The December 2015 recap — What a month!

Ever look back at your personal calendar and wonder how you pulled it off?

That’s the case with me and December of 2015, for sure the busiest month I’ve had in quite some time. In terms of wine classes and education, it was phenomenal, and in terms of my personal life it was one of the best, period.

Quick recap of wine classes and events from December 2015

  • December 2nd: Brunello and Beyond. An exploration of the big reds of southern Tuscany, focusing on Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. Highlights included popping nearly 20 year old Brunello and discovering just how incredible that wine can be when perfectly aged.
  • December 4th: I arranged and served the wine for a catered wine dinner for a local family. This was their Thanksgiving, and they wanted to make it special, memorable, and as they described “a top level restaurant experience in our house.” Working with amazing caterers, we pulled off a world class meal for them.
  • December 5th: A fun afternoon of Intro to Wine Part One at North Loop Wine and Spirits for 25 guests.
  • December 7th: Valpolicella, Ripassso, and Amarone class. A great experience, covering the range of styles and key producers. How often does one end up with range of wines like that in front of them at once?
  • December 9th: Classic producers of Napa Valley. One of my favorite classes of the month. Heitz Cabernet, Caymus Special Select, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Trefethen Dry Riesling, and many more gems from producers founded in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s were featured.
  • December 10th: A private tasting for a group of 16 co-workers who wanted to unwind from the pressures of their job and learn about fermented grape juice. Good times had by all!
  • December 11th: Private dinner and wine tasting for a small group at a local country club. Goal was to open their eyes to new wines and new ways of thinking about wine. (Wanted to get them out of an Apothic Red rut, to tell you the truth.)
  • December 12th: Open House at Kallsen Studio, and people started picking up their gift certificates and free Riedel stemware.
  • December 15th: Cool Climate Gems of California was a blast, focusing on the regions of the (true) Sonoma Coast, Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Lucia Highlands, (western) Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara County focusing on Sta. Rita Hills.
  • December 16th: Announced the first wine travel experience for our new venture, The Flying Grape. First trip will be to Portugal in October of 2016. Will people sign up? Nervousness was in the air.
  • December 16th: Presented Bubbly and Dessert Wines at the Campus Club at the University of Minnesota. My tastings with them are always a blast, and chef Beth Jones pulled out all the stops on this 50 person event.
  • December 18th: Drove to Chicago to pick up our son for winter break. Went to one of our favorite casual places, Two Zero Three Wine Bar and Coffee at the Virgin Hotel. Nothing fancy there, just six wines by the glass and good coffee drinks, but the vibe is casual and awesome and not rushed. A good place to chill out for a bit. Then dinner at Roka Akor, which might have been the best dinner I’ve had in the last ten years. Simply incredible. My favorite part? I paid the bill via Apple Pay through the Open Table app, effectively allowing me to not have to look at the bill until the next morning (when I nearly fainted). Was it worth it? I will rarely say this about a meal that expensive, but yes. Huge thanks to Jim Stahl for the suggestion.

    Spencer and Angela laughing at something inappropriate in The Onion, at Two Zero Three wine bar and coffee shop.
    Spencer and Angela laughing at something inappropriate in The Onion, at Two Zero Three wine bar and coffee shop, in the Virgin Hotel in downtown Chicago. This is a great place for hanging out casually, which can be hard to do in the urban center of a big city (where “turning tables” is the name of the game). Check them out the next time you’re in the Windy City.
  • December 19th: To help balance the budget after dinner at Roka Akor, we ate at Harold’s Chicken Shack, a favorite of my son’s. A terrific article on this location is found on Serious Eats, with this outstanding description: “There’s a fine line between juicy fried chicken and recklessly greasy fried chicken, and Harold’s crosses it with glee. Take a bite of thigh or drumstick and you may find a river of juice running down your chin. That’s a trait more associated with burgers than fried chicken, but Harold’s often has a brawny, burger-like aspect; at many locations, the chicken is fried in a mix of vegetable oil and beef tallow.”
  • December 22nd: The annual Sparkling Wine Masterclass covered all things bubbly from Prosecco to Cava, from Champagne to Moscato d’Asti. A terrific night to enjoy the peace of wine during the frantic last second Christmas shopping season.
  • December 24th-27th: I herby declare that Christmas Eve should fall on a Thursday every year. The four day weekend was so needed!
  • December 29th: Champagne Masterclass Part One: Best of the Big Houses. Bollinger. Veuve Cliquot (rosé!), and even KRUG were served while we learned about the production process and some of the advantages big houses have in certain vintages.
  • December 30th: Champagne Masterclass Part Two: Farmer Fizz! The best way to end the year of classes. A personal favorite topic, and with my wonderful wife Angela in attendance we sipped our way through Gaston Chiquet, Moussé, and a stunning three bottle side by side comparison of Pierre Gimonnet NV Brut, 2008 Oenophile Extra Brut, and 2006 Special Club. What a night!
  • December 31st: The day started at my daytime job, as social media marketing head of The Wine Company, a local fine wine importer and distributor. This was my last day at the job before diving head first into full time self-employment, and the staff was good enough to call everybody together to gather and raise a glass to me and the future. We enjoyed many fine wines, all from the Northern Rhone (my pick!), great cheeses, wonderful meats, and tons of laughter. We went home to clean up before heading to Meritage for our annual New Year’s Eve dinner at the two seats right next to the oyster case (which we didn’t get at first, a couple that walked in right before us got them. Urgh! But about 20 minutes later they were gone and we could slide over. Yay!).
  • During dinner at Meritage, clinking glasses to success and the future, we got email after email as people confirmed their seats for the upcoming Ultimate Portugal Experience. The trip is now sold out!
  • January 1st: after a relaxing morning at home with the family, I flew out to New Orleans for four days by myself to plan the master strategy for the upcoming year (I do a trip like this every year, looking back and looking forward and setting goals).

How’s that for a month? Am I exhausted? Not really. It’s amazing what positive energy and momentum can do to a person (along with gallons of coffee). In the end, and this is the truth, I’m doing what I love doing and who I’m doing it for. In many ways it doesn’t feel like work. It just feels like a good time.

What’s coming up in 2016? So many cool things. Now that I’m fully independent I can spread my wings in bigger ways, for I’ll have more time to organize larger events and ideas. The travel business is part of that. So is a consulting business for wholesalers, importers, wineries, retailers, and restaurants.

Onward to 2016! Bring it on!

– Jason Kallsen, from a sunny desk in New Orleans, which I have to leave soon to fly back home. More on New Orleans next week.