SEATTLE — Critical to the success of Nota Bene Cellars in Seattle has been the careful grape sourcing and the long-term relationships with the people behind those vineyards.
The 2022 vintage marked the 21st crush for husband/wife winemakers Tim Narby and Carol Bryant. And while Narby walks those vineyards, he makes a point of staying out of the way of the growers.
“I have plenty to worry about in the cellar,” he says.
Narby grew up near Pittsburgh, Pa. Bryant was born and raised in Thailand by parents who were missionaries. She and Narby each attended the University of Washington, met in 1979 and married in 1985.
Bryant has worked as an attorney specializing in child support cases for the King County Prosecutor’s Office since 1981. He worked at Boeing from 1978 to 2013, first as a tool and production planner, then as a systems administrator in computing.
The couple’s foray into winemaking began with a home winemaking kit they received as a wedding gift, which came with a can of blackberry syrup, Bryant recalls with a smile. They graduated to wine grapes and continued their home winemaking exploits for another 16 years.
During that same period, Narby became involved with the Boeing Wine Club, making wines with fellow employees and wine enthusiasts including Chuck Jackson — who later founded Skagit Vineyard & Winery — and participating in the club’s annual competition for amateur winemakers.
“One thing that came out of that,” said Bryant, “is that when you’re consistently among the upper group of winning wines, you start thinking, ‘Maybe we can do this commercially.’ ”
In 2001, Narby and Bryant launched :Nota Bene Cellars. The name they chose, :Nota Bene, is Latin for “note well.” The abbreviation, NB, conveniently matched the first initial in their last names.
In the winery’s early years, Bryant noted their encounters with an unexpected problem.
“When you still have a full-time job, people refer to your winery as a ‘hobby,’ even though you desperately want it to be a successful enterprise,” she says.
So Narby eventually left the aerospace giant to dedicate his time to Nota Bene. “And the after-life is working 80 hours a week at selling wine,” he says half-jokingly.
Boeing Wine Club leads Narby to Columbia Valley fruit
Fortunately, as Narby embarked on his “second career” as a full-time winemaker, he built connections to some great vineyards while serving four years as the head of grape procurement for the Boeing Wine Club.
“I was the first member to buy grapes from Ciel du Cheval,” Narby says.
Narby parlayed those early ties with Ciel du Cheval owner/founder Jim Holmes, and now with Holmes’s son, Richard, into what has become an ongoing relationship since Nota Bene’s inception. His purchases have included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
“I just love their Syrah,” Narby says. “It’s clone 99 or the Tablas Creek Clone. It’s my favorite wine to make from there.”
In 2002, Narby added Arianses Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, a source he continues to use.
“Arianses grows some of the lushest Merlot, and owner Bruce Zunser is fantastic to work with,” he says. That vineyard’s Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot also factor into the Nota Bene program.
Along the way, nearby StoneTree Vineyard also factored into the Nota Bene program from 2006 to 2021, producing what Narby terms as “inky, black and intense fruit.”
Another favorite in the past decade has been Dineen Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills, primarily for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, but there’s also been Roussanne and Viognier; combined in a just-released 2021 White Blend.
“I love working with Dineen vineyard manager Patrick Rawn,” he says. “I call him on the phone — he answers. I text him — he answers. It’s just wonderful.”
Some of Nota Bene’s more recent additions include two other Red Mountain sites — the Williams family’s Heart of the Hill Vineyard for Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tapteil Vineyard. He received Mourvèdre in 2022 and hopes Tapteil’s new owners, Woodinville-based Avennia, will sell Nota Bene some Grenache in 2023.
Narby doesn’t rush their red wines. Nota Bene typically devotes 22 months to barrel aging, followed by 10 months in the bottle prior to releasing them to club members. He and Bryant hold them even longer before offering those same reds to the public.
And while Bryant’s primary role at Nota Bene is handling all of the winery’s administrative tasks, Narby notes that she’s also responsible for critiquing the wine on the nightly dinner table, another step toward ensuring their wines are ready for release.
Narby, Bryant add MCM Wine Co. to lineup
The couple has also launched a snazzy second label, MCM Wine Company – which stands for Mid-Century Modern – that was designed by Seattle graphic designer Warren Wilkins. MCM wines are sometimes priced a few dollars less but crafted from the same quality grapes as the Nota Bene line.
However, rather than sticking to a formula, Narby and Bryant want to showcase characteristics of each vintage and the vineyards they work with.
“What do we know about farming?” said Bryant. “Trusting someone to manage the vineyard is a big part of it. They know what they’re doing.”
Narby adds, “I want to have discontinuity from year to year because I think it’s way more exciting for nature to produce different wines each year. And making wines that are different because of disparities in vintages? It’s exciting to have those challenges.”
Nota Bene wines are available throughout the Puget Sound including Total Wines, Highland Park Corner Store and Esquin Wine & Spirits in Seattle and Compass Wines in Anacortes. Nota Bene is also among the eight wineries featured at The Tasting Room in Pike Place Market — open seven days a week.
:• Nota Bene Cellars, 9320 15th Ave. South, Unit CC, Seattle, WA 98108. Open the second Saturday of each month 1-5 p.m., or by appointment, (206) 459-2785, NotaBeneCellars.com