If the tomatoes are hanging heavy on the vine, it’s summer in Sonoma. If you find yourself dreaming of tomato soup, tomato sauce, tomato ice cream, tomato-tomato-tomato, you know how well this gorgeous fruit grows in Wine Country.
The abundance also means it’s time for Sonoma’s king of harvest celebrations, the Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, taking place on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 in Santa Rosa.
Here are the delicious details to feed your fruit fantasies:
Plan to spend the entire day at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center for an extravaganza showcasing more than 175 heirloom tomato varieties in a flurry of exotic names like Blue Fruit, Peace Vine, Ding Wall Scotty and Pink Ping Pong.
Prepare to eat tomatoes, lots and lots of tomatoes. In the 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. tasting on the winery lawns, some 50 notable chefs will create recipes like previous years’ offerings of tomato cotton candy, tomato macaroons, tomato crème brulee, a bevy of BLTs, and sparkling tomato water glittering with cucumber "pearls."
The nearly 200 types of tomatoes will be on display and for tasting, too, under a giant tent on the lawn. It’s always surprising how the fruits often taste like their names – Brandywine, Campari, Garden Peach, Matt’s Wild Cherry and Yellow Pear.
Others, you simply have to wonder what the inspiration was: Azoychka Russian, Blaby Special, Hillbilly, McDreamy, Mortgage Lifter, and Czechoslovakian Stupice. Either way, they’re all distinctive and delicious.
The tomatoes have an extra special pedigree, since they were grown by culinary gardener Tucker Taylor, formerly of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville. He completely revamped the three-acre winery garden on Fulton Road just of Highway 101 in Santa Rosa, as well as its off-site tomato gardens, to produce the approximately 5,600 pounds (2.8 tons) of fruit needed for the festival.
Alongside will be oceans of wines. Kendall-Jackson offers wine samples of all kinds, drawing from its expansive collections including Vintner’s Reserve, Avant, Stature, Jackson Estate, and Grand Reserve.
It’s a serious feast. Last year, one happy guest trolling the food booths at the gala was overheard offering up a pretty good slogan.
“Eat until you can’t breathe; drink until you can’t walk.”
Indeed, plenty of guests end up sprawled in the shade on picnic blankets they’re brought, relishing the bouncy tunes of the live bands, or resting their feet in the lounge tent with its cozy couches. Others take time to stop and smell the roses – literally – as they wander the manicured rose gardens surrounding the chateau.
Just be sure to take notes in between forkfuls. Each chef competes to woo the most votes for his or her recipes honoring the tomatoes that are grown in every size, shape, and color imaginable in KJ’s culinary gardens.
In previous years, that’s meant tasty takes like gazpacho shots of green tomato and cucumber with lemon verbena-infused olive oil from Kendall-Jackson; almond macarons with tomato jam from Chloe’s; and Zinfandel barbecue pulled pork in spinach wrap with heirloom tomato cheese spread and yellow tomato aioli from Cloverdale’s Zinful Chef.
So which tomato temptation will reign supreme in the 2016 Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival competition? You go. You be the judge. You’ll find that you’ll say tomato – 175 different ways.