The analogy doesn't stop there. The grape has a reputation for being a temperamental superstar, difficult to control and disastrous in the wrong hands. "It's one of the hardest grapes to work with, but it also can yield the most complex and giving wines in the world," says Kimberly Bernosky, co-owner of Noble Rot, one of several trendy Portland wine bars. Oregon Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling are all respectable. But, despite the chal-lenges, virtually everything in the state, from climate to soil to lifestyle, seems ideally suited for one purpose.

"In Oregon, you're either making Pinot Noir, or you're not in the wine business," says Sam Tannahill, the Portland-area winemaker partly responsible for the state's highest-rated wine ever. His Archery Summit Arcus Estate 1999 received a score of 95 from Wine Spectator and was widely hailed elsewhere.

Perhaps only sports fans care about numbers as much as wine people - not surprising given that the difference between a 95 and a 84 Wine Spectator ranking can mean the difference between a new Land Rover and a used Kia - and Oregon vintners have a crop load of statistics to back up their "golden age" gloss. Since 1991, the number of wineries in the state has risen from 78 to 197. Sales have increased 331 percent. Estimated revenue for 2001 was $195 million.