Jess Jackson, the late founder of Jackson Family Wines, had a thing about carrots.
As a child growing up in Depression-era Northern California, the story goes, he watched a neighbor pluck a fresh carrot from the soil. When the neighbor gave him a taste, Jackson had an epiphany, making an indelible connection between the earth’s bounty and harvest as the time to fully take advantage of it. This understanding informed his devotion to instilling a sense of time and place in his wines, and it’s continued to inspire the Jackson Family Wines culinary dream team behind the recently released “Season: Wine Country Food, Farming and Friends” (Cameron, 2018).
Structured around seasonal recipes and the year-round growing cycle of Wine Country, the cookbook follows the threads between farm and ranch, kitchen and well-paired wines. What keeps it from being a stuffy tome is the charm of its central characters — Justin, Tracey, Buttercup, and Farmer T — whose side notes and “True Confessions” on each recipe are as personal as their longtime friendships. “My favorite way to serve caviar is with crème fraîche and chives on low-sodium Pringles. Try it before you judge,” writes co-author and executive chef Justin Wangler alongside the recipe for blini with caviar.
But why a cookbook?
As part of the Kendall-Jackson culinary team led by Wangler, fellow chef and co-author Tracey Shepos Cenami, estate farmer Tucker Taylor (aka Farmer T), and pastry chef Robert “Buttercup” Nieto serve thousands of meals at public and private winery events and five-course tasting menus daily in the restaurant.
“People who visit us are always asking for recipes, they’re enthralled with how we cook,” says Shepos Cenami. As a longtime Sonoma County chef, she knows just about every farmer, cheesemaker, and producer within 100 miles. “We want this to … inspire them to go to local farm markets or even grow their own food,” she says. “Not everyone has the gardens we have, but everyone can get a taste of that.”
The recipes can be ambitious, requiring things like verjus, finishing salts, or sunchokes and referring to Liberty Duck Leg Confit as a “basic.” The K-J team has ready access to the best ingredients in the world and for them, sorrel aioli is a pretty simple recipe. But that’s also a Sonoma idyll — a vision of vineyard farm tables where women in gauzy dresses eat nasturtium leaf salad with local goat cheese in the summer sun. Tuna casserole in the microwave we ain’t.
An ode to all that we take for granted, consider “Seasons” a kitchen challenge or simply an expression of the best that Wine Country has to offer, 365 days of the year. You’ll be satiated either way.