Was there a specific wine, moment or place that unlocked your passion?
Dave Specter: Not so much a specific wine but a wine experience I had while visiting some friends in Europe after graduating from law school. They took me to Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy, for a weekend. We did a lot of tasting in the touristy cellars, but also in garages and co-operatives that had a more casual atmosphere — a community feel. I knew absolutely nothing about wine prior to that trip, but I was deeply moved by what I saw, smelled, and tasted. Looking back, I realize that being in heart of a culture that incorporated wine into daily life was what really captured my imagination. Some 20 years later, if I took the same trip today, I’m sure that I would appreciate that experience far more than I did at that time. But my time in Beaune has fueled my passion for wine ever since.
What did you study in school and what were you doing before you started in the wine industry?
DS: I have an undergraduate degree in business and finance from Miami University (Go Redhawks!), and an MBA and a law degree, both from the University of Cincinnati. After graduating law school I worked for two different multinational accounting firms as a corporate tax attorney advising on mergers, acquisitions and corporate transactions. Today, I consider myself to be a “recovering attorney.”
How has being in the wine industry changed you?
DS: It’s truly a 180 from practicing law. In the legal profession, it’s all about control. Winemaking is like parenting; we have influence, but no control. Thus, I’ve had to learn not to stress about the things I cannot change — the weather, for example — and focus on the things I can (sanitation, sanitation, sanitation).
I started as an amateur winemaker in my basement in Cincinnati. When I left my legal career, it was to learn how to transition that hobby into winemaking as a profession. I honestly owe a lot of my personal change to my mentor who took me under his wing back in early 2009: Joe Henke of Henke Winery in Cincinnati. Joe offered me a position as an unpaid cellar rat but promised he’d teach me everything he knew — open book — and he did. He even showed me his books because he wanted me to understand what he called “the good, the bad and the ugly of being a professional winemaker.” Joe’s an award-winning winemaker who makes 2,000 cases across roughly 15 different types of wines (including a phenomenal sparkling Chardonnay and an incredible Norton) in the basement of a 100-year-old house in an urban neighborhood with the bare essentials: barrels, a pump, a press, a pallet jack. I learned so much from him about both the process and the business of winemaking; that you don’t need a bunch of expensive equipment to make incredible wines. You just need to hone your sensory skills… and do a ton of cleaning.
What’s your favorite part of being in the wine industry?
DS: For me, it’s the connections I get to make with our customers and with others in the industry. Wine is very social and communal. I love nothing better than hosting private tastings with our guests, getting to know them, and chatting about the wine — as well as just about anything else that comes up.
We want to have personal relationships with our customers. In fact, we specifically don’t have an online ordering portal because we want to have conversations with our buyers, either by phone or email. Making and maintaining those connections is really important to us, and we hope to grow those relationships over the next 20 years and beyond.
Looking back, was there something in your past that led you to wine?
DS: My wife! We had enjoyed wine as a couple, and on our five-year wedding anniversary Sara signed us up for a winemaking class and bought us a box kit of Rioja as a “cute, couple-y” thing to do. When we visited the Willamette Valley in 2008 on vacation, she was the one who announced that one day we’d move here and start a winery and vineyard on Bell Road (really!).
And, shortly after we learned her mentor had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 40 (and who passed away 10 months later), it was Sara who finally pulled the plug on my legal career. I was miserable; she said, “If you’re this successful in a career that makes you sick, stressed and miserable, how much more successful would you be doing something you love?” So, I made the leap to training under Joe Henke and never looked back.
Right now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter at home order (in Oregon), Bells Up Winery is offering free delivery within 30 miles of their winery (located in Newberg, Oregon) with a purchase of 6 bottles or more. If you live farther away, they are more than happy to ship wine to you.
Follow these links to read more about Bells Up Winery and order your wine:
Check out our tasting notes on the Pinot Noir that Bells Up Winery produces!