Wine writer and reviewer Randy Smith (pictured at right), who publishes The Wine Write blog, paid us a visit over the summer to sample the wines and experience our particular brand of hospitality. Smith, who started his blog in 2011, interviews and writes about winemakers and others in the wine industry whom he finds interesting.
Apparently he found Dave interesting, because he interviewed him in this piece published in September: “Hitting All The Notes With Dave Specter of Bells Up Winery.”
Smith writes, “The Bells Up hospitality model of intimate, seated tastings and direct sales sets them apart from most wineries. Sara and Dave believe in growing their business one visit at a time. While a lot of places are moving to tastings by appointment only, that mode is old hat at Bells Up. This is a place where you will always see an owner and winemaker in the front of the house.”
Some of the highlights of the question and answer session include:
The Wine Write: Did you have any mentors that helped you along in those early days?
Dave: A gentleman named Joe Henke was my biggest mentor. I worked with him for almost four years. When Sara and I decided that we would try to do this professionally, Joe agreed to take me on as essentially an unpaid intern at Henke Winery. I got to literally see everything there. Joe is a wizard. He pulled from the same grape sources that the vintner’s club did. He has this old Victorian building in a westside neighborhood in Cincinnati. He makes all his wine in the basement. There’s a restaurant on the first floor. He sells almost all of his wine through the restaurant. He’s been doing this for over twenty-five years. He’s a retired machinist and a former wine hobbyist. His path was very similar to the one I took.
What didn’t Joe teach me? He taught me how to do more with less. He taught me the mental part of winemaking. I was coming from a career where I was used to being in control. I micromanaged everything. In winemaking you aren’t in control of anything. At best you are a caretaker and a guide. You’re trying to reach a range of outcomes that are good. You will drive yourself insane by trying to get to an exact endpoint with wine. Joe taught me how to release a little bit.
The Wine Write: What was your vision for Bells Up?
Dave: We were looking to replicate what we saw in the small wineries we first visited here in 2008. We loved going to the smaller, more intimate wineries. We enjoyed sitting down and talking with the owners and winemakers. Back then you could do that even in places that weren’t necessarily by appointment only. Most people spent more time then in the front of the house. We knew that wine brings people together. Our goal was to sell wine by building relationships. Obviously you need to make great wine, but there’s a lot of great wine made in the Willamette Valley. Great wine is a starting point. Beyond that is how you treat your customers and how you take care of people.
We wanted people who emailed or called us about a visit to know who they would see. It was either going to be Sara or me. We didn’t want employees. Getting into that position creates layers between yourself and your customers. There’s also all the administrative work that goes along with employing someone. We knew we would have to stay small to adhere to this model. And that’s okay with us. Our business won’t get away from us like it sometimes can.
The Wine Write: Why should a visitor put Bells Up on their itinerary?
Dave: We offer a private seated tasting. Virtually all the time I will meet with you. If it’s a slightly bigger group, Sara may come in to help. We want to give folks access to the behind the scenes aspects of winemaking. When we started making wine, it was a hobby. It was no frills. People sometimes get the idea that winemakers are magicians. We pull that curtain back. This is something that anyone can learn to do. You need a certain set of skills, but you can develop those. Winemakers are regular people. We’re just like you.
We can tailor our visits to what the customers want to do. Many guests are new to wine tasting. They may feel uncomfortable in a bigger winery. They may feel intimidated. We encourage our guests to ask any questions they want. There are no dumb questions. Whatever your level of wine knowledge is, we can match it. If a group is far more knowledgeable, we can geek out with them. That’s great, too. You will experience nice wines, too. You may see a style that may be new to you.
Smith concludes the story with a reference to the quote from Confucius on our homepage, “We all have two lives, and the second begins the moment we realize we only get one,” adding the following kind words…
There’s another Confucius quote that would apply to Sara and Dave Specter: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
It’s obvious the Specters love what they do. It shows in their hospitality. They’ve achieved their dream of owning a small, family winery that sells wines by making relationships. Don’t think for a minute that the bottles take a backseat, though. The wines provide a solid, distinctive take on the Chehalem Mountain AVA. Yes, there’s Pinot Noir, but there’s a lot more. Even a few surprises…
Are you planning a Pacific Northwest trip? If your plans include stops near Newberg, Oregon, call Dave or Sara to book a visit. You’ll be assured of their full attention in a lovely tasting space that you’ll have all to yourself. You’ll taste delicious wine and savor lively conversation. You’ll make new friends and share a lot of laughs. We guarantee it.
Click here to read Smith’s full Q&A with Dave.