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Kendall-Jackson Culinary Gardens Tour and Wine and Food Pairing

One thing I knew prior to my first-time visit to this Sonoma Wine Country classic, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens, was that I'd be tasting wines with a familiar bottling logo I've browsed and frequently bought in my neighborhood grocery store here in Sonoma County.

Who hasn't heard of Kendall-Jackson, one of the country's highest-selling brands of "super-premium" wine (retailing for more than $15 a bottle)? The fact though, that this iconic winery is home to one of the most dynamic culinary gardens in the world is a tasty and intriguing discovery for those of us who love food as much as we enjoy a great glass of wine.

Family and cutting edge-environmentalism comes first with the movers and shakers, growers and makers at this refreshingly down-to-earth, international brand.

Kendall-Jackson, has, for the past three decades, been firmly entrenched in a sprawling 120-acre property, with Chateau tasting room, kitchen, and culinary gardens, a few miles north of Santa Rosa, in unassuming Fulton.

Not only is Kendall-Jackson one of the top  family-owned wineries among American companies recognized for leadership in clean energy, its passionate team of trailblazing superstars in the world of wine and food holds sustainable education every bit as important as its world-class winemaking.

For the visiting wine-lover, an exclusive range of estate and reserve wines awaits the wine estate and garden-goer. It's a chance to get to know the complete Kendall-Jackson and what better way than by touring and tasting its excellent demonstration vineyard culinary gardens and a seated wine and food pairing?

K-J's Master Gardener Tucker Taylor is hugely popular in the burgeoning scene of international kitchen gardening — redefining the way we farm our food, what we eat and how we connect these trends around the globe.

I met with Tucker on an unseasonably warm, late summer's day to walk and talk our way through the former French Laundry culinary gardener's most recent wonderland of edible delights.

I stopped by to learn more about the wildly flourishing redesign of the winery's culinary gardens. Tucker's enthusiasm for his showcase three-and-a-half acres of immaculately tended growing tunnels and beds speaks volumes for he and his team of eight's love of the land and pioneering practice in culinary planting, composting, crop rotation, drip systems, and cover crops.

Intense flavors, nutrition, and presentation are equal parts of the success story of these showcase gardens.

Tucker came on board at KJ, after bidding a fond and appreciative farewell to five years in Napa County's Yountville. It was a call to embrace a more rustic lifestyle of coastal Sonoma County with its access to the fruits of the sea as well as the land.

His frequent social media postings of stunning garden bounty has earned him an outrageous following of more than 43,000 culinary garden enthusiasts around the world. Follow him on Instagram as FARMERT. Add other popular social media sites into the mix and Tucker Taylor is a veritable, although, pleasingly humble rock star of the modern soil.

"Most of what we grow is paired with wines in the Kendall-Jackson portfolio, in the kitchen and at events on-site and throughout the company portfolio," explained Tucker. Still, chefs at several of the highest acclaimed Bay Area restaurants clamor to feature the master gardener's more exotic offerings, often as sought-after garnishes for amuse bouche (bite-sized hors d'oeuvre).

Top amongst the most discerning chefs are Tucker's favorite rare finds: sparkly, crunchy succulent, known as ice lettuce, originating from coastal Africa; beautiful, blue-grey oyster leaves from the moors of Scotland, and a more delicate Japanese leaf, known as Kinome.

"I'm constantly looking for new crops from around the globe to amuse chefs," he said.

"We consider ourselves as farmers of the soil first and foremost," said Tucker, with regards to the marriage of wine with food. "This is the foremost foundation of everything we do here."

Not everyone has the acreage that Tucker has to work with. "I hope to inspire visitors to go home and grow gardens for themselves; even herbs in pots enhance home cooking".

Our informative walk led us into the elegant, understated dining room that welcomes guests for great value $40 seated wine and food pairings (preferably by appointment, but available seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

Tucker left me in the capable hands of the winery's culinary team, under the care of executive chef Justin Wangler. Delicious seven-course pairings reflect the gardens' season with sophisticated small bites and the best of the Kendall-Jackson estate and reserve wines.

I found both wine host and chefs genuinely welcoming, informative and attentive and took note of a generous policy towards those with food allergies, of which, I am thankful to have none!

Top pick was a superb yellowtail with estate cucumber, ice lettuce, kohlrabi, and Tobiko caviar paired with a 2013 Jackson Estate Camelot Highland Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County.

If you take a Culinary Gardens Tour daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., or 3 p.m. do follow it up with a seated food and wine pairing.

Plan ahead and join the friendly folks at Kendall Jackson for a Cooking with K-J evening of garden, food, and wine exploration. Every third Tuesday of each month, guests are invited to take part in a hands-on, unique seasonal experience designed by master gardener Tyler and the winery's expert culinary team.

Collect food in the garden, discover new techniques in the kitchen and enjoy the fruits of your labor with a one-of-a-kind meal paired with Kendall- Jackson estate wines. From grilling to wood oven pizza making, pickling and preserving (demo), to Thanksgiving turkey, traditional sides and how to make the perfect pumpkin pie, reservations are required — call 800-769-3649.

If time is of the essence and you're flying into Northern California from elsewhere, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens are minutes from the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport. Make it a convenient overnight with a stay at nearby Hilton Sonoma Wine Country. And don't miss out on a late evening bite at Willi's Wine Bar, a much-loved gem in the area, featuring international small plates and wines by the glass — a perfect way to wind up your day in wine country.

Extend the concept of cooking seasonally, with the best of fresh, local ingredients with a reservation for dinner at John Ash & Co. Restaurant and, if you're planning for a truly memorable stay, splash out on a room in the spectacular, four diamond, luxury Vintner's Inn.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens are located at 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, CA 95439. Grounds and tasting room are open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except major holidays.

Find more things to do in Sonoma County. Get a free wineries map and guide book here.

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