Friday, November 22, 2019

Bells Up Winery: Small Lots Made with Heart

When I was twelve I was asked a life-changing question: “What instrument would you like to play?” I had just enrolled in the summer music program and I clearly said I wanted to play the French Horn.

But through some confusion and what I now see as a coup finagled by my mother and the music teacher—“Oh but a French Horn will be so heavy and awkward to carry around. Perhaps something smaller –maybe the English Horn?" (Which gentle reader I assure you, the English horn is nothing close to the French horn and in fact is a reed instrument- a double reed instrument!!) So in my naivety, I said “Okay, English Horn”. But it turned out the music department did not have any English Horns. And so, through this trickery --I ended up playing the oboe! And nobody in his or her right mind chooses the oboe! Trust me on this.

So what does this have to do with wine you may ask? Well, years later, wine is the balm I use to soothe that memory of never getting to play the French horn. And this brings us to the wonderful world of David and Sara Specter and their winery, Bells Up. David was a French horn player and thus the logo and name are a nod to the symphony life. Anyone who’s ever played in a band or orchestra will know “bells up” is the command to get ready, lift up your horn and give it your all.

And David truly embodies a “bells up” life in every way.  When I met David he seemed positively giddy talking about how the winery came to be and his enthusiasm was infectious. I felt at ease immediately upon meeting him.

David showing the compact winery space.
David and his wife Sara did what many of us only dream about. They took the ultimate leap of faith and went all in on starting a winery. They left their secure and comfortable life in Cincinnati, Ohio to chase a dream of wine. What started as a hobby for David became a full time obsession and led them to buy a former Christmas tree farm in Newberg Oregon. Here they toiled to clear the land and plant their first vines. And now instead of playing only the French horn David is a virtual one-man-band performing all the winemaking tasks and running the winery while Sara handles the marketing and business end of the baton.

I was lucky to get the chance to meet with David this past August along with some fellow wine writers to learn about his venture and taste the wines.

Small Lots Made with Heart

Bells Up makes very small quantities, of micro-boutique wines, and what they refer to as “un-domaine” wines.  Most of the allotments are earmarked for wine club members and those who visit the winery. So do yourself a favor and seek them out when you are in the area.

2018 Helios 
Estate Seyval Blanc, Chehalem Mountains AVA

You don’t see much Seyval Blanc in fact Bells Up is only the second vineyard in Oregon to grow it. But this was the varietal by which David won the national amateur winemaking competition prior to relocating to Oregon from Cincinnati, Ohio. One might say David is a bit of a Seyval Blanc whisperer, coaxing the grape to its full glory and expression. Grown in volcanic Jory soils, the grapes were aged sur lie for 6 months in stainless steel –delivering a gorgeous lean mouthful full of acidity with bright citrus and crisp apple flavors and a touch of pineapple and papaya on the finish.

2018 Rhapsody
Pinot Blanc Willamette Valley AVA

Light and bright the Rhapsody Pinot Blanc had a delicious peachy nose with flavors of and lemon zest and a slight nutty almond flavor on the finish along with a surprising yet enjoyable through line of salinity.

2018 Prelude
Estate Rose of Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains AVA

Yow! What a beast of flavor. The color is deep with nose of crushed rose petals and a full and savory mouth full of red currants and cranberries and a hint of mint. Great ratio of acid to fruit, with the body and structure to pair well with hearty foods.

2016 Titan
Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

A blend of 35% Pommard (Chehalem Mountains), 34% 115 (Yamhill-Carlton) and 31% 777 (Yamhill-Carlton) clones. Exhibiting highly enjoyable quaffability now with great aging potential. Medium body with notes of clove and violets on the nose. Good balance with fruit forward freshness and a layering of flavors tempered by long deep earthy tannins.

2017 Candide
Nemarniki Vineyard, Reserve Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains AVA

A blend of 71% Wadenswil and 29% Pommard clones both from Chehalem Mountains AVA and grown in Loess soils. Elegant and lyrical everything you seek in a Pinot Noir is here. Bright tart berries with a powerful undercurrent of clove, white pepper, and dark plums.

2017 Villanelle
Tonnelier Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir, Yahmill –Carlton AVA

Although this lovely pinot was named after a duet for French horn and piano—
I like to imagine it was named for my favorite assassin—Villanelle, from the TV show Killing Eve. This wine is dark and brooding revealing deep and dark fruit flavors with great balance. It’s beautiful and intense with a killer finish.

Killing Eve’s Villanelle contemplating the Villanelle Pinot

2017 Firebird
Summit View Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley Syrah

Sourced from the Oregon side of Walla Walla in the high elevations of the Milton-Freewater area. I love Walla Walla Syrah and the Firebird rings true with many characteristics from the region. Bells Up makes the Firebird Syrah in a style that echoes their Pinot methodology, giving it a lighter palate, but lush concentrated flavors and vibrating with spicy acidity.

Plan a Visit

Tastings are by appointment only as the winery is small and David himself will guide you through the wines. So plan ahead a make a visit to Bells Up. You will not be disappointed. And don’t be surprised if David’s enthusiasm doesn’t make you consider taking a leap towards a dream of your own.

Many thanks to Carl Giavanti of Giavanti PR and Consulting for arranging all the logistics and hosting a wonderful day trip in Willamette Valley.

Bells Up Winery
27895 NE Bell Road
Newberg, Oregon

Friday, November 30, 2018

Top 30 Wine Podcast List!


It’s been a great year of awards and honors for the Wine Road Podcast. And now we have been listed  at #3 on the Top 30 Wine Podcast list published by Feedspot! It’s a great thrill and honor to be included in the company of so many top wine podcasts that we greatly admire.

click photo to go to the Top 30 Wine Podcast List


In early April Wine Road Podcast won the Taste Award for Best Podcast! Beth Costa and I went to Los Angeles for the award ceremony and it was memorable to say the least! When our name was called, I literally fell off my chair which was a tall bar stool and my feet did not touch the ground anyway-- so it was no exaggeration to say I was knocked off my feet!

Marcy Gordon and Beth Costa Executive Director of the Wine Road


Then in July we were featured speakers in Philadelphia at the world’s largest podcast conference in the country--Podcast Movement. We gave a talk to a packed room and broadcast the show live from the show floor. It was a blast.

Live! From Philly.

Marcy Gordon and  Beth Costa at Podcast Movement 2018

ONWARD and UPWARD in 2019 

In 2019 we will continue to bring you the Wine, When, and Where of Northern Sonoma County along with travel tips on local dining and lodging, winemaker interviews, live remotes from wine country, and of course our popular wine book and wine item segments.

Don't miss out on the fun! Subscribe to Wine Road Podcast on any or your favorite place to get your podcast feeds or listen here from the Wine Road Podcast webpage.

Happy Listening!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Insider Guide to Walla Walla

Going to Walla Walla for WBC 2108 in October? It’s not too early to start planning your trip now. I recently visited the area as part of a media trip sponsored by Visit Walla Walla Tourism and got the insider perspective on the best places to Eat, Drink, Shop, and Stay.

While most attendees will be at the Marcus Whitman—I do highly recommend the Courtyard Marriot just a block west of the Marcus Whitman in case the room blocks are sold out or if you are looking for a place to extend your stay.  The rooms are quiet, sleek and comfortable and the hotel is well located within walking distance of everything but a few places I mention.

If you consider yourself a foodie, you owe it to yourself to make arrangements to partake of the Chef’s Table dinner in the Marcus Whitman under the direction of Executive Chef Grant Hinderliter. The Chef’s Table is available every night priced as follows— Four Course dinner: $80 per person, Five Course: $98 per person, Six Course:  $120 per person. Wines with each course run $25 - $50 per person. You can make your reservation through Dan McCaffery, F/B director at the Marcus Whitman and he will help customize your experience according to your preferences. ( 

Down home and delicious it’s as if the low-country flavors of the South just dropped from the heavens into the middle of downtown Walla Walla. Hankerin’ for boiled peanuts, gumbo, Carolina style pulled pork or jambalaya? This is the place.

Everything here is top notch and delicious. From the wood oven fired pizzas to the inspired sandwiches—Olive is a mainstay of Main street and a must visit for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Andrae’s Kitchen at the Co –Op Gas Station!
This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no is no fooling around.
Your mind will be blown (and taste buds delighted) by what classically trained Chef Andrae Bopp and his staff are cooking up inside a gas station mini-mart between boxes of Slim Jims and cans of WD 40. Authenticity is key here. Chef Andrae imports heirloom corn from Mexico- it’s a super food from Oaxaca - and makes his own Nixtimal mash, for home-ground corn tortillas. 95% of the menu offerings are scratch prepared on premise. Go for breakfast, stay for lunch. I promise you’ll want to try it all.

If you don’t go here at least once during your time in Walla Walla, you’re an idiot. Sorry, don’t mean to be harsh—but it’s true. The baked goods and specialty pastries here rival anything I’ve ever had anywhere—including Paris! PRO TIP: You must get the Kouign Aman –you can thank me later. Oh yeah, did I mention there is gelato too? Just Go. Go. Go. 

Downtown Tasting Rooms--
Otis Kenyon -- Great family story with a tasty slate of wines
Browne Family Vineyards-- Featuring bubbles from Guret and wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Chardonnay and more, under the Browne label. Cool tasting room set up and patio seating too. 
Mark Ryan Winery --Artsy setting home to Numbskull Red blend.
Spring Valley Vineyards -- Come for the Nina Lee Syrah, stay for the Kathrine Corkrum Cab Franc! 
Cayuse—Just kidding! It’s only open once year, and probably not for you. Instead take your disappointment next door to Bright’s Candies --guaranteed to sweeten your day since 1934, with hand made chocolates, gelato and old-fashioned nut assortments. Step inside for the sweet aroma alone! 

Wine Tasting Rooms Outside of Town-- 
Buty—Everything here is top notch, beautiful wines that reflect true sense of place. 
Palencia—Try the Albarino.
Eternal—If you hum a few bars of Cannibal Corpse for winemaker Brad Binko, he may just waive your tasting fee. (maybe!) Must Taste: Carmenere.
Tranche Estate—Gorgeous tranquil setting featuring a Rhone heavy portfolio that's well worth the drive. Must Taste: Pape Blanc White Rhone blend. 

Follow your nose to the divine scents of this tiny shop filed with soaps, lotions, and bath products made in Walla Walla. From lip balms to bath bombs you’ll find something to soothe and pamper yourself from head to toe. Seriously, I live in a land of homemade and artisanal everything –but I just made a web order for more products from Midnight Oil. They are incredible.

As mentioned above my stay was sponsored by the great people at Visit WallaWalla. Snarky opinions are my own.

Friday, April 13, 2018


People always say it’s an honor just to be nominated, but it’s even better to WIN! So excited to announce that Wine Road Podcast won the Best Podcast in the Food or Drink category at the 9th Annual Taste Awards. You can see the the complete winner list here.

The nominees in our category were all highly regarded shows and it was humbling to be acknowledged alongside them.

Here is the list of nominees:
1. All in the Industry (Heritage Radio Network)
2. California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon
3. Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio
4. Connoisseur’s Corner with Jordan Rich (featuring Roseann Tully)
5. Earth Eats
6. Kitchen Chat – The Chew’s Carla Hall
7. The Feast Podcast
8. Wine for Normal People
9. Wine Road Podcast, The Wine, When, and Where of Northern Sonoma County

DJ Bethy Beth, Marcy Gordon
On April 9th, 2018 Beth Costa and I spent a whirlwind 20 hours in Los Angeles for the Awards Show held at the Kimpton La Per Hotel in Viale dei Romani restaurant in West Hollywood.

Beth Costa, Julie Taboulie, Marcy Gordon
It was great to meet so many fellow nominees and hang out with our table-mate Julie Taboulie who won an award for her PBS show Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen. Also shout out to Anya Adams for her win, Best Short Film -- Lemonade Mafia.

In addition to winning, the big highlight of the night was my Radio Boom Box evening bag, that quite a few people thought was a real radio!

2018 Best Podcast Award--It’s in the bag!

Richard Ross, Marcy Gordon, Beth Costa
Many thanks to Richard Ross of Threshold Studios for helping us sound great and collaborating with us on the show. And BIG thanks to Laura Stafford for all her work on the Wine Road Podcast website and compiling all the show notes for each episode. It’s a massive undertaking!

Keep looking up! Elevator Selfie! 

Things are certainly looking up for the Podcast! Tune in here and join us along the Wine Road.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Alpha Omega Collective

On Monday this week, I attended a special tasting at Alpha Omega Winery introducing their new Alpha Omega Collective, an umbrella brand featuring Pinot Noirs from Tolosa in Edna Valley, and Perinet’s Mediterranean reds from the Priorat in Spain.

The conversation with the three winemakers Jean Hoefliger of Alpha Omega in Napa Valley, Frédéric Delivert of Tolosa in Edna Valley, and Antoni Sanchez-Ortiz of Perinet in the Priorat, Spain detailed their particular wines and winemaking philosophy and the threads of connection between the three.

The three common threads among the estates according to Hoefliger were expression of place within the very particular soils, wine balance, and acidity. Each also has a philosophy of making wines that are enjoyable now, and with the ability to age and drink later.

I particularly liked the 2016 Tolosa Hollister Edna Valley Pinot Noir, it was true to varietal form, a truly delicious love note to the grape. I found the 2016 Tolosa Primera Pinot Noir slightly elusive on the day I tasted, but the assets of the variety were all there. The limestone soils of Edna Valley, as well as the sea air, add a touch of salinity to the red fruits and give the wines freshness and acidity.

The 2015 Alpha Omega Beckstoffer To Kalon was exceptional and wines from this legendary vineyard are well deserving of the merit. We also sampled the 2016 Alpha Omega Era Napa Valley in barrel made from multiple vineyards across the valley, and only the second time ever made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Era proved to be a true expression and reflection of the valley.

Of the three estates we tasted from the Alpha Omega Collective, it was the Perinet that grabbed my attention with their sheer authority and bold flavor profiles. The 2015 Perinet Priorat DOQ is a blend of 33% Grenache, 25% Carignan, 25% Syrah, and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. And the 2015 Perinet 1194 Priorat DOQ is comprised of 65% Grenache, 32.5% Carignan, and 2.5% Syrah.

I was particularly captivated by the 2015 Perinet 1194 Priorat DOQ – and with my first sip of the 1194 I felt like the tannins were going to pull me right inside the glass. I felt like I’d been punched in the cerebral cortex, and I mean that in a good way! This is a wine that can take you deep. It was wily, but graceful -- the Grenache and the Carignan flavors in lockstep, with a trace of iron and salinity. Antoni mentioned the wines were best with spicy food to compliment the tannins, and at lunch the sandwich I had included hot spicy mustard, and that did indeed balance them nicely.

The Perinet wines are filled with vibrancy and vitality and grown in a terrior described as a triangle with four sides, on two levels, that is rocky, dry, hot, and cold and sometimes all at once. The area is shaped like an amphitheater and bounded by the Montsant DO region.

Antoni talked about the unusual conditions the vines grow in and how they are much like individual children with special needs. And as he spoke, I was suddenly reminded of Rodrigo de Sousa, the maestro in the show Mozart in the Jungle. Rodrigo’s catch phrase to his orchestra is “Play with blood!” – meaning play with life force, vitality, energy and with soul; and I could imagine Antoni out in his vineyards saying —“Grow with blood!” as he directs and shepherds the vines to their full vigor and potential.

And then it struck me — the Alpha Omega Collective is much like a symphony with three dynamic maestros each conducting their respective threads of terrior, balance, and acidity. But I think a there is a fourth common thread as well—charisma—all the wines have a presence that cannot be ignored.

Tasting Notes and Resources:
Alpha Omega Collective

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Small is Beautiful - Sonoma Underground a Tasting Sized Right

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that i’m quite choosy when it comes to events and I’m done with big walk around tastings. (No more Fort Mason!) Small and focused is where it’s at for me. A new tasting event -Sonoma Underground is a perfect example of Small is Beautiful.

Last month I attended the inaugural Sonoma Underground event, the brainchild of Laura Perret Fontana and Elizabeth Schneider, that is dedicated to the proposition that the small guys often get overlooked and lost in the crowded wine space. Fontana and Schneider’s criteria were producers making great wine fewer than 10,000 cases. (Although the majority pouring was well under that.) Oh and the other main criteria --“Nice people only! They couldn’t be a**holes.” I was told.  Ah, yes! That always helps.

As I strolled around the room...ahem...squeezed around the room, I noticed (with few exceptions) the actual owners/wine makers were pouring. That’s the bonus of a small event—the chance to connect with the winemaker.

While I was well acquainted with the majority of the producers Inman, Acorn, Crux, Kieran Robinson Wines, Keller Estate, Larsen Projekt, Longboard, and Robert Young Estate whom I wrote about here for Sonoma Discoveries—there were several I’d never tried before.

One of which was the Keller Estate Brut Rosé Bubbles! Whoa! What a beauty. And the Keller Estate 2014 Precioso Chardonnay was one of the most lush, elegant and delicious examples of the grape I’ve experienced.

Kathleen Inman’s Whole Buncha Bubbles and Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir were also causing a stir among attendees at her table along with her standout portfolio of Pinots.

Those unfamiliar with Larsen Projekt Rosé of Grenache should rectify that as soon as possible. The wine, a lovely intentional rosé, has a tart fruit melody and a baseline of minerality that is like a foxtrot across the palate. Fill your dance card with it soon!

One of the new to me producers was Camlow Cellars –Oh my, what a discovery! Their 2014 Magna Porcum Pinot Noir Estate Green Valley Russian River Valley was simply wonderful. This has everything you hope for in a pinot noir and more. It’s vibrant and deep with an abundance of dark fruit and a dash of white pepper. Delicious now, with gentle tannins that suggest it will most likely be scrumptious in the long run as well.

My love at first sip white wine of the day was the 2015 Peterson Triple V White Blend Dry Creek Valley Estate consisting of Vermentino, Vernaccia, and Verdelho—a trio of varieties from the Mediterranean. The Peterson V3 was a revelation of flavor –an aromatic tone poem with great balance. Veni Vidi Vici—I came, I tasted, and my taste buds were conquered. Also very much enjoyed the Peterson Cabernet Sauvignon and GSM. Oh yeah, and the Syrah too.

Props to Laura Fontana and Laura Schneider digging deep to bring together small producers that are making great wine with integrity and spirit. It was a fun, engaged, and happening crowd (although I think I may have been the only one spitting). As the day wore on I noticed many people signing up for wine club memberships – always a great indicator of good wine.

If Sonoma Underground comes to your neck of the woods, here is some advice:
Buy the ticket. Take the ride.

Sonoma Underground is excellent for both the wine curious and the wine serious. Don’t miss it.

NOTE: My ticket for this event was complimentary. 


Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Past -- The 12 Days Of Christmas

In second grade my class performed the Twelve Days of Christmas for the Annual Holiday Pageant. Twelve of us were selected for the lead lines while the rest of the class stood on risers behind us and sang the repetitive chorus “On the X day of Christmas…my true love gave to me….”

Of course position one, the First Day of Christmas is the plum role, that line gets repeated every single verse.

Julie Connor was the Partridge in a Pear tree, and she reveled in it, telling the rest of us how her part was the most important and that everyone would be looking at her when she sang the final line. She gloated over how she would get to sing her line twelve times and told us that the only other good parts were up to day six. We tried to ignore her, but it was true. Anything over day six was pretty much a dud assignment. She did have the best part.

My best friend Penny had Seven Swans Swimming.

I was Eight Maids a Milking, pretty much the worst day in the song.

Really it is the worst day. Let’s break it down: There’s a wild and crazy assortment of birds, the coveted five golden rings, and then the gifts of the performing arts: dancing ladies, leaping lords, drummers, and pipers. But what’s up with Eight Milk Maids? They just don’t measure up the other gifts of birds, bling, and performers. The Eight Maids a Milking were basically the human chattel gift. This irked me.

But things got worse.

Our teacher, Mrs. Taylor, made our costumes that were for the most part successful.

Karen Harper was the envy of all the girls in her pink ballerina outfit for Nine Ladies Dancing and Richard Esquivel looked like Liberace with five enormous papier-mâché golden rings on one hand.

For Four Calling Birds, Mrs. Taylor wired stuffed crows to each of Stacy Martin’s shoulders, which unfortunately began to droop during the performance, and made her look like she was being pecked in the head. It was not unlike like a scene from The Birds.

My costume was pathetic. An ersatz Holly Hobbie. I wore a scruffy red corduroy jumper, an ill fitting apron, black rubber muck boots and a white bonnet that made me look half Amish and half insane. A tin pail was my sorry accessory.

Prior to the holiday pageant, I’d received some pointers from my aunt who gave voice lessons. She showed me how to breathe from my belly and how to relax my throat so as not to constrict the sound when I sang. She told me to find a face in the back of the hall and sing out directly to that person.

The night of the show the curtain rose and our song began. When it was my turn to sing my line I stepped forward, found a face in the back and sang out. I delivered the line strong, and clear -- Eight maids a milking.

I grew louder and more confident with each repeated verse.

Eight Maids a MILKING.


On the final round of the song, I noticed Mrs. Taylor trying to catch my attention from the center aisle in front of the stage. She waved her hand in a frantic downward motion signaling me to drop the volume.

I stepped forward for the last verse and gave it my all adding an operatic flourish at the end as if I were Brünnhilde the Valkyrie—warrior maiden in Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle opera.


Then I thrust my arm straight up and flung the milk pail into the air. It looped around then crashed down on the stage with a horrific clang, like a cymbal hit by a truck.

Mrs. Dempsey raised her hands abruptly from the piano keys. A stunned silence fell over the auditorium. Julie Connor stepped out of line and glared at me from inside her pear tree.

The milk pail rocked back and forth on the stage in a lazy arc.

I nudged Penny (who appeared to be in a slight trance) to indicate it was her turn to go. She chirped out Seven Swans Swimming and Mrs. Dempsey resumed the piano.

I don’t even remember hearing the rest of the song, the last partridge in a pear tree. But I do remember Julie Connor never forgave me for stealing her pear tree thunder.

I wonder what ever became of her?


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