In Tune with Bells Up Winery

Tasting Notes

In Tune with Bells Up Winery                                                                                               

“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, dramatic projection. Former French horn player and winemaker/owner David Specter, along with his wife, co-owner/marketing maven Sara Specter, found that a fitting metaphor for their aspirations when naming their bucolic winery perched in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, at the northern part of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. 

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

Sitting at an elevation ranging from 420 to 630 feet, the dry farmed vineyard today produces Pinot Noir clones 667 and Pommard, initially planted in 2014, followed by the Willamette Valley’s first planting of French hybrid Seyval Blanc, planted in 2015, and Pinot Noir clones Wädenswil, 113 and 943, planted in 2016.

Why Seyval Blanc? As a home winemaker in Cincinnati, Dave made a Seyval Blanc that earned a Gold Medal, and the couple has been drawn to the variety ever since. Additionally, David and Sara liked the idea of planting a distinctive crisp, white variety that was not yet grown in the Willamette Valley. After researching where the grape thrives, they felt confident that their site would be a perfect contender. And the Seyval Blanc they have crafted convincingly indicates that it is.

Annual production now includes estate Seyval Blanc and Rosé of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc from Willamette Valley’s Plum Hill Vineyard, Pinot Noirs from their estate vineyard, as well as from one micro grower in the Chehalem Mountains and a second in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, and a Syrah from Summit View Vineyard in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, within the larger Walla Walla Valley AVA. On each of their labels: a French horn logo and the name of classical music pieces that prominently feature the instrument.

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.

2019 Helios Estate Seyval Blanc, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley ($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.

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.

2017 Titan Pinot Noir ($40): A blend of Pommard, 777 and 115 clones from the Chehalem Mountains and Yamhill-Carlton AVAs, this lively Pinot Noir was aged twelve 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.

2017 Candide Pinot Noir ($54): From the Loess soils of Nemarniki Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA comes this spirited Pinot Noir. Exhibiting aromas of black raspberry jam, this zesty PN was aged 12 months in 44% new French oak. Broad and mouthfilling on the palate with sweet red cherry, raspberries, cola, underlying oak and exotic spices capping the finish.

2017 Villanelle Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley ($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 12 months on 40% new French oak gives the wine a toasty note, and the long finale is elegant. 

2018 Firebird Syrah, Summit View Vineyard, 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 their website at, email at or phone at 503-537-1328.