Water and wine: Good time or nightmare?

I'm reposing on a pal's pontoon boat on Emigrant Lake, appreciating both the white cushions that I'm sitting on that seem culled from the set of a Jean Harlow movie and the $28 bottle of white wine, Cowhorn's 2011 Spiral 36, that I'm sipping.

I'm mentally in such a state of slow motion that even on this windless day, stalled sailboats look as if they're whizzing past at a clip that could earn them a lane at Le Mans.

Then, from out of nowhere, I'm pounded by a drop of water. I look up in time to notice a pack of irrational, splashy teenagers who have yet to realize that it is dreadful to get wet. Before I can scold them, however, I am jolted into a terrifying "Apocalypse Now"-like flashback that is so powerful I almost release the death grip I always use on my wine glass.

My memory flies back to a frightful time when I was in the front seat of a jetboat driven by a water-mad sadist seemingly intent on getting his passengers to kiss the unforgiving 100-foot-high walls of Hellgate Canyon. I screamed for mercy so much that my gums were flapping more than a basset hound's in the back of a convertible.

Once we hit shore, the crew at the river lodge tried to coddle me with unlimited barbecued ribs and Wooldridge Creek wine, but I was still shaken an hour later when it was time to reboard and return to Grants Pass.

Surely, with full-bellied passengers, the driver would take it easy. Surely, I was delusional in thinking logic was being applied to this operation in any form. The driver swung us around and around, wove us through the wake of other flat-bottomed boats, recklessly propelled by hydro jets, and threatened to show us a barrel roll. As some passengers shouted, "This is awesome," I think I blacked out.

When I revived, I muttered this question: Why would anyone ruin wine by serving it near raging water?

Instead of seeking the professional therapy I so clearly need, I turned to chef Matthew Domingo who organizes food-paired excursions. I asked him how I could meld my love of wine with my noble fear of water sports.

Matthew, the founder of Farm to Fork Events, puts on a series of farm dinners across the state. This is a chef and event planner who can make an old barn look like something Ralph Lauren designed and hundreds of plates of food taste as if he spent all day preparing just one.

I've known the locavore devotee since his very first farm dinner in 2010 at Peter Salant's cattle ranch outside of Jacksonville. In all of my discussions with Matthew, he's been calm, reasonable and believable. I trust him.

Although I have never seen him without his signature porkpie hat, I understand that he is a river rat. He has burbled along the Rogue, Umpqua, Smith and Deschutes rivers and has produced two Farm to Fork rafting trips as part of his food adventure series.

This is a transcript of our phone conversation:

Me: Tell me the truth.

He: Of course.

Me: What is this madness about rafting and wine?

He: It's a combination of quintessential Oregon experiences — outdoors adventure, wild and scenic rivers, good food, good wine.

Me: How does a well-prepared meal and wine expand the whole rustic experience? Wouldn't a sack sandwich and a warm beer do the trick? Why waste the wine?

He: For me, a Pacific Northwest rafting trip should be on every foodie's and oenophile's bucket list. Don't get me wrong. There's something to be said about a nice beer and an awesome steak sandwich. But when you add locally sourced and artisan-prepared food and craft wine from a local vineyard to a river trip, it gives you a true sense of place in addition to a feeling of being truly taken care of.

Me: Did you just say the word, "pampering," or did I hear that from the other voice in my head?

He: The dichotomy of being wined and dined in a beautiful wild and scenic place is just so cool. There's literally nothing like it.

Me (resigned): OK. I'm slightly sold on the idea and ready to suit up. When's the next trip?

He: June on the Rogue River and July on the main Salmon River in Idaho. We are also planning a cycling and a back-country trip.

Me (exhaling enough to fill a hot-air balloon): Perfect. So I have a year to practice drinking wine while cresting whitecaps, cycling to mountaintops and backpacking with bears?

He: I think I'm losing our phone connection. (Click)

Me: Hello, hello? Is anyone talking to me now?

EVENT: If you're up north this Sunday, Sept. 16, Southern Oregon wine producers will be pouring more than 100 wines, from albarino to viognier, at the Savor Southern Oregon event from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Director Park in Portland. Tickets are $39 ($50 at the door) and include tastes from food purveyors Harry & David, Gary West Artisan Smoked Meats and Rogue Creamery. Chefs will be using ingredients from Willow-Witt Ranch in Ashland, Blue Fox Farm in Applegate and Rogue Valley Brambles. For more information, see www.savorsouthernoregon.com.

TASTED: I begged Laura Lotspeich of Trium Wines to tell me what to do with the fish that people keep wrapping up in my newspaper column and giving to me. She said fresh tuna deserves the hottest grill with ground pepper, black sesame seeds, wasabi and a really good syrah. The crabcakes can be drenched with lemon-basil butter and served with a crisp pinot gris. Shrimp can be steamed and marinated in lemon-pepper and olive oil and paired with a loaf of Sunstone Artisan Bakery bread and albarino.

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


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