Micro-boutique winery Bells Up offers a unique story, a wonderful husband-and-wife team, and classic Oregon Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Rosé of Pinot Noir and Syrah. Dave and Sara Specter poured their melodious lineup for us at their Newberg, OR winery this summer. Their wines hit all the right notes. For instance, their Seyval Blanc struck a chord. Above all, this fun and talented couple is known for their hospitality and building relationships with their customers. Read on for more details.
Bells Up Customer Service
Bells Up is known for excellent customer service. Dave and Sara provide private tastings, where their attention is only on you and not on other guests. Dave says he only wants direct-to-consumer sales. “We can say we’ve met everyone we’ve sold wine to.” For that reason, you cannot buy Bells Up wine online. You can send email or phone to order wine, but “we want a conversation and not an impersonal point-click online sale.” Dave is producing only 500 cases this year, and doesn’t expect to make more than 1,000 cases a year in the future.
Bells Up Story
“We all have two lives, and the second begins the moment we realize we only get one.” – Confucius
This quote underlines Dave and Sara’s journey. Dave describes himself as “a recovering corporate tax attorney who worked for more than a decade at two Big 4 accounting firms.” Sara has 20-plus years as a marketing consultant and writer. Their “second life” began when they left Cincinnati in 2012, and moved to Newberg, Oregon to establish Bells Up Winery.
Many steps occurred along the way, as Dave grew from amateur winemaking hobbyist to professional winemaker in three years. It’s a great story, which you can read on their website.
For example, the musical term “Bells Up” refers to a dramatic moment in classical music where the composer instructs French horn players to lift up the bells of their instruments to project sound with maximum intensity. Dave played the French horn for 20-plus years, and says the winery is his “Bells Up Moment.”
Bells Up Estate Vineyard
The nine-acre Bells Up estate vineyard is comprised of volcanic Jory soil in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, north of Newberg. Dave planted Heritage Pommard and Dijon 667 clones in 2014. Next, he planted the only block of Seyval Blanc in the entire Willamette Valley. In 2016, Dave followed with Wadenswil and Dijon clones 113 and 943. Clone 943 is very rare in Oregon, known for tiny berries and intense flavors. This is its first year in production. Finally, he expanded the Seyval Blanc block.
Bells Up Wine
At their tasting room overlooking the vineyard, Dave and Sara poured eight different wines for us. We had so much fun because their joy is contagious. Keeping with the musical theme, each wine is named after compositions, and the French horn logo is on every bottle.
2020 Rhapsody Pinot Blanc ($32)
Named for George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” this pretty wine is food-friendly and fuller-bodied than many whites. Dave describes it as complex as Chardonnay without the Oregon Chard price tag. There is no oak in this 100% Pinot Blanc from 13-year vines. Six months in stainless steel tanks also brings crisp acidity, considerable salinity and the minerality that we adore. So it’s no surprise that we brought this wine home with us. Enjoy it with salad, seafood dishes or roasted chicken or simply with soft, yummy cheese. Delicious!
2020 Helios Seyval Blanc ($40)
We also took home this wine, which is our favorite in the lineup. Bells Up is the only winery in the Willamette Valley to plant Seyval, and only the second in Oregon. Named for Carl Nielsen’s “Helios Overture, Opus 18,” this is a big cult wine among Bells Up fans. Count us in. We love the citrus and pineapple flavors laced with minerality. Pair it with seafood, fish tacos or pasta with white sauce. This vintage is sold out but the 2021 will be available next spring. Mark your calendars!
2020 Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir ($28)
This is one of the darkest, most flavorful and savory Rosés we have ever experienced. The color makes you expect it to be sweet, but it’s not. Think strawberries, raspberries, cherries, watermelon and oranges. Dave calls it a “food rosé” that you could serve with a variety of dishes ranging from salads to cheeseburgers. Named for Franz Liszt’s “Symphinic Poem No. 3: Les Preludes,” the grapes are 50% Pommard and 50% Dijon 667 clones on seven-year vines.
2018 Titan Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($44)
Dave named Titan for Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major, “Titan.” Unlike the other Pinot Noirs in his portfolio, this is a harmonious blend of two vineyards in Chehalem Mountains AVA (10-year vines) and Yamhill-Carlton (18-year-vines). The combination of Pommard and Dijon Clones 115 and 777 brings layers of integrated plum and cherry flavors, structure and balance. Sara says it’s “Oregon in a bottle” due to the different AVAs and clones. As well, this wine pairs perfectly with salmon.
2019 Jupiter Pinot Noir ($48)
This impressive new release is Bells Up’s first 100% estate Pinot Noir, and therefore an exciting milestone. In other words, while Dave blends some estate grapes in their wines, Jupiter is their debut Pinot Noir made entirely from the original plantings of Pommard and Dijon 667 clones. This soft, nuanced, complex, elegant Pinot Noir features spices on the nose and intense red and dark fruit flavors. It needs decanting, but can be aged 7-10 years. Dave named it for both Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter.”
2018 Candide Reserve Pinot Noir ($54)
Sara calls this their “steak wine.” She says it’s leaner than their other Pinots, and therefore needs fat from a steak to complement it. Comprised of Wadenswil (75%) and Pommard (25%) clones, Dave notes this Pinot showcases the richer and spicier characteristics of the two heritage clones. Likewise, he says it brings “fireworks on the tongue” rather than the smooth, roundness of their other Pinots. He named it for Leonard Bernstein’s Operetta, “Candide.” Yes, we brought it home!
2019 Villanelle Reserve Pinot Noir ($58)
Named for Paul Dukas’ duet for French Horn and Piano, “Villanelle,” this is another reserve Pinot Noir and has the highest price point in the portfolio. Sourced from 19-year vines of Dijon 115 and 777 clones in Tonnelier Vineyard of Yamhill-Carlton, Villanelle is elegant, yet delicate. Sara says this silky wine is “the little black dress” of their Pinot Noir collection, and a perfect counterpoint to Candide. Meanwhile, the 2019 vintage marks the retirement of the Tonnelier Vineyard owners, and subsequently the end of the Villanelle label.
2019 Firebird Syrah, Walla Walla Valley ($52)
Dave made a stylistic decision to craft Syrah, which is not abundant in the Willamette Valley. Named for Igor Stravinskey’s “Firebird Suite,” Dave calls it a “Syrah for Pinot drinkers.” For that reason, Firebird is a different Syrah than we normally drink. So this light, young Syrah took some getting used to. But we changed our tune when Sara brought out a very tasty grape crisp to pair with it. This is a perfect demonstration of how food pairings can bring out the best in a wine. And if you’re a Pinot-lover, and are new to Syrah, be sure to try this one.
In conclusion, if you’re traveling to the Willamette Valley, be sure to book an appointment at Bells Up winery. You will find amazing hospitality and an intimate tasting experience, in addition to both classic and unique wines. But don’t just take our word for it – check out these glowing reviews.
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Margot and Dave