Susan, an articulate woman with the relaxed yet alert manner of an academic, notes that the Pinot Noir grape itself is finicky and demands kid-glove handling. Because this results in steeper prices than most other varietals, taking the ultra-premium Pinot plunge required a certain amount of faith on her part. With wines like the velvety and exquisite 1998 Old Vineyard Block Pinot Noir, the hunch has paid off in spades. It's a dark, dense Pinot with gorgeously concentrated blackberry and cherry fruit.

BRICK HOUSE 1998 "LES DIJONNAIS" ($45)


Doug Tunnell is a certified organic producer with 36,000 vines located on a 40-acre farm above the Chehalem Valley. A former Middle East correspondent for CBS, Tunnell grew up on the Willamette River, but he was a novice at viticulture when he first planted grapes on these sloping vineyards in 1990. He must have had a knack. After selling to other wineries, his own Brick House label debuted in 1993 to critical acclaim.

The Dijon block, which produces the Pinot named "Les Dijonnais," holds three clones of Pinot Noir that originated in Morey-St-Denis, on Burgundy's Côte d'Or. Tunnell relies solely on indigenous yeasts in the winery, and the wines are seldom fined and never filtered. He likes to think that when you taste these wines, you're tasting the true terroir of the Willamette region. The 1998 vintage of "Les Dijonnais" is lush and round with pure, tangy flavors and sweet, spicy oak.

CHEHALEM 1999 RION RESERVE ($50)


Harry Peterson-Nedry is a former chemist and executive in the high-tech industry, where he focused his talents on quality control. Not a bad résumé for a vintner: Quality is the name of the game at Chehalem. After developing his Ridgecrest vineyard, first planted in 1980, and selling grapes to other wineries for a decade, Peterson-Nedry released the first Chehalem Pinot with the 1990 vintage. Today, he shares winemaking responsibilities with Oregon wine veteran Cheryl Francis.