Put a vroom in your viognier

Man against nature: It doesn't always have to be a battle.

I'm not talking about my justified fear of wildlife; the teeniest lizard in a field 100 feet away still has the potential to cause me bodily harm. Instead, I'm thinking of a complementary union: breeze-filled cars winding their way up country roads and stopping at sun-kissed vineyards.

My mind is on cars right now because soon zooming past us will be a caravan of coveted oldies participating in the ambitious Pebble Beach Motoring Classic tour, which covers 1,500 miles of high and low terrain and sublime landscapes in Washington, Oregon and California. No doubt there will be stops at wineries along the way before these rare automobiles arrive Aug. 19 on the Monterey Peninsula for the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the world's most prestigious car competition.

Year-round, wineries are magnets for cars with ooh la la. But right now, permissive weather is luring convertibles and rain-shy classics out of hiding, and countless car-club members and auto enthusiasts are motoring around Oregon's less-traveled back roads in search of natural landmarks and roadside fun.

"I've never been on one of these club tours where we didn't stop at a few wineries," says Tom Purcell, who is organizing next week's Rolls-Royce & Bentley Owners Club's Oregon tour. Wine tasters at Foris Vineyards and Bridgeview Vineyard & Winery in Cave Junction Tuesday, Aug. 7, may see a ritzy convoy of vintage and new Rolls and Bentleys.

Drooling car-parazzi may photograph a brand-new $400,000 Rolls Phantom, complete with custom drink cabinets, parked Friday, Aug. 10, in front of Ledger David Cellars' Central Point tasting room, or a 1952 Silver Wraith at the tour's next stop, RoxyAnn Winery in Medford. And the group is scheduled Saturday, Aug. 11, to be in Jacksonville, where Caprice Vineyards, Quady North, South Stage Cellars and others have tasting rooms. Find a seat, order a glass of wine and cheer on the parade.

Admit it. You have an affection for at least one automobile. Maybe it was your first. If you were lucky, it could have been a cool hand-me-down from your parents like an Aston Martin or a Karmann Ghia posing as a Porsche. But even if it was a Plymouth station wagon or a VW bug with a battered body, it still represented freedom. Power. Passion. And the opportunity to roam.

I fell in love with a Mercedes gull wing when I was young and impressionable. On my first baby-sitting job, I stood on the sidewalk and watched this fabulous machine float down our ho-hum tract house-lined street. The gleaming, silver spaceship with no protruding door handles then hovered in front of me, and I remember thinking that even though I didn't have money, a driver's license or even knew how to climb inside, I wanted one.

I've been smitten ever since. Fortunately, my affections for classy cars and fine wine often cross paths. In 2010, I was a passenger in a 1934 Lagonda on the California Mille, inspired by Italy's fabled Mille Miglia choreographed car tour. Ferrari, Jaguar and Alfa Romeo owners spent four days winding through 1,000 miles of Napa Valley's vineyard-lined roads, stopping at Nickel & Nickel winery, founded by the late Gil Nickel, a car enthusiast and champion vintage-auto racer.

In May this year, I was in another left-sided passenger seat — this time in a 1927 Bentley — during the Marin Sonoma Concours d'Elegance tour. Lunch was at the Keller Estate, along the Petaluma River in California. The winery, owned by one of the car world's respected collectors, shares acreage with four vast buildings, each devoted to French, Italian, British or German cars, all perfectly restored to museum quality.

Last month, participants in the Forest Grove Concours Vineyard & Lake Tour parked their Woody wagons, hot rods and sports cars at Elk Cove Vineyards for a dine-sip experience. The car owners displayed their four-wheeled treasures the next day at the 40th annual Forest Grove Concours d'Elegance.

There, I met Jim and Kay Cobb of Portland and their silver 1955 300 SL Mercedes. It looked just like my gull wing. She told me that he picked her up for their first date in this very car, and she knew right then — all those decades ago — that he was her man. Cars have that kind of power. Or is it the men in the cars?

EVENTS: Applegate School's music, art and farm programs will benefit from your attendance Saturday, Aug. 4, at the annual Applegate Valley Wine Auction at Wooldridge Creek Winery in Grants Pass. How fun does this sound? Chad Hahn and Gabrielle Rysula of Fulcrum Dining mobile kitchen will spread a Louisiana-style shrimp boil on butcher paper-topped tables and allow diners to eat with their hands. Tickets cost $75 and are limited to 100. For more information, contact Kara Olmo at 541-951-5273 or kara@wcwinery.com. Beforehand, you may want to walk across Kubli Road and check out Troon Vineyard's 40th anniversary party.

Also Saturday, Earl Jones of Abacela invites us to celebrate International Albarino Day at his Roseburg vineyard. I believe Abacela is the only Southern Oregon winery growing this Spanish grape, so here's a rare chance to gather around an outdoor adobe oven or under a shady trellis and enjoy a shrimp melt and glass of crisp 2011 Albarino for $12, or take home a bottle for $18. Call 541-679-6642 or follow Twitter postings at #AlbarinoFiesta.

TASTED: I have just returned from a three-day academic bacchanal, otherwise known as the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville. As I wade through notes of my grueling endeavor to taste 250 different pinot noirs from around the world, I'm sipping a local favorite: Irvine Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir ($45) made by Linda Donovan. Vineyard owners Doug and Dionne Irvine have plans to build a tasting room and 10-unit condo-hotel in downtown Ashland. Stay tuned.

Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email jeastman@mailtribune.com.


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