The 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival is Almost Here

Here it comes: the 18th annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, held Sept. 27 at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens, in Fulton, California.

Sponsored by the Ceres Community Project, which supports individuals dealing with serious illness with free, delivered and nutrient-rich prepared meals made by young volunteer gardeners and chefs, the festival celebrates many things: the bounty of the annual harvest, the marriage of wine and food as perfected by the vintners and chefs who create fabulous foods in K-J’s kitchens and the heritage heirloom tomatoes grown by our Culinary Gardener, Tucker Taylor, in our garden — more than 150 different varieties, glowing like jewels in neon hues of fire red, sunset orange, plummy purple, burnished gold and gourd-striped green and beige.

Heirloom tomatoes are popular these days as an alternative to those tasteless, hard-as-a-rock tomatoes they sell in supermarkets. You can consider the popularity of heirlooms another instance of the farm-to-table preference for locally-grown produce that has also given us micro-greens. Kendall-Jackson was definitely ahead of the curve back in 1996 when we launched the festival, on the vision of founder Jess Jackson. Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, most home gardens had local varieties of tomatoes that were sweetly delicious, but with the rise of America’s supermarket culture, most of them virtually disappeared. Fortunately, rising prices and changing tastes have enabled farmers to rediscover these ancient varieties, which trace their origins not only to Mexico and Central America, but such distant countries as Russia and France.

Our team of chefs, led by Executive Chef Justin Wangler, labors hard to craft the perfect foods based on this bounty. They’re joined by some of the region’s finest restaurants, including Partake by K-J, offering up their own delicacies, so that attendees will have no shortage of fabulous things to munch on. And then, of course, there are delicious K-J wines to wash down the goodies. The festival atmosphere is added to by the sounds of the Carlos Herrera Band, whose Latin music taps deeply into strains of Salsa, Rumba, Cuban and traditional Spanish ballad rhythms.

There will be opportunities for the public to learn more about wine and its affinities with food. With my colleague, wine educator Pedro Rusk, I’ll be doing a seminar on the white wines of summer: Riesling, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The weather should be ideal: if historical averages hold true, it will be sunny and dry, with a high temperature of 84, cooling off to the 50s by night.

So stop on by and get your tickets today, they’re going fast!

Steve Heimoff is one of America’s most respected and well-known wine writers. The former West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and a contributor to Wine Spectator, he has also authored two books on the subject of California wine, including “New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff,” published in the fall of 2007.