THE LAUNCH: At the tiny, woods-ensconced Galice Resort, the damp air smells like a sharpened pencil. It makes me think of Cabernet Franc. For some people, that first whiff of the uncorrupted outdoors might trigger a set of survival instincts. But I have none of those. What I have are ephemeral associations with lesser-known Bordeaux wine varietals. And so here I am, on a Wine on the River tour with a winemaker, a pair of chefs, a nimble river crew, and a handful of fellow fortunate souls. We get the necessary primer before putting in: Drink lots of water, they tell us. Always, but especially on this trip, what with the three cases of wine being loaded onto the rafts.
"LUNCHTIME": That's the answer I get when I inquire about the time. Days here are measured in meals. We've lounged away the morning on a people-free, rapids-free stretch of river in a thickly forested gorge, under a cover of damp fog--like drifting through a rain cloud. Even with limited visibility, we've seen a great blue heron, a kingfisher, Canada geese, an osprey, a quick glimpse of an otter, and a bald eagle. The river is calm, and we don't have to paddle if we don't want to. Yet, somehow, a stretch and a bite to eat are in order. The chefs have managed to pack all our food, gear, and elegantly rustic table settings on the rafts, leaving the rest of us to kick back while they set up and break down each feast.
WINE-THIRTY: After several miles of floating, we pull off at the Tyee Campground, a woodsy gravel bar. For the first time in my life, I must assemble a tent alone. But the payoff is grand: I sit down to cumin-grilled Tawanda Farms lamb chops with apricot-jalapeno chutney, assorted Oregon cheeses, fruit, egplant puree, green olive tapenade, cucumber salad, and red pepper relish with wontons and flatbread; followed by pan-seared king salmon with Oregon wasabi-thyme aioli, lemongrass couscous, and ginger-citrus slaw; and finally topped off with Dagoba chocolate s'mores with homemade marshmallows--each course paired with wine. It'll go on like this for two more nights. I will persevere.
SPLASHING AROUND: I try out one of the inflatable kayaks we've been towing. Nobody, including me, seems to care that I can barely steer. It could just be hypothermia from playing in the 58º water, but I'm feeling close to the river.
GROUP BONDING: This evening's icebreaker involves a spree of mutual toenail painting. Oh, and wine. Lots of wine. Personalities have emerged. Maybe it's the Sewell Rhône Blend talking, but I like these people. After dark, the stars go so many layers deep that a few of us decide to sleep directly under them, and our tents become mere storage units.
CAMPSITE GOURMET: At the grassy, rolling hillside of the Tacoma Campground, we dine under an old oak tree: smoked steelhead with cream cheese, capers, and onions; roasted beets with sheep's-milk feta; greens with candied hazelnuts; grilled American Kobe-style flatiron steak with caramelized onions and housemade Worcestershire. The brussels sprouts sauteed with andouille win multiple approvals,including several from people who thought they didn't like brussels sprouts.
THE LAST TOAST: One last bracing swim and one final meal, when we compare favorite flavors: the Cinsault Rosé, the Malbec, the Fiano, which worked so well with that asparagus; the crawfish cakes with remoulade, the seared duck breast, the lemon sponge cake with huckleberry compote, the everything else. It's safe to say that the uncorrupted outdoors has heightened my sense of deliciousness.