In tune with Bells Up Winery in Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains

By on March 14, 2020
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David and Sara Specter purchased their Chehalem Mountains property in 2012, and they began planting cool-climate varieties the next year. (Richard Duval Images)

NEWBERG, Ore. — “Bells up” refers to a memorable moment in classical music when French horn players raise the bells of their instruments up to the heavens for a bright, brassy and dramatic projection. 

Oregon winemaker David Specter, who plays the French horn, and his marketing maven wife, Sara, found that musical moment a fitting metaphor for their aspirations when naming their bucolic project Bells Up Winery, which is perched in the Chehalem Mountains American Viticultural Area in the north Willamette Valley.

David was a corporate tax attorney in Cincinnati for more than a decade when he left that career to join the wine industry full-time. Bells Up Winery near Newberg, along with their 9-acre estate vineyard — born from rich Jory soil that was home to a Christmas tree farm and wild blackberries — was established in 2013. The energy and passion that Sara and David exude is palpable, while daughter Naomi and Cupcake (their 6-year-old Pomeranian winery mascot) provide enthusiastic support. The Specters produce about 500 cases a year.

Sitting at an elevation ranging from 420 to 630 feet, the dry-farmed vineyard began with Pinot Noir clones 667 and Pommard, initially planted in 2014. A year later came what is believed to be one Willamette Valley’s first sites for French hybrid Seyval Blanc. In 2016, the Specters added Pinot Noir clones Wädenswil, 113 and 943.

Midwest success sparks interest in Seyval Blanc

david specter bells up winery lineup - In tune with Bells Up Winery in Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains
David Specter began making wine as amateur in 2006 while working as a corporate tax attorney in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Richard Duval Images)

So why Seyval Blanc? As a home winemaker in Ohio, Dave produced a Seyval Blanc that received a gold medal, and the couple has been drawn to the variety ever since. Additionally, David and Sara liked the idea of planting a distinctively crisp, white variety that would stand out in Willamette Valley. After researching where the grape thrives, they felt confident that their site would be a perfect contender. And the youthful Seyval Blanc they have crafted convincingly indicates that it is.

Annual production also includes estate rosé of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc from Willamette Valley’s Plum Hill Vineyard and Pinot Noir from their estate vineyard, as well as from one micro grower in the Chehalem Mountains and another in the Yamhill-Carlton. They pull in Syrah from Summit View Vineyard in Milton-Freewater, which is nested within the Walla Walla Valley AVA. 

And Sara has branded each with their logo of David’s horn and the name of classical music pieces that prominently feature the brass instrument. 

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Bells Up Winery produces several expressions of Pinot Noir in Newberg, Ore. The current lineup includes Titan, Candide from Nemarniki Vineyard along Laurel Ridge and Villanelle off Tonnelier Vineyard. (Photo by Ellen Landis/EllenOnWine.com)

Bells Up Winery 2019 Rhapsody Pinot Blanc, Plum Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley, $28: This vibrant Pinot Blanc was aged sur lie in stainless steel for six months, giving it a rich texture. The nose offers up sun-ripened stone fruit that leads to minerally notes and a tapestry of peach, summer melon and apricot flavors. Crackling acidity keeps it well balanced.

Bells Up Winery 2019 Helios Estate Seyval Blanc, Chehalem Mountains, $28: Snappy and fresh, this wine captures the essence of this French hybrid. Planted in volcanic Jory soil and aged sur lie, the wine opens with leesy, tropical fruit notes. Bright and focused as crisp acidity and harmonious layers of star fruit, gooseberry and candied lemon traverse the palate with ease.

Bells Up Winery 2019 Prelude Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $22: Brimming with vibrancy, this dry Rosé was aged 6 months in neutral French oak, giving it a pretty softness on the palate, while brisk acids keep it nicely balanced. Strawberry, pomegranate, and red raspberry fruits entwine with a touch of spice, and a twist of orange pops on the refreshing finish.

Bells Up Winery 2017 Titan Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $40: A blend of Pommard, 777 and 115 clones from the Chehalem Mountains and Yamhill-Carlton AVAs, this lively Pinot Noir was aged 12 months in 32% new French oak. Cherry, plum, floral notes and a dusting of herbs interlace with a hint of licorice and sandalwood spice. Decant if imbibing now or hold for future enjoyment.

Bells Up Winery 2017 Candide Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $54: From the loess soils of Nemarniki Vineyard along Laurel Ridge comes this spirited Pinot Noir. Exhibiting aromas of black raspberry jam, it’s zesty after 12 months in 44% new French oak. Broad and mouthfilling on the palate with sweet red cherry, raspberries, cola, underlying oak and exotic spices cap the finish.

Bells Up Winery 2017 Villanelle Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, $54: Sourced from the 4-acre Tonnelier Vineyard, enticing aromas of forest berries and rose petals rise from the glass. Silky in texture and palate pleasing as black cherry, wild berry, anise, savoriness, hints of earth and crushed herbs entwine. Aging of 12 months on 40% new French oak gives the wine a toasty note, and the long finale is elegant.  

Bells Up Winery 2018 Summit View Vineyard Firebird Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $48: Beautifully expressive on the nose, here is a deep and delicious Syrah. From Ellisforde silt loam soils, it is well-structured with firm yet approachable tannins. Plum, Bing cherry and spice join accents of cured meats, and the flavors linger through the rich and pronounced finish.

  • Bells Up Winery is open year-round, and the Specters provide a warm and personalized welcome to visitors. Their charming tasting room is a renovated pole barn that served as a basketball court for the previous owners. Visits are scheduled by appointment. You can reach Sara and Dave via email at info@bellsupwinery.com, phone at (503) 537-1328 or their website at bellsupwinery.com.

About Ellen Landis

Ellen Landis is a certified sommelier, wine writer, wine educator, wine event moderator and frequent judge at prominent regional, national and international wine competitions. Ellen and her husband, chef Ken Landis, sold Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn, a boutique resort on Miramar Beach, Calif., in 2015 and relocated to the Pacific Northwest.

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