Red Thread™ Exclusive | Sonoma Taste Maker Series
Inspired stories about wine and taste makers.
by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML
Executive Chef Justin Wangler |Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens
In Sonoma’s thriving farm-to-table community, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates and Gardens groans with sensory delights, custom culinary experiences, and elaborate seasonal feasts, all paired with Jackson Family wines.
One man shoulders the responsibility for juggling it all, Executive Chef Justin Wangler.
Recently, I attended the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Garden October 2015 Farm-to-Table dinner as a guest, where I caught up with Chef Justin to find out what fans his foodie flame – and his passion for heirloom tomatoes.
R/t™ : Why food? What stoked the passion for you to enter the food and wine industry?
CJW: My mother was an excellent cook. I grew up eating well and spending time in the kitchen with her. In high school, I often cooked for my family and friends. I didn’t realize how well I ate until I went to college and saw what my roommates considered good food.
This is when it occurred to me that as long as I worked in a restaurant, I would always eat like a king!
R/t™ : What or who has inspired you most along your career path?
CJW: Chef Tom Young at Expressions in Hendersonville, N.C. He was the first chef that taught me how to cook, how to taste and also taught me a lot about wine. He encouraged me to attend culinary school and to move to wine country.
R/t™: How did you end up at Jackson Family Wines?
CJW: It’s an amazing company that treats their employees like family.
I met a lot of the Jackson Family Wine executives when I was the sous chef at Syrah, working for Josh Silvers in his open kitchen. I got to visit Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens and I was amazed by the gardens and the quality of the wines.
R/t™: What’s the most exciting aspect of working for Jackson Family Wines at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens? The food? The gardens? The wines? The people? All of the above? Something entirely different that resonates most for you?
CJW: All of the above. From the family’s commitment to producing high-quality wine, their farmers’ first philosophy and commitment to sustainability, to working with culinary gardener Tucker Taylor and getting to cook with amazing produce, to the knowledge & passion of the employees and our amazing wines. All of those aspects make it an exciting place to work.
R/t™ Talk about Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens. From food and wine pairings, to Sensory Garden experiences, to cooking classes – can you think of any other winery offering such an abundance of guest experiences? What about these experiences differentiates them from other winery and restaurant experiences in the Sonoma area?
CJW: Our mission at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Garden is to provide an immersive, educational experience that emphasizes the dynamic relationship between wine and food. We are farmers first, in the vineyard and in the garden, and our hospitality estate is an extension of Kendall-Jackson’s farm-to-table philosophy.
The creative force behind the wine and food program is led by me and our very talented team of chefs…they are always helping me to stay innovative. We create pairings inspired by the flavor affinities between Kendall-Jackson’s incredible range of wines and seasonal, fresh garden produce from our Estate gardens as well as other locally grown and raised foods.
Our new kitchen space, just steps from our culinary gardens, emphasizes our deep connection to working with the land and showing our guests how they might make wine and food a part of their daily lives at home. The kitchen offers the most state-of-the-art equipment to celebrate the seasonality of living in wine country. Our team can optimize the tremendous resources we have in our estate gardens to design new culinary experiences that delight and educate our guests about the affinities between food and wine.
R/t™ :What’s a typical day like for you? How do you juggle your job at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens with duties at Partake by KJ Restaurant in Healdsburg?
CJW: The great thing about working at Jackson Family Wine is that every day is different. Some days we’re making fancy meals on a mountaintop in the vineyards or teaching cooking classes, or harvesting produce from the garden. It’s never the same, which makes it fun.
We have an amazing chef, Calvin Moran, who runs the day-to-day operations at Partake by K-J in Healdsburg.
R/t™ : Tell readers a bit about the impetus behind the annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, and how it benefits the community.
CJW: The annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, held the last Saturday each September, is one of the season’s most anticipated event showcasing Sonoma County’s seasonal bounty for the past 19 years. The Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival is a full-day event featuring more than 150 varieties of heirloom tomatoes (grown in the Kendall-Jackson culinary gardens); a chef competition featuring Bravo’s Top Chef contenders; and tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurant chefs and food purveyors. Guests also enjoy wine tasting, live music and educational wine and garden seminars.
The popular Chef Challenge includes competitors from Bravo’s Top Chef, and I’m lucky enough to join them in the competition as well. The chefs whip up masterpieces featuring heirloom tomato varieties and a basket of mystery ingredients, all paired with Kendall-Jackson wines.
Ceres Community Project was the beneficiary of the event for the past few years. Their mission is to build healthy communities by restoring fresh, whole and organic food as the foundation of wellness and healing. Ceres’ volunteer chefs prepared 88,000 free and low-cost meals in 2014 for hundreds of Sonoma and Marin county families facing a health crisis such as cancer.
Guests at the 2015 Tomato Festival discover the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Garden’s recently expanded culinary and sensory gardens. Culinary gardener Tucker Taylor leads educational tours throughout the day to reveal the captivating garden transformation, including an exploration of the garden’s wide variety of specialty produce and beautiful design enhancements.
R/t™ Any major accomplishment or breakthrough at Jackson Family Wines for which you’re especially proud? Anything you still hope to accomplish?
We’ve also had the opportunity to work on some projects with WholeVine Products. We recently partnered Republic of Tea to create a variety of grape skin teas, called Sonoma Teas. They are wonderful teas and by using the grape skins it also helps us to reduce our waste stream.
R/t™ Anything else you’d care to share with readers that might enhance their understanding and experience of wine and food in general, and/or of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens in particular?
CJW: My best advice would be come out and see it for yourself! You truly can’t grasp the concept of farm to table until you walk the gardens, taste the herbs and vegetables from the ground and then see those on your plate during the wine and food pairing experience. At Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens, one of our primary goals is to educate our guests and illustrate that wine and food pairings can be approachable and quite simple. Our hope is they will take this knowledge with them and try it at home and enlighten their friends, maybe over a bottle of Kendall-Jackson wine.
R/t™ Finally, if your experience as Executive Chef at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens has taught you anything, it’s taught you…?
CJW: That quality is key. In both winemaking and cooking, if you start with high quality ingredients and amazing people, the experience will be awesome.
JFW Farm-to-Table Team
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