Geneva Anderson digs into art

It’s Lavender Season! See it, Savor it, and Discover it at Matanzas Creek Winery’s 17th Annual “Days of Wine & Lavender,” Saturday, June 29th

Matanzas Creek Winery's Lavender Garden features over 5,000 lavender plants. Terraced rows of the cultivars "Grosso" and "Provence" line the winery's entrance and are the basis of its Estate Grown Lavender product line.  Guests at "Days of Wine and Lavender" stroll the gardens while sampling crisp sauvignon blancs, luxurious chardonnays and fruity, earthy merlots.

Matanzas Creek Winery’s Lavender Garden features over 4,500 lavender plants. Terraced rows of the cultivars “Grosso” and “Provence” line the winery’s entrance and are the basis of its Estate Grown Lavender product line. Guests at “Days of Wine and Lavender” stroll the gardens while sampling crisp sauvignon blancs, luxurious chardonnays and fruity, earthy merlots.

Aside from its beauty, there are few things more sensual and soothing than the aroma of lavender in full bloom.  Whether you prefer to casually take in the sweetness in the air or rub your fingers over its sticky flowering stalks, the experience is magical.  Matanzas Creek Winery’s 17th annual “Days of Wine & Lavender” festival is Saturday, June 29, 2013 and offers an unforgettable afternoon, an immersion of the senses, as guests stroll through the winery’s two-acre lavender gardens while sipping Matanzas Creek’s bright and refreshing wines. With its more than 4,500 individual lavender plantings creating a sea of purple and perfuming the air, the bucolic Bennett Valley estate, set in the rolling golden hills of Sonoma County, is an oasis of respite.

There are lavender festivals popping up all over Sonoma but “Days of Wine and Lavender” is known for keeping it small, manageable, elegant, so tickets are limited, and those who come once tend to return year after year.  The fine cuisine keeps many coming back.  A highlight of this year’s event will be Michelin-starred Chef, Douglas Keane’s special epicurean pairings designed for the winery’s Journey wine collection.  Since closing his acclaimed four-star Cyrus, Keane has been managing his Healdsburg Bar & Grill and he’ll be one of the chef contenders on season five of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, competing for a $100,000 donation to his Green Dog Rescue Project charity.  The festival will also feature a menu created by the estate culinary team, including dishes with estate-grown lavender as a culinary ingredient.  Past scrumptious delicacies have included Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates Chef Eric
homemade artisan breads delicately flavored with lavender and Executive Chef Justin Wangler’s inventive use of lavender in grilled dishes such as Lavender Honey Glazed Scallops or Lavender Roasted Leg of Lamb with Confit Fingerling Potatoes.  Paired food stations will be set-up around the winery for guests to see how the food is prepared and then sample as many items and as many times as they like.  This is an excellent opportunity to observe how salt rubs, concentrated oils, and lavender grilling sticks are used by the pros.

Winemaker Marcia Monahan will lead guests through a sensory exploration of several of the winery’s distinct Sauvignon Blanc wines.  Additionally, renowned oyster guru, Rowan Jacobsen, author of A Geography of Oysters…the 2008 James Beard Award winning guide to all things oysters, will demonstrate how to pair oysters Matanzas Creek’s different handcrafted wines.

Other activities include a showcase of the winery’s lavender barn and lavender product-making techniques, a sneak peak of new wine releases, culinary demonstrations, beekeeping demonstrations and lavender-infused honey tastings by Marshall’s Farm, sustainability tours of the estate, chair massages and live music.

Matanzas Creek’s small-batch lavender luxury bath and body care products are crafted with the same care and dedication that goes into their wine.  The Lavender/Chamomile Soothing Balm ($13.50/ 2 oz) is an all-purpose highly-aromatic balm that is perfect for healing and soothing sun-exposed skin, sore muscles, and nourishing dry skin.  Just a dab goes a long way and it makes the perfect gift.

Details: Saturday June 29th, noon to 4 p.m. Tickets: $95 General Public and $75 Wine Club members.  Advance ticket purchase is essential as the festival sells out in advance each year.  To purchase tickets, click here.  Matanzas Creek Winery is located at 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA  95404   For more information, phone: 800 590-6464

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Justin Wangler, K-J’s top chef, talks tomatoes on the eve of the 15th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival

Justin Wangler, Kendall's-Jackson's executive chef, will be heading the K-J culinary team at the 15th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival on Saturday, September 10, 2011. Wangler has "at least" 12 festivals under his belt and helped choose the chefs for the popular Chefs Challenge competition. He is responsible for the fabulous food and wine pairings at Kendall-Jackson. His go-to heirloom is Cherokee Purple, which he also grows at his Santa Rosa home. Photo: courtesy Kendall-Jackson

Tomorrow, Kendall-Jackson celebrates all things tomato with their 15th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, a 5-hour gourmet and sensory extravaganza with samples galore. Kendall-Jackson’s executive chef Justin Wangler will head a culinary team of twenty chefs and a large group of volunteers in preparing for the biggest annual event at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. Before joining the Kendall-Jackson Culinary Team in 2003, Justin worked at Syrah in Santa Rosa, at Saddleback Cellars and at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley.  He attended culinary school in his home state of North Carolina.

I spoke with Justin on Thursday, just before the Chef’s Challenge contenders were slated to arrive at the center to begin preparations for Saturday.  This year’s three visiting contenders—Jen Carroll (10 Arts Bistro & Lounge by Eric in Philadelphia), Chris Jacobsen (“CJ”) (The Yard in Santa Monica) and Kevin Gillespie (Woodfire Grill in Atlanta) —have all competed on Bravo’s hit TV show “Top Chef.” Justin was responsible for choosing all of them as well as for inviting the five local chefs—Douglas Keane (executive chef and owner of the two-Michelin-Star Cyrus in Healdsburg, serving from Shimo Modern Steak in Healdsburg), Paul Monti (Monti’s in Santa Rosa), Josh Silver (Petite Syrah and Jackson’s Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa), Jeff Mall (executive chef at Zin in Healdsburg, and John Ash in Santa Rosa).

First on their activities list was a trip up to Healdsburg to visit K-J’s 5-acre tomato garden, on which over 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes are grown.  The evening would be spent dining at some of Northern California’s finest restaurants including Syrah, in Santa Rosa, where Justin had previously cooked before K-J lured him away.  On Friday, each of the guest chefs would be paired up with a sous-chef from Kendall-Jackson’s staff and together they would strategize for the Chef’s Challenge competition.  The challenge, which is enormously popular, entails cooking three tomato-based dishes in 25 minutes, also incorporating the contents of a “mystery basket” of local meats and fish.  Here’s what Justin had to say on the eve of the big event:   

In your opinion, what are the best techniques to capture robust heirloom tomato flavor in cooking?

Justin Wangler:  We use lots of different techniques for lots of different tomatoes and I think there are great flavors to be had from all techniques.  This year we’ve had a lot of green tomatoes because they haven’t gotten ripe yet, so we’ve been making fried green tomatoes all summer.  Also for this event we do some oven-roasted ones where we just toss the tomatoes, kind of like a plum tomato, we slice it in half lengthwise and we toss it with garlic, olive oil, thyme, and rosemary and just put it the oven cut side up and turn the oven on to about 95 degrees and we just leave it overnight and then we come in the next morning and they’re oven-dried tomatoes, which intensifies the sugars.  It’s a good technique if you don’t have the best tomatoes.

But my personal favorite way is just raw tomatoes with really nice salt.  I like Malden sea salt flakes from Essex: it’s very flaky and looks like snowflakes and has a really crunchy texture.  I would imagine any high-end food purveyor would have it.

What are your favorite tomatoes just for eating with some good salt?

Justin Wangler:  I’m a big fan of the Cherokee Purple.  It’s so sweet and the color is so beautiful.  Usually at my house I try to be growing about five different tomato varieties at any given time.  I try to do one or two little cherry tomatoes, red or yellow, just for salads or snacking.  I try and mix it up.  We have so many seeds here, I try and change it up each year.  But I always like Yellow Sun Gold, and then we have one called Orange Currant which is super-sweet.  Usually I try and do a couple of big tomatoes like the Cherokee Purple, which is good for BLTs.  And then every year I try one I’ve never heard of, just for fun.  One of my favorites is the Big White Pink Stripe, a yellow tomato that almost looks like it’s tie-dyed inside with pink colors.  That’s a fun one.  We have 400 seeds on hand, so we try to do new stuff each year.

Which heirloom tomatoes do you prefer for sauces?

Justin Wangler:  Definitely the plum and Italian tomato varieties.  But what we do is as soon as we start slicing tomatoes we put a nice big container in the fridge and we save all the scraps and we just pile them in there.  Then usually about once a week we just toss it with garlic and some herbs and we roast it in the oven and caramelize it and then we puree that in a blender, strain it, put it in a pot and cook it down, and then we can it at the end of each season.  So we don’t waste anything.  All the tops and bottoms of our tomatoes we save, skin and everything.  We just remove the stems with what we call a tomato shark, like a melon baller, because the stems can make it a little bitter.

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

What are the most unusual or creative uses of heirloom tomatoes you’ve encountered—both successes and failures?

Justin Wangler:  Every year for our Chefs Competition I try to make a dessert.  One of my favorites was a cherry tomato clafouti–like a pancake batter with cherry tomatoes that’s baked.  I served it with a little whipped cream.  Actually it’s almost sweeter than with cherries, which are sweet and tart, but tomatoes are just sweet.  Also, one year Carrie Brown from Jimtown Store in Alexander Valley made a sweet tomato shortcake.  She made these little biscuits and put whipped cream on them and just marinated some really sweet tomatoes with a little bit of sugar and mint and it was really good.  And then the John Ash restaurant a couple of years ago did a tomato cheesecake and I think they won that year.  Then one year somebody peeled tomatoes, then blanched them, and then took little petals out and dipped them in chocolate, like tomato roses dipped in chocolate.  So there’s always fun and really exciting stuff.  Every year brings some new items and new things we haven’t seen before so we always look forward to the Tomato Festival to see what people are doing.

A highlight of every K-J Tomato Festival is the pairing of locally grown vine-ripened tomatoes with Kendall-Jackson wines.  What do you have planned for this year?

Justin Wangler:  We try to create dishes to match the flavors in the wine.  This year some of my favorites are Sauvignon Blanc with our fried green tomatoes and then we have a beautiful pasta that we’re pairing with our new Avant Chardonnay.

This year’s dishes prepared by our Culinary team:

Smoked Fennel & Paul Robeson Tomato Soup
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir

Fried Green Tomatoes with Delice de la Vallee
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Sauvignon Blanc

Farfalle with Marinated Yellow Marble Tomatoes & Point Reyes Mozzarella
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Avant Chardonnay

Fresh Baguette with Indian Moon Yellow Tomatoes, Bacon & Beehive Cheese
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay

Herb Roasted Boxcar Willie Tomatoes with Point Reyes Blue Cheese Bruschetta
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Syrah

Smoked Kobe Beef on Fresh Baguette with Bearnaise Aioli & Black From Tula Tomato
Paired with Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon

What’s the best way to care for heirloom tomatoes once you buy or pick them?

Justin Wangler:  At my house usually I set them with core side down in a cool dark place.  You can put them in a paper bag but you don’t want them touching too close together, you want a little air to circulate so they don’t get moldy. 

We’re often told it’s not good to refrigerate them.  Is that true, and if so, why?

Justin Wangler:  It changes the texture a little bit.  If you’re taking the time to grow or buy really good tomatoes, you might as well just leave them out and eat them as soon as possible.

What are you most looking forward to this weekend?

Justin Wangler:  The Heirloom Tomato Festival is one of those events where you get to see all your friends from around the county and also meet new chefs from all around the country.  I like the interaction with all the guests, and to see how much people enjoy themselves drinking great wine and eating lots of tomatoes.

Any cool tomato tips?

Justin Wangler:  We’ve got a slicing technique that you’re going to love.

Details:  Saturday, September 10, 2011 • 11am – 4pm, Kendall-Jackson Wine Center

5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, California 95439, information: 707.571.7500

TICKETS– This year’s festival is completely sold out, but make sure to check Kendall-Jackson’s webpage in May 2012 for information and tickets for the 16th Annual Festival in September 2012.  Tickets, $65, are pre-sold only (3,000 are available) and will be available online at, or at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center itself or the Healdsburg Tasting Room.  

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.

September 9, 2011 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment