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

Saturday’s Juicy ticket– Kendall-Jackson’s Heirloom Tomato Festival

Photo-op? With over 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, in all sizes, shapes and colors, you can shoot away at Kendall-Jackson's 14th Heirloom Tomato Festival, Saturday, September 11, 2010.

Who doesn’t love a freshly-picked sun-ripened tomato?    Kendall-Jackson’s 14th Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival, at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, which I am heading to later today, will offer more than 170 heirloom varieties in every size, shape and color for tasting and ranking.   The festival—sorry, it’s SOLD OUT—raises money for the School Garden Network of Sonoma County and will feature some of our area’s top chefs in a timed cook-off creating new heirloom tomato masterpieces,  50 gourmet food purveyors offering generous samples of their own tomato-inspired dishes (tomatoes supplied by Kendall-Jackson), plenty of Kendall-Jackson wines especially paired with tomato delicacies, educational food and wine seminars, and music.  All the tomatoes will have been picked right from the Kendall-Jackson’s organic sensory culinary gardens which you will also be able to tour.  There is also a tomato-growing contest, adding a kind of county-fair quality to the event.

There is no food I look forward to more than tomatoes, and heirloom tomatoes, as opposed to hybrid tomatoes, just can’t be beat for their outstanding and varied flavors.  Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated varieties introduced before 1940, varieties that have been in circulation more than 50 years, or seeds that have been passed down for several generations through a family.

The KJ festival will feature about 170 varieties of classic and colorful heirlooms like Green Zebra, Stupice, Mortgage Lifter, and Cherokee Purple, which grow very well in Sonoma County, and the opportunity to try some varieties you may have never heard of.   I am looking forward to tasting the exotic-sounding “Zogola.”  The only reference that comes to mind is that of the legendary Zog of Albania, who became the Balkan nation’s first President and then King of Albania–he lived in dangerous times and enacted daring reform legislation.  I am expecting nothing less than a large, zesty, dynamic tomato.  In fact, taste aside, this is the underlying lure and legacy of the heirloom–we all love and need a good story, one that fuels our individual fantasies.   Go out and find your Zogola!  

Guests will be able to sample and rank freshly-picked tomatoes in pure form and sample tantatlizing tomato dishes created by nationally renowned chefs.

This year, the festival also features acclaimed author and horticultural guru Amy Goldman, from New York, whose book The Heirloom Tomato, is regarded as one of the best on the subject.  Goldman who also wrote best-selling books on melons and squashes, and is  chairman of the Seed Savers Exchange (the largest organization of rare seed devotes in the world), will lead a seminar on heirlooms at 1 p.m.   If you want a lasting treat, buy yourself a copy of her book at the festival, pour over Victor Schrager’s photography and try Goldman’s numerous recipes which are delicious, easy to follow and draw on diverse cultures.  If you want the real-deal heirloom experience, get some seeds, or a starter plant (if you must), get your hands dirty, and prepare yourself for the deeply gratifying process of watching nature take its course.  You will be subject to nature’s forces which may include gophers, insects and viruses but there is NOTHING more gratifying than seeing those first love apples start to appear and –at the perfect moment–which you decide–picking and eating them.

In terms of instant tomato gratification, the possibilities are endless at today’s festival, all you need to do is pace yourself over the course of the afternoon.  Bring some sun protection like a hat because it’s going to be hot.  And then there’s the wine–the event will feature continuous wine-tasting opportunities.   

TICKETS– this year’s festival is completely sold out.  Tickets, $65, are pre-sold only (3,000 are available) and are available online at, or the Kendall Wine Center itself or the Healdsburg Tasting Room.   Inquire about May.

September 11, 2010 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment