 81. Just a little perspective for some of the newcomers.

The second course was all beef—fillet mignon and short ribs—and that's where I decided to jump the gun and get right to the serious players. I had been eyeballing these puppies since the moment I walked in. Clyde had a theme of years ending in "1", so we poured the 1991 Palmer and 2001 Margaux from magnum. This is, of course, after drinking a sherry from 1951 in between the dishes. 

All in all, it was a marvelous affair. We got to sit down as a store, share some laughs, eat some good food, drink some good wine, and spend one last company dinner with our friend. My dad always tells me: "You've gotta give it to K&L as a company—they know how to treat their employees." That is the God's honest truth.

The final wine of the night was absolutely insane: a 1949 Cantemerle direct from the Mahler-Besse cellar. It was just incredible—more than 60 years of maturity and the wine was still fresh and lively (kind of like Jim himself) with plenty of fruit and acidity. We were spellbound and solemn in our appreciation. Jim, Clyde, and Ralph posed with a glass for one final hurrah. Dessert was passed around, Sauternes was poured, and the festivities continued until well after midnight. There may have been a few bottles consumed in the parking lot soon after, but I can't confirm or deny those rumors.

What I can confirm is that after working with Jim for more than eight years, I'm saddened that I'll no longer see him each morning when I come to work. But as a friend I'm excited to continue drinking with him in the evening (hopefully he'll be fully rested and ready for more parties like this one). Call me after you read this Chanty! I'll meet you at Little China Kitchen with two bottles of riesling! 

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll