Dave Specter, owner and winemaker at Bells Up Winery in Willamette Valley, Oregon, loves a challenge. A French horn player throughout middle school and high school, little did he know that learning to play one of the most difficult instruments in the world would prepare him for becoming a winemaker.
For those who know nothing about music, the French horn is an unpredictable instrument…hence difficult. You never know if the sound that comes out is what you intended. Growing and harvesting wine grapes is unpredictable, too: drought, floods, storms, and insects are just a few factors that can upset a harvest. You could say that making wine is the physical expression of Dave’s passion for music. Or to put it another way, he loves a challenge—and just transferred it from playing the French horn to making wine.
From Tax Attorney To Winemaker
But the path to winemaker and owner of Bells Up was not a direct one. In 2006, Dave and his wife Sara began to make wine as a hobby in the basement of their Cincinnati home. Soon, Dave was hooked, and the couple began to travel to wine destinations—calling it research.
In 2008, Dave took a job working at a small winery in Cincinnati after his full-time job as a corporate tax attorney left him mentally and emotionally spent. Simultaneously, he earned his enology certificate from Washington State University. After Dave won two national amateur winemaking competitions, Sara put the house in Cincinnati for sale; they moved the family to Newburg, Oregon in 2012. That same year, they purchased the nine-acre estate in the Chehalem Mountains AVA that was to become Bells Up.
Bells Up, a micro boutique winery, was founded in 2013 and released the first vintage on Memorial Day 2015. After walking away from a successful career as a tax attorney, Dave had created his own “bells up” moment.
What Does Bells Up Mean?
The name Bells Up refers to a dramatic moment in a classical music score instructing French Horn players to raise their instruments’ bells, projecting sound with maximum intensity. Bells Up is a nod to the location of the winery on Bell Road and that French horn moment. Music continues to be a part of Dave’s professional life: he names his wines after various pieces of classical music, and the label includes an image of a French horn.
Today, Dave leads visitors through one-on-one private tastings at the estate winery. Bells Up produces pinot noir, rosé, pinot blanc, seyval blanc, syrah, and cabernet sauvignon from estate vineyards in Willamette Valley and micro-sites in Eastern Oregon. Note that Bells Up produces only 600 cases per year. If you want it, order it now!
Insider tip: Bells Up will soon produce sparkling wine.
As a member of the International Food Wine And Travel Writers Association, I joined Dave and Sara virtually for a tasting. The wines included their 2021 Jupiter Estate Pinot Noir from the Chehalem Mountains AVA. We also tried the 2021 Helios Estate Seyval Blanc, also from the Chehalen Mountains AVA.
2021 Helios Estate Seyval Blanc
The 2021 harvest was their fourth harvest of seyval blanc. Bells Up was the first to plant seyval blanc in Willamette Valley. Dave had a lot of success with it when learning the ropes in Cincinnati, and it continues to be a winner. It’s so successful that he is increasing the number of plantings.
The Helios Estate Seyval blanc is fermented in stainless steel to preserve the nose with its tropical fruit notes, which you may also notice on the palate. Aged on the lees for six months, it lends a slightly creamier mouthfeel to the wine with good acidity. Dave focuses on texture, and wants people to taste what they feel in their mouths. Only 64 cases of Helios were produced.
2021 Jupiter Estate Pinot Noir
Dave blended Pommard clones, 667, and 113 clones for his Jupiter pinot noir. The 2021 harvest presented some unique challenges, including a three-day “heat dome” in June, with record-high temperatures. Pinot noir is notoriously finicky and already difficult to achieve consistent ripeness across vineyards.
This wine can be drunk now, but would benefit from some time in the bottle in order best show the elegance, red-fruit flavors, and acidity. Decanting is an option if you prefer to drink it young. The 2021 Jupiter Estate Pinot Noir can be aged up to nine years.
Contact the winery for tastings and to order wine.
www.Bellsupwinery.com or 503-537-1328