Ron Helbig is part of a small but growing trend of Oregon winemakers who reach into Washington for grapes.
Helbig is owner and winemaker for Barking Frog in Carlton, Ore., a winery he launched in 2005. The retired Clackamas Community College drafting and manufacturing instructor began making wine as a hobby in the early 1990s. For Barking Frog's first five years, Helbig made his wine in Newberg. Now at 1,200 cases, he outgrew his original space and moved his production and tasting room to Carlton.
While Helbig makes pinot noir from Oregon grapes, the majority of his fruit comes from Washington. Because his winery is more than 200 miles away from his vineyard sources, Helbig can't regularly check the fruit, so he must trust and rely on the grower to keep an eye on the grapes and let him know when he should harvest.
"Working with fruit a state away can be a challenge," he said.
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And being a state away also presents challenges with his label. Helbig ran into a bit of trouble with the federal government a few years ago when he used "Yakima Valley" on his wines. It turns out the agency that regulates wine will allow an AVA to appear on the label only if the wine is produced in the same state as the AVA. So instead of putting "Horse Heaven Hills" or "Yakima Valley," Helbig instead simply labels it "Washington," along with the vineyard designation.
Helbig came up with the catchy name for his winery because he wanted something with a "frog" theme -- go into his tasting room sometime and ask him about his brush with the law over frogs -- and his research led him to the barking frog, a species whose croak sounds like a dog's bark. As legend goes, the barking frog is a symbol of prosperity in Native American lore, an audible symbol that the environment is in harmony.
Since his inaugural vintage, Helbig has used a glass closure called Vino-Seal. It's a product of Alcoa and is used by a handful of Northwest wineries. And his customers adore the glass "corks," he said.
"It has that technological 'wow' factor," Helbig said. "It's incredible. We have a bowl of them in the tasting room, and customers come in and want to buy them."
Here are a few new Barking Frog wines we've tasted. Buy from your favorite wine merchant or order directly from Barking Frog (www.barkingfrogwinery.com).
Barking Frog Winery 2008 Chapman Road Cuvée pinot boir, Chehalem Mountains, $34. This wine from what is sure to go down as a classic Oregon vintage opens with engaging aromas of black truffles, black cherries and raspberries wound around a core of chocolate, spice and oak. A tip and a sip bring rich flavors of plush red fruit, well-integrated tannins and a finish that reminded us a bit of a malted milk.
Barking Frog Winery 2007 Crawford Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, Washington, $34. This delicious wine opens with aromas of cola, black fruit, milk chocolate and eucalyptus, followed by bold flavors of black currants, black cherries and boysenberries, all backed with supple tannins that lead to a finish of Baker's chocolate.
Barking Frog Winery 2008 syrah, Washington, $28. This is a robust wine with aromas of plums, red vines and blackberries, followed by bold, rich flavors of blackberries, black tea, black licorice and dark chocolate, highlighed by a long, lingering finish. Enjoy with carne asada, lamb chops or beef stew.
Barking Frog Winery 2009 Elerding Vineyard barbera, Washington, $34. This rare Northwest barbera opens with aromas of ripe Bing cherries, dark plums, loganberries and something that reminded us of the wafer part of an Oreo cookie. It's a deliciously inviting wine on the palate, revealing flavors of black cherries, plums, tar and tobacco. It's beautifully balanced, thanks to bright acidity, moderate tannins and expressive fruit.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.