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Heirloom treasures

  • Market Salad by Chloe's French Cafe-Catering features arugula spring mix lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, Armenian cucumbers, black mission fig, St. George cheese, toasted pepitas, orange zest, Italian parsley and basil grain mustard vinaigrette. (Christopher Chung / PD)

In the Spanish town of Bunol, tomato season is celebrated each year with a giant, tomato-throwing brawl known as La Tomatina.

On the last Wednesday of August, participants pull on goggles and gloves and throw crushed tomatoes, leaving behind a river of juice.

At Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate in Santa Rosa, the height of tomato season is greeted each September with an equally enthusiastic, if a bit more sedate, celebration.

The difference is that the tomatoes at Kendall-Jackson's 16th annual Heirloom Tomato Festival this Saturday have been carefully nurtured and picked for optimal flavor.

Instead of sacrificing the fruit of its labors to a frenzied food fight, the winery delivers crates of perfectly ripe tomatoes to dozens of local chefs and caterers, who turn them into all kinds of tasty bites to be sampled at the festival.

The winery also holds an Heirloom Tomato Competition each year at the festival. In all, organizers estimate they will serve more than 9,000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes this weekend.

“The best part of the festival is getting a chance to taste all the different dishes from the chefs,” said Justin Wangler, executive chef of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate. “And tomato fanatics can taste the different varieties of tomatoes.”

Every year, the winery saves the seeds from the competition's prize-winning tomatoes, then plants them in the garden. This year, there will be 75 varieties of tomatoes, from Aunt Ruby's German Green to Mortgage Lifter.

In an effort to expand the festival, the winery has added a Celebrity Chef Dinner on Friday, hosted by Sonoma County's own Guy Fieri along with guest chef Mario Batali of New York. Fieri's foundation, Cooking With Kids, will benefit from the weekend.

Saturday's day-long smorgasbord of activities includes garden tours and workshops, wine seminars and cheese pairings, plus live Latin music by the Carlos Herrera Band.

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