Geneva Anderson digs into art

Love vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes? Kendall-Jackson’s Heirloom Tomato Festival is September 14-15, 2012

The 16th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival features over 150 varieties of delicious vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes in all colors, shapes and sizes—all grown at Kendall-Jackson. Saturday, September 15, 2012. Photo: Geneva Anderson

It’s tomato time ! The 16th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, a special gourmet celebration of the bounty of Sonoma County featuring heirloom tomatoes, is September 14 and 15, 2012—just two weeks away.  This year, the popular festival has gone from 1 to 2 days and features a new “Chef Tables in the Vineyard” component on Friday evening with celebrity chefs Guy Fieri and Mario Batali hosting a unique “al fresco” dinner experience at Kendall-Jackson’s acclaimed wine center.  The traditional tomato festival is Saturday, September 15, 2012, from 11 to 4 p.m. and it always sells out in advance, drawing crowds from all over California.  If you want tickets, buy them right now, as they are capped at 3,000 and no tickets are sold at the event itself.

Those lucky enough to have snared tickets to the festival will have 5 hours to feast to their heart’s content on a multitude of tomato-inspired gourmet dishes prepared on the spot by leading chefs and by dozens of local fine food purveyors and Bay Area top restaurants.  All of them will use freshly-picked heirloom tomatoes supplied by Kendall-Jackson and, in many cases, K-J olive oil and fine wines too.  The event also includes the chance to sample and compare more than 150 varieties of heirloom tomatoes (grown in the Kendall-Jackson

Kendall-Jackson’s Heirloom Tomato Festival has a new Friday evening gourmet dining event.

culinary gardens); a chef competition featuring Bravo’s Top Chef® contenders Kevin Gillespie and Eli Kirshtein and among others; and an array of food, wine and gardening seminars.  There will also be garden tours, wine-tasting and live music.  And new this year, #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber is the festival’s first-ever celebrity critic who will sample and judge the festival’s various dishes on Saturday and award a “Critic’s Choice Award” to her favorite restaurant or food purveyor that afternoon. Tomato Heaven!   The emphasis is, of course, heirloom tomatoes.  Genetically unchanged from one generation to another−heirlooms offer the intense flavor prized by gardeners and gourmets.  There’s no better place to grow these jewels than right here in Sonoma County where our climate, soil and tomato fervor combine to produce a wide selection of these lovely delicious orbs.  Always central to the event is the famous “tomato tasting tent”−a large tent with long tables holding dozens of plates of delicately vine-ripened sliced heirloom tomatoes organized by color/type−all of them are grown in the Kendall-Jackson’s extensive gardens.  This year, the weather has cooperated and we are enjoying a particularly flush Indian summer output of tomatoes.  The tasting tent will have over 150 varieties to sample, including some Sonoma County favorites such as Brandywine, Green Zebra, Stupice, Mortgage Lifter, San Marzano, and Cherokee Purple and, along with these, many unfamiliar varieties.  There will be a tomato growing contest, too, for gardeners to show off their prize heirlooms and have them judged by looks, flavor and texture. Larry Wagner and his Pink Berkeley Tie Dye tomato took home last year’s Best Of Show award and he’ll be back again this year hoping to win  again.

The festival is all about heirloom tomatoes and attendees have 5 hours to eat to their heart’s content. Over 150 varieties of freshly-picked heirloom tomatoes from Kendall-Jackson’s extensive gardens can be sampled at the tomato tent, the festival’s go-to spot for tomato aficionados. Photo: Geneva Anderson

New this Year: Friday night celebrity chef dinner, hosted by Mario Batali and Guy Fieri:

The festival will kick off on Friday evening at 6 p.m. with Chef Tables in the Vineyard, an exclusive celebrity chef dinner, hosted by Mario Batali and Guy Fieri to support Santa Rosa-based CWK Foundation  (Cooking with Kids Foundation), a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit founded by Guy Fieri in 2010 with the goal of inspiring one million young people to get in the kitchen and cook.  The dinner will feature 22 of the Bay Area and wine country’s most acclaimed chefs, including: Douglas Keane, John Ash, Domenica Catelli and Kendall-Jackson Executive Chef Justin Wangler. (full list chefs here)  All of the menus will showcase local ingredients and wine pairings from Kendall-Jackson, and will be enjoyed “al fresco” in the lovely estate vineyard with each chef hosting a table that will feature a unique dinner menu designed and prepared by that chef.

A limited number of VIP tickets are available with assigned seating at the head table, hosted by Guy Fieri and Mario Batali.  With a menu designed and prepared by these two renowned celebrity chefs, and net proceeds also benefiting Cooking with Kids, this promises to be one of your most memorable dining experiences.  Even if you’re not at the head tables, an evening spent in the company of any one of the talented guest chefs will leave you  exhilarated and there’s always a fabulous take-away in terms of cutting edge techniques, food lore and gourmet gossip.  Buy tickets here.

General Seating Chef Tables in the Vineyard: $350 per person (includes entry to Saturday’s Tomato Festival.)

VIP Seating Chef Tables in the Vineyard: $3,000 per person (includes entry to Saturday’s Tomato Festival.)

More  About Debbie Macomber, inaugural judge for Saturday’s “Critic’s Choice Award:

Debbie Macomber is one of today’s most popular authors.  Seven of her novels have hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, with three debuting at #1 on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly lists.  Best known for her heartwarming tales about small-town life, home and family, enduring friendships and women who knit, Macomber also has cookbooks (Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove Cookbook), books for children, and inspirational non-fiction to her publishing credit.  Macomber has also channeled her creativity into top-rated Hallmark Channel movies and A Good Yarn Shop, her own yarn store and tea room in Port Orchard, Washington.  Her latest book, The Inn at Rose Harbor (Random House, August 2012)takes readers back to the fictional Pacific Northwest setting of her much-loved Cedar Cove series where a charming cast of characters finds love, forgiveness and renewal behind the doors of the cozy Rose Harbor Inn.  Hallmark Channel is currently filming a Cedar Cove series pilot tentatively scheduled to air in 2013.

KJ Executive Chef Justin Wangler’s “go-to” heirloom for eating is Cherokee Purple, a delicious sweet fruit over 100 years old that has captured the hearts of many, especially food-writers who have embellished its history with all sorts of lore. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Heirloom Tomato Festival Details: Saturday, September 15, 2012 • 11am – 4pm, Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, California 95439, information: 707.571.7500TICKETS—Tickets are pre-sold only (3,000 are available) and are $85 for the general public and $50 for Wine Club members and are available online at, or at the Kendall Wine Center itself, or the Healdsburg Tasting Room.  The festival sells out every year, so buy your tickets now if you want to attend.

Directions: From Highway 101 going NORTH, take River Road exit. Come to stop light and turn LEFT going over the freeway. Travel approximately 1 1/4 mile to first stoplight, which is Fulton Road. Turn RIGHT at Fulton Road.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center is less than 1/2 mile on the LEFT side of the road. (If you go over the Hwy 101 overpass on Fulton, you’ve gone too far.)

From Highway 101 going SOUTH, take Fulton Road exit. The FIRST driveway on the right is the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center.

The festival is an outdoor event, and it’s usually hot, so bring appropriate hats for sun protection and country walking shoes.

September 2, 2012 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment