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She's your wine-tasting tour guide

Ever imagined a local wine-tasting tour that doesn't involve driving yourself?

Southern Oregon has a number of knowledgeable local people who offer winery tours by van or limo. You can even opt for your own personal tour guide.

Lorraine Rawls is a Rogue Valley native, born and raised in Ashland. She offers customized tours of Southern Oregon wineries to small groups — she takes up to four people at a time in her SUV — who wish to know more about this area and the people who grow the grapes and make the wine. She gets most of her clients through recommendations from local B&Bs, as well as from the Ashland Springs Hotel.

"I start out by talking to my clients, finding out what they are interested in. Then I construct a unique tour just for them," she said.

Rawls' first career was as a successful Western singer and songwriter, performing at regional music festivals.

"My songs are stories about the West, the land, horses and cowboys. On my tours, I build a story," Rawls explains. "When I began taking people on tours of the local wine scene, I wanted to include the stories of how these wineries began, how the owners and wine-makers came here, how they started, and the stories they want to tell with their wines."

Each trip focuses on a particular area — Bear Creek, the Upper Rogue or the Applegate Valley — and includes at least three wineries. Rawls generally starts with the smaller, boutique tasting rooms and finishes up at the bigger ones.

"The more people know about the winery, the more they connect with the wines," she observed.

The Bear Creek winery tour can include Dana Campbell, Grizzly Peak, Trium, DanCin, Roxy Ann or Paschal. The Upper Rogue tour visits Folin Cellars, Agate Ridge, Cliff Creek or Kriselle. The Applegate Valley usually starts with Cowhorn, always includes Plaisance, and ends at Red Lilly, Schmidt or Troon. The tours last anywhere from three hours for the Bear Creek wineries to four to five hours for the Upper Rogue and Applegate Valley.

Rawls' tours will often include visits to working farms and ranches, beautiful gardens or places unique to the valley's history, such as ghost towns, covered bridges and old pioneer cemeteries.

"There is a ranch in Eagle Point where horses perform tricks 'at liberty' — without saddles, bridles or lead ropes," Rawls says. "We've visited lavender farms and bison ranches."

"The van and limo tours do a fabulous job. I don't want to compete with them," Rawls says. "But as both the owner and the driver, and with a small group, I can be spontaneous about where and what we visit."

In the spring and fall, Rawls leads small groups on tours of France's Rhône Valley and Provence regions, visiting wineries, historic villages and Roman ruins. Last autumn, she took a group from Cliff Creek Cellars' wine club on the tour. A group from Roxy Ann's wine club is set to leave in May.

Rawls is an expert on the remote Camargue area of Provence and its ranches that raise the famous white horses and fighting black bulls.

"I learned about the Camargue in 2001," Rawls says. "I became intrigued with its unique culture. The cowboys are called 'gardians,' and the bulls they raise for their 'bull races' are not killed but become celebrities simply for their ferocity."

Rawls has written a book, "Wild Provence," produced a documentary, "Gardian Nation," and established a traveling museum exhibit on the region. Her Provence tours always include a stop at one of the working ranches, with an evening of local foods and Gypsy music.

If you are interested in a customized local Rogue Valley tour or one of the Provence trips, Rawls can be reached at 541-601-6150 or lrawlsoregon@hotmail.com.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.