With only a 600-case annual total production, Bells Up is tiny, but their wines tell me their imprint will be huge. Bells Up is a musical term, and since I know little about music, I will quote from their website: “‘Bells Up’ refers to a dramatic moment in classical music where the composer instructs French horn players to lift the bells of the instruments up and project sound with maximum intensity. Bells Up’s winemaker and owner Dave Specter—a former French horn player—says the winery is his ‘Bells Up’ moment.”
The wines of Bells Up, all of which carry musical references on the label, project enormously, but they are not loud. They sing in a delicate yet persistent fashion.
Again, their website tells us that Specter, a burned-out corporate tax attorney, left that profession in 2009 and moved to the Willamette Valley from Cincinnati with his wife in 2012. They purchased an abandoned Christmas tree farm, started planting its nine acres, and established the winery a year later. Specter’s path from tax attorney to winemaker was untraditional, demonstrating the saying that, “where there’s a will there’s a way.” He was a “cellar rat” at a Cincinnati winery (who knew there was a winery in Cincinnati?), took an online enology course at Washington State University, worked a harvest at a winery in Dundee, and studied viticulture at Chemeketa Community College.
Bells Up’s mid-weight 2019 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, named “Titan” for Mahler’s Symphony #1, (93 pts; $44), is a delight, combining bright cherry notes and balancing savory elements. Weighing in at a modest 13.2 percent stated alcohol, it is not overdone or over extracted. Rather, it dances on the palate, displaying the charm and elegance Pinot Noir can deliver. It seems to expand in the glass. Each sip reveals new nuances, so don’t rush it. For now, Specter buys grapes to supplement the enterprise’s own plantings, which explains why roughly two-thirds of the blend for Titan comes from Yamhill-Carlton AVA and remainder from their vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA.
Since Bells Up is in Newberg in the Willamette, you’d expect Pinot Noir. What was unexpected was the stature and poise of their Syrah, the grapes for which come from the Summit View Vineyard on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. Another graceful wine, the 2019 Syrah, dubbed “Firebird” as in Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (93 pts, $52) balances plumy dark red fruit with an invigorating saline-like minerality. Like Titan, the focus here is on elegance, not over-wrought power. Yet, its power is evident in the enjoyment it delivers.
Returning to the Willamette, we find a delightfully refreshing, but serious 2021 Pinot Blanc called “Rhapsody,” for Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (91 pts, $32). Pinot Blanc can be disappointing because so many are vapid. Bells Up has avoided that pitfall with good weight, despite a 12.9 percent stated alcohol, riveting acidity, and a pleasing hint of bitterness in the finish.
Contrary to the composer’s instructions, Bells Up has turned down the volume of their wines so you can really appreciate the complexity of the music.
Currently, the wines are available only by calling (503-537-1328) or emailing the winery, [email protected]