Dave and Sara Specter are living models of the Oregon wine dream. In 2012, Dave traded in his successful tax attorney career in Ohio for one as a Pacific Northwest winemaker. The couple packed up their family and moved across the country from Cincinnati to Newberg, Oregon, where they transformed an old Christmas tree farm into a vibrant and productive vineyard and winery.
For the Specters, wine making began as a couple’s activity; something the two could do together. While some people may take cooking classes, the Specters bought wine kits instead, making wine in their basement. Dave started experimenting with different grape varieties, and the one-time basement activity turned into a hobby that took over the house, which evolved into a lifestyle, a new career, and a new home. In Dave’s words, “Essentially, it was a hobby that grew out of control.”
Wine making eventually led to wine travel, and Dave and Sara found themselves visiting the country’s offbeat wine regions, which is what brought them to Oregon. In 2008, they spent two weeks traveling around, falling in love with the region — the scenery, the climate, the wines and intimate tasting experiences. All things they now provide in their own estate tasting room.
When the couple moved to the Willamette Valley, they planted their vineyard to Pinot noir, while purchasing fruit from local vineyards to build their portfolio. The pair not only had a vision of connecting their present with their past, but they also had the smarts to realize having a key differentiator would set Dave’s wines apart from others in the Valley. Having won two amateur national wine making competitions using Seyval blanc in Ohio, and believing the grape would grow well in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, they decided to plant this variety in their estate vineyard as well, becoming the first in the Willamette Valley and the second in the state to grow the varietal. They now propagate their own Seyval blanc vines in their greenhouse.
One visit to Bells Up is all it takes to realize these are humble people in a humble space. With the trend of all the “Domaines” opening up, the couple admitted their micro-boutique winery was anything but. Their tasting room is in a converted pole barn, and though they’ve remodeled it and added a porch to soak up the Valley views, the place is anything but pretentious. They believe in a casual but intimate vibe, everyday wines, and a “keep-it-simple wine making approach that can be enjoyed with friends. Dave says, “While Sara and I enjoy wine, nobody would ever confuse us with wine snobs.”
And Bells Up continues to grow. The Specters just completed construction on their new processing facility, so for the first time in six years, they’ll be doing 100 percent of the production on site for the 2019 harvest. They’ll also be making their first estate Pinot noir with the 2019 harvest as well (as the oldest vines are now sixth leaf), their third Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, and their second commercial bottling of Seyval Blanc.
As for the name? Aside from law, Dave’s background is in music. He played French Horn for more than 20 years, so in choosing a name for the winery, he wanted to use a name that connected to that. When they coincidently purchased their property on Bell Road, it seemed to be a perfect fit. “Bells Up” is a notation in the sheet music that directs the French Horns to lift the bells of their instruments to direct the sound more intensely during dramatic moments. Each wine is named for a piece of music that prominently features the French Horn. For example: Rhapsody Pinot Blanc for Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue or Titan Pinot Noir for Mahler’s flagship work. Dave says, “Now is our time to shine, which is why the winery has become our #bellsupmoment.”