Kern County residents, like those in so many communities, are always game to have a good time for a good cause. That's certainly the case in Kernville, which will host the fourth annual Cork N Fork Wine & Food Festival on Nov. 9.
Sisters Elise Mondrovich and Dawn Jordan started the event in 2016 in the parking lot of their business, Starlite Lounge and Wine Bar. Since then, it has continued to grow and is now held in the meadow area of Rivernook Campground.
"Aesthetically, moving from our parking lot, which is asphalt and on a pretty steep incline, to this gorgeous grassy open meadow surrounded by trees and streams, was a dream," Mondrovich wrote in an email. "And then to get all the help and support from Jami (Ward) and the whole staff at the campground, I mean, I can't even begin to thank them enough."
Four years later, the event's mission remains the same. Along with promoting local restaurants and wineries from throughout the Central Coast, the festival aims to support a worthy cause. The first year benefitted the Erskine Fire Fund, raising $4,000 to assist Kern River Valley families and individuals with unfunded expenses due to the June 2016 blaze. The following year benefitted the preservation of the Kern River and surrounding areas through the Kern River Conservancy and Keepers of the Kern. Last year, the event raised $7,000 for the fireworks display at Lake Isabella that had been in danger of being canceled.
For this year's festival, two local organizations were selected: SOS (Strength of Shadow) Dog Rescue and FYDO (Fix Your Dog Organization).
"Not only are both of these groups truly tireless grass-roots organizations, but having a rescue dog of my own, I mean I know personally how important the work that they do is to the community," she said. "They save dogs, but these dogs often save their people, too."
SOS will have rescue dogs available for adoption at the event.
"Seeing the dogs there will really bring the point home about the important work that these volunteers do," Mondrovich said.
Of course, the day is also about having a good time sampling food and wines.
"Part of our goal in doing this event was to showcase the great restaurants we have in the Kern River Valley and let them shine. All the restaurants participating get to bring whatever they want to show the attendees a little taste of what they offer."
Mondrovich said Starlite will bring its famous mac 'n' four cheeses as well as chicken wings with two sauces and some desserts.
"It's our event, so we'd better deliver the goods!"
Mondrovich said guests can count on sampling Pizza Barn's gourmet pizzas, Cheryl's Diner's homemade pies and El Rio's Mexican food dishes.
"Every year these three restaurants have always been the first ones to raise their hands and step up to help support the cause."
Coming back for their second year are Lino's Greenhorn Grill, which impressed guests with Cuban sandwiches last year, and Fremont Deli. Mondrovich said deli owner Melissa Rae-Campbell promised to bring back her popular chile verde.
New to the festival this year are Dick Weed's Brews & Grub and Johnny McNally's, and Mondrovich said she is "excited to see (and taste) what they're going to bring."
As far as the "cork" of the festival, participating wineries will include Tlo Wines out of Bakersfield, Chronic Cellars, Opolo, J. Lohr, Eberle, Claiborne & Churchill, Fess Parker, Baileyana, Ancient Peaks, OVZ, Rancho Sisquoc, Sort This Out Cellars, Vines on the Marycrest and Niner.
The afternoon will also feature plenty of live music, Mondrovich said.
"We have some pretty stellar local talent that we're lucky to call friends, so we're thrilled to welcome back the KRV's (Kern River Valley's) own Out of the Blue, and Kern River Band, and Treacherous Edges is coming up from Ridgecrest to play for the revelers."
About 350 people attended last year and Mondrovich is hoping to hit or exceed 400 this year. She also hopes to beat last year's fund-raising total of $7,000.
As final prep continued, she said she's laser-focused on putting on another successful event.
" ... With the success and growth means more work goes into keeping the Cork N Fork meeting everyone's expectations, making sure everyone has a great time, and trying to make sure we make as much money for the charities as possible. At the end of the day, that's what it's about."
The fourth annual Cork N’ Fork Wine and Food Festival runs from noon to 4 p.m. Nov. 9 in the meadow area of Rivernook Campground, 14001 Sierra Way, Kernville. Tickets are $40 in advance through Brown Paper Tickets (brownpapertickets.com) or at Starlite Lounge, 13423 Sierra Way in Kernville. Cost is $50 for tickets at the event. Admission includes eight wine and eight food tastings and a souvenir wine glass (while supplies last). Additional tasting tickets will be available at the festival.
For more information, call 760-376-1895 or visit starliteloungewinebar.com.