Corporate Attorney Makes Bold Move: David Specter Loves Making Wine
Looking back on it, David Specter ’99 doesn’t recall why he wanted to be a corporate attorney. “I kind of had this idea of what I thought I wanted to do,” Specter said of his decision to pursue a law degree. “I had a lot of people tell me that they thought I’d be good at it. [Looking back] I don’t think, at the time, I realized that my interests and desires would expand and grow over the course of my life.”
After graduating from Miami University in 1995 with a business degree, Specter earned his MBA in one year from UC’s College of Business. He then enrolled at the College of Law in the fall of 1996, ultimately “drifting towards the tax planning side of things” on his way toward earning his JD in 1999.
Specter worked for about two years after law school as an associate at Arthur Andersen, a global accounting firm. He then spent almost eight years with Ernst & Young, another global accounting firm, rising to the level of Senior Manager in its Transaction Advisory Services division.
Today, Specter lives in Oregon, where he will be making a career out of making and selling wine.
Change in Career
Specter worked at Ernst & Young through March 2009. It was in 2007 and 2008 when he began asking himself what he really wanted to do long-term.
“Eventually, I came to the realization that just being in the legal profession for the rest of my life was not what I wanted to do,” Specter said. “My wife (Sara) and I had been talking for a couple years before that about, at some point – maybe way down the road – having a winery of our own, because we have always been wine enthusiasts.”
Around that same time, he and his wife were looking to start a family. They realized, if they wanted to do both of those things, they would need to begin sooner rather than later. So in 2009, Specter made a bold move: he left the legal profession and joined Henke Winery in the Westwood area of Cincinnati as an assistant winemaker. From March 2009 to June 2012, he aided Joe Henke in the full wine production process, learning the tricks of the trade that would allow him to eventually open his own winery.
“I had been making wine at home for several years before that, but Joe really showed me what it took to make wine at a professional level,” Specter said. “I’m truly indebted to him for that.”
Eventually Specter and his wife began targeting areas for potential relocation. They visited Oregon several times and fell in love with Portland and the nearby Willamette Valley, Specter said.
“We loved the people, the wine culture, the environment, and decided this is where we wanted to be,” he said.
Specter grew up in Longwood, Fla., a suburb of Orlando. His family moved to Cincinnati just before his senior year of high school, and he had been in the region ever since.
He and his wife lived in a small area in Clermont County called Withamsville – basically between Anderson and Amelia, Specter said. They adopted a daughter, now four, who was born just before Christmas in 2008.
With the family started and a few years of professional winemaking under his belt, Specter said goodbye to many friends and family in Cincinnati. After selling their Cincinnati home last year, the Specters moved to the Willamette Valley in northwest Oregon last summer, settling into their new home.
“We’re really loving it up here,” Specter said. “The people are wonderful. We’ve had a lot of support from local folks here. We’ve made a lot of new friends. It’s really been a great experience and we’re really looking forward to getting started with the vineyard and the winery.”
The vineyard is not on the property yet, Specter said, but the property will eventually have a vineyard and a tasting room for the winery. “We should be planting the first phase of the vineyard in the spring of 2014,” Specter said. “We’ll be buying grapes for our first “crush” (production run) this fall. In 2015, I’m anticipating having wine to sell.”
Putting His UC Law Degree to Use
Specter might be the first College of Law graduate ever to pursue winemaking as a full-time career. He is certainly the only one from his graduating class with that distinction.
But while most of his classmates are working in some legal capacity and he is now in Oregon making wine, that does not mean Specter’s legal education and experience are now irrelevant.
“What law school does is give you a skill set. Most importantly, you learn how to think critically,” Specter said. “That is a huge benefit. Not just in my business, but in any business – to be able to organize thoughts in a logical manner, to be able to write up a business plan. It’s just helpful to have that skill set.”
Specter said there are types of law he deals with that he had no experience with in Cincinnati. While Specter never learned about water rights laws, for example, he nevertheless has the ability to learn and understand the issues associated with it, without having to go and hire an attorney, he said.
“Yes, to the extent I need to hire someone to represent me in a hearing or whatever, I’ll do that,” Specter said. “But at the very least, I can walk in to a new situation here and learn enough to understand what I’m dealing with, and have intelligent conversations and represent our interests on my own.”
Starting a New Chapter
It has been more than six months since the Specters moved cross country, almost 2500 miles from Cincinnati. He has not been back since they settled in, although at some point would like to be able to return. Once the winery gets going, he hopes to exhibit at the Cincinnati International Wine Festival.
“I enjoyed my time there, but the reality was that (with) the kind of things I wanted to do with the winery, it would have been extremely difficult to do in Cincinnati,” he said. “There are some folks that have done it and have done a great job with it. But I think, really, for this part of our lives, this is where we wanted to be.”
No matter how far away the Specters are, he has a strong support base locally. He noted that about 85 percent of the people on the contact list for the winery are from the Cincinnati area. While they left “a lot of wonderful people behind,” Specter is appreciative of the continuing support.
Most of all, of course, Specter misses the relationships. “You miss your family. You miss your friends,” he said. “I (also) miss my Skyline Chili. That’s been a really hard thing!”
In his free time, Specter enjoys spending time with his wife and their daughter. They watch a lot of movies, go to the zoo, and he still tries to keep track of Miami University and UC sports. Being in the “Great Northwest,” the Specters also try to get outdoors a lot.
“Out here, you’ve really got a lot of state and national parks,” Specter said. “There are some really spectacular places out here.”
Specter had been talking about opening a winery for a long time. Finally, he is there. Although the name of the winery has not been formally announced, Specter said it will be called Bells Up, which is a reference to a dramatic moment in classical music where the composer instructs French horn players to lift the bells of their instruments upward and project their sound with maximum intensity. Specter, a French horn player who played in bands and symphonic groups throughout high school and college, believes that the winery represents his “Bells Up” moment.
While making this bold move and career change obviously leaves some uncertainties, Specter knows he will always keep the winery small. One reason is to keep it manageable. The other reason is because it will be more intimate, and more who he is – more personable and fostering the one-on-one relationships with customers.
Specter said they have been keeping their goals achievable, both in the short-term and in the long-term. “I think that a lot of times, with respect to the winery business, people have a very romanticized view of what wine making is and how much money they can really make,” he said. “Our first goal is to find a way to break even on the winery. If we can do that in four to five years, I think that would be a successful start!”
By Jordan Cohen ‘13