Since its start as a one-day event drawing around 250 people in 2007, the Tehachapi Food & Wine Festival has chugged along like the trains headed through the town's famed loop. From those humble beginnings, the annual event, scheduled for Aug. 4, now serves as the centerpiece of a Discover Tehachapi weekend, promising to highlight the community's best.
The festival, like the town's profile, has grown dramatically, to the joy of organizer Anthony McDemas.
"We're growing it steadily. We want to make it a better quality experience each year," McDemas said of the event, expected to draw 10 times the original attendance figure this year.
Because it is a wine festival, the event will be restricted to visitors 21 and over for the first time, a decision McDemas said stemmed from the event's increasing popularity among adults.
"I'd rather stay ahead of that curve. We want to encourage people to come up and go home safely. That's important to us. We've doubled the number of security guards. They'll be moving near the gates around 9" to inquire if people need taxis or other assistance, McDemas said.
But even as the festival adapts, some things stay the same.
"We're keeping our prices at $40 (for general admission). We want the clerk at Albertsons to enjoy an elegant evening and feel like they're wealthy."
Guests should expect a treat, with the promise of eight food tastings and eight 1-ounce wine pours, provided by more than 20 wineries, and 20-plus restaurants and businesses.
Most participating businesses come from Tehachapi, including Pacino's Spaghetti Factory, the Apple Shed, Kelcy's Cafe, Mike's Farmhouse Cafe, Don Juan's Latin Fusion Cuisine, City Folks Ranch, The Fez Cafe, Tehachapi Culinary Studio, Taco Samich, The Wine & Cheese Cellar and TK's Pizza and Pasta.
Nearby cities also take part, including Bakersfield, with booths for Sandrini's, Ben & Jerry's, The Garden Spot, the Bistro Bakersfield, Cafe Crepes, Mom-n-Dems, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets and newcomer Padre Hotel; and Lancaster, with The Whole Wheatery, Bex Grill and Rae's Cup + Cake Bakeshop.
Three area farms will take part in a unique way, via the returning Food to Fork demonstration with Yannick Marchand. McDemas said the chef will incorporate products from Weiser, Moessner and Murray Family farms for his live cooking event.
In the same area, another chef will heat up the evening with a food and beer pairing. Rich Mead, who owns Sage in Newport Beach, will bring a Spanish favorite to the festival.
"He's roasting padron peppers," McDemas said. "It's done in a basket in open flame, a big wheel with a screen around it, sort of like they use for bingo. He puts them in a cone like ice cream, served with a little sea salt. Not hot, they're very mild, but one out of 10 can be hot. It's Spanish roulette. You never know which is the spicy one."
In case your luck doesn't hold, the peppers will be served with beer from El Segundo Brewery, which will feature its White Dog IPA and Blue House citra pale.
Beer lovers at the festival can also enjoy a Belgian trio from Advanced Beverage Co. and offerings from Kinetic Brewing Co. out of Lancaster. The breweries are part of the "man cave" the festival offers.
"About 70 percent of our ticket buyers are women, but they bring men," McDemas said. As a result, the event hosts a cigar and port lounge, blackjack and televised sporting events.
Adding to the energy are live performances through the night. Eagles Heart, an American Indian drum circle and dance group, has expanded and refined its performance.
Musically, Foster Campbell and Friends will headline, with performances by show opener and "Tehachapi Idol" winner Paisley Bishop, Frank Sinatra impersonator Vaughn Suponatime and Highline, a Tom Petty tribute band.
"Singer Dave Bouldin is the spitting image of Tom Petty," McDemas said. "He wears a hat, has the haircut -- he really embodies Tom Petty. They've been playing two or three years. They're phenomenal."
Music is great, but it wouldn't be the food and wine festival without the vino. Tehachapi's Souza Family and Triassic Legacy vineyards lead the pack, which includes Imbibe Wine and Spirit Merchant, Croad Vineyards and Drunken Goat Winery (showing its wine press machinery).
Don Juan's, a Tehachapi Latin fusion restaurant, will offer a mojito and sangria bar along with a selection of Chilean and Argentinian wines. Some of that will be part of the VIP lounge, which is not open to everyone.
VIP passes, which cost $100 and were still available as of Tuesday, offer a private and early entrance (5:30 p.m.), larger wine pours and the services of a private pasta chef in the lounge area.
For those who really want to roll in style, they can book any number of hotel packages, offered through tehachapitours.com, providing accommodations for the weekend. Events kick off Aug. 3 with a First Friday art walk and the start of the Poker Run, which goes all weekend, allowing players to collect cards from area businesses to play their best poker hand.
Booking a room in town may be just the thing if you want to hit the after-party at Pacino's Spaghetti Factory. The event, which will feature live music with a $5 cover, will run from when the festival ends (10 p.m.) until 2 a.m.
Don't make it too late a night if you have one of the coveted tickets to an ostrich egg brunch at The Wine & Cheese Cellar on Aug. 5. Eggs from Tehachapi's Indian Point Ostrich Ranch will be scrambled and served with rosemary potatoes, bacon, fruit salad, crepe-wrapped asparagus and more. Seating is capped at 50, so act quickly if you want to add that to the itinerary. The cost is $24.95; call 374-0395 or purchase tickets online at tehachapifoodandwine.com.
The ranch, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, will host tours for the package deals as well as the general public on Sunday.
There's still time to get in on all the fun that Tehachapi promises for next weekend -- but don't delay buying those tickets.
"Ticket presale is off the charts. I've never had one like this," McDemas said. "So many people have come and keep coming back.
"I want it to be a midsummer night's dream. That's why I have (people dressed as) fairies giving out Mardi Gras beads."