Bells Up Winery: A Pairing Of Wine and Music

Bells Up Winery-Hornucopia Landscape


Often, we compare winemaking to a chef utilizing the ingredients on their spice rack or an artist who has a palette of colors to use to create a painting. The winemaker has a spectrum of tools to create wine. For Dave Specter, wine and music go hand in hand. In this case, I think of the composer scoring music by bringing notes together to form a symphony. Dave is scoring the wine. The notes are the various clones and barrels that come together to create Bells Up Winery’s symphonic wine. You might call it a Pinot orchestra. Each wine represents a symphony inspired by French Horns and the likes of classical composers, including Mozart, Stravinsky, Nielsen, Dvorak, and John Williams.

Bells Up and the Music of Wine

Each wine Dave produces is named after a piece of classical music that pairs excellently with Dave’s wine composition. Many pieces feature the French Horn. The wine concerto considers the following: The first line of the composition is the estate and location in the Dundee/Newberg area with its Jory soil. Next, the score builds in shape and then adds the vintage. Finally, it builds up the middle to finish the wine like a crescendo.

Many of us grew up learning to play a musical instrument. For Dave, the French Horn was that instrument. He played it throughout high school, college, graduate school, and beyond, significantly influencing his life. Dave feels the personality of music fits the personality of wine.

Bells Up Winery Building and Vineyards
Bells Up Winery and vineyards. Photo Courtesy of Bells Up

Even the name Bells Up has a musical reference. It is that crucial moment in classical music when the conductor or composer signals the French Horn players to lift the bells of their horns to project sound. For the composer, it becomes the French Horn crescendo. The name Bells Up is a testament to Dave’s journey as a wine composer. For Dave Specter, the winemaker, it was his “Bells Up” moment, a pivotal moment in his life when he took a leap of faith, leaving his job as a corporate tax attorney in Cincinnati in 2009 and ultimately starting a winery in Oregon in 2013.

At the heart of Bells Up is a partnership. Dave’s wine compositions are brought to life by Sara, his wife, who is the backbone of everything created at the winery. Their shared passion and love for their winery come through as you sip the wine or during a visit to the winery.

Dave and Sara Specter - Bells Up Winery
Dave and Sara Specter – Bells Up Winery. Photo Courtesy of Bells Up

The Vineyards

Bells Up Winery is nestled on 9 acres in Newberg, Oregon, in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, where the vineyards’ soils sing harmoniously. The Specters planted their vineyards in 2014, 2015, and 2016 with various Pinot Noir clones, including Pommard and Dijon 113, 943, 115, 777, 667, and Wadenswil. Like a different instrument in an orchestra, each Pinot Noir clone contributes to the symphony of their wines.

They also introduced Seyval Blanc, a hybrid and a delightful surprise for the area. Dave’s choice of Seyval Blanc is a nod to his days of honing his wine acumen in wineries in Cincinnati. While Dave sources grapes from the Milton Freewater region in Eastern Washington, including Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, his first harvest from the vineyard, featuring both Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc, was in 2017.

In 2020, they planted another unusual grape, Schioppettino, a red Italian grape grown primarily in northeast Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Schioppettino wines are typically dry, medium-bodied, deep-colored, aromatic, and spicy on the palate.

Bells Up Vineyards with Rainbow
Bells Up Vineyards with Rainbow. Photo Courtesy of Bells Up

The Wines

I visited Bells Up Winery in 2019 and tasted the wine on several other occasions. I am impressed watching the growth of this Willamette Valley winery. The wine continues to improve in balance, refinement, and elegance.

My Favorites

“Prelude” Rosé of Pinot Noir: Named after Franz Liszt’s Symphonic Poem No. 3: Les Preludes, the wine blends several clones of Pinot Noir to produce a luscious Rosé. I found a very balanced wine with notes of cherry and strawberry on the palate.

Bells Up Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir
Bells Up Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir

“New World” Summit View Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine denotes Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony: Symphony No.9 in E Minor, Op.95. One of my all-time favorite Cabernet Sauvignons due to the technique of making a silky Cab for Pinot lovers. The Specters follow a similar approach as they do with Pinot Noir. The wine is lighter on the palate, with bright fruit and soft tannins.

Bells Up New World Cabernet Sauvignon
Bells Up “New World” Cabernet Sauvignon

“Firebird” Summit View Vineyard Walla Walla Valley Syrah: This wine comes from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Like the Cabernet, Dave utilizes a technique that gives the wine a lighter quality with bright blueberry fruit, soft tannins, and a silky texture.

Bells Up Firebird Syrah
Bells Up “Firebird” Syrah

Seyval Blanc

“Helios” Estate Seyval Blanc Chehalem Mountains AVA: Seyval Blanc is a variety you do not expect to find in the Willamette Valley (and the Specters have the only planting of it). It is a hybrid popular in the Midwest. Specter made wine from this varietal in Cincinnati. Visiting many Missouri wineries over the years, I am very familiar with Seyval Blanc. The Jory soils of the Willamette Valley add texture and complexity. Helios is named for Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture, Opus 18. Like this mythical Greek God of the sun, this wine shines brilliantly in Willamette Valley. The wine offers a creamy texture with hints of citrus and tropical fruit. The wine has a viscous, bready, yeasty quality.

Bells Up Helios Seyval Blanc
Bells Up “Helios” Seyval Blanc

Pinot Noirs

“Maestro” Estate Reserve Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains AVA: This wine pays tribute to Maestro John Williams’ compositions, including many French Horn themes that have wowed moviegoers for decades. The wine is composed of small berries and small clusters of Dijon clones 113, 667, and 943. I found a balanced wine with flavors of tart cherry and other berries.

Bells Up Maestro Pinot Noir
Bells Up “Maestro” Pinot Noir

“Jupiter” Estate Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains AVA: This wine gets its name from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No.41, “Jupiter.” The wine is composed of Pommard and Dijon clones, 667 and 113. I discovered wonderful florals on the nose and tart cherry on the palate. The wine is soft yet elegant.

Bells Up jupiter Pinot Noir
Bells Up “Jupiter” Pinot Noir

Bells Up Winery

The consistency of style found throughout the portfolio makes Bells Up Winery’s growth successful. When Dave creates a new wine composition, one wonders if he has a musical piece or symphony in mind as he develops his wine score. Some of his latest wine compositions include bubbles created with Seyval Blanc and a Rosé Brut. Hopefully, my next visit to Bells Up Winery will include bubbles.

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.

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