Not much beats a day of pleasant surprises, and when those surprises come with delicious wine and can help a good cause, well it ends up being almost too good to be true.
But that's the spirit of Nockingpoint Wines. Started by a pair of friends in 2013, it began in the spirt of discovery and fun and has managed to infuse that spirit in to a delicious selection of wines from a vineyard in Walla Walla, Washington, that yields 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 50 percent Syrah grapes.
"I really didn't know much about wine at all," co-founder Stephen Amell told me as we sat in a quiet corner booth at Vitello's Restaurant in Studio City, California, Saturday, October 25, for the Nockingpoint Wine release party. We were joined by his friend and vineyard partner Andrew Harding.
"Andrew and I were on our way to Oakland and stopped in Paso Robles," Amell reflected, his incredible good looks hard to hide even under a baseball cap and in the dimly lit corner of the restaurant. It's no wonder his career is doing so well. Outside of wine, Amell plays the lead in one of the biggest shows for the CW, Arrow. That show has consistently set ratings records for the CW and its spinoff, The Flash (featuring Stephen's cousin, Robbie Amell) is doing the same. Almost 400 people are lined up around the block in Studio City this fine day each having bought a $150 ticket to sample wines with their superhero.
It's not lost on Amell.
"The show's doing well right now and we all hope it's going to be around for some time," he stated modestly, "but it won't be around forever. I have a platform right now, my community of fans and friends are along for the ride with me. It's nice, and allows me to indulge myself and try out things like the winery."
As we spoke the room filled with a diverse group of individuals, all of them wanting to be me at that point, nestled in a corner with the two men of the hour. People from every demographic were lining up, from women in their 30s and 40s to millennials, trend-setters, wine lovers, foodies, gay, straight, every color and orientation in between. The spirit truly was celebratory. Upon arrival they were given bags with a wine glass and other materials, coupons for cocktails, T-shirts, and they each got to take a digital photo with Harding and Amell. Each greeted every attendee with enthusiasm and a genuine spirit of gratitude. It was infectious.
"I was so nervous when I met him," partygoer Anthony Lane told me.
"We drove down from Fresno to be here," Michael and Judy Wagner told me. "My wife loves the show and I love wine, so why not," Michael added. "I can't believe he's right here," Judy exclaimed, wine glass in hand.
And what of the wine?
Right now, there are five offerings. And this is not BevMo... if you want some, you may have to wait. For instance, if you want the 2009 Merlot -- which is 100 percent Merlot with a total number of cases produced being 100, released on October 25, 2014 -- you have to join the wait list. The winemaker is Chuck Reininger with original label design by Brian Brown and after tasting it, it's worth the wait.
During the interview Amell and Harding were drawn away temporarily for photos which was fine because Amell's lovely wife actress Cassandra Jean stepped right in. Jean has taken a year off from acting to have the couple's now 1-year-old daughter Mavi. That gave her time to focus on the wine as well, and she's become quite the expert. She grabbed my photographer and friend Daniel Charleston and me and whisked us up to a table full of beautiful women all with bottles in front of them ready to serve.
"These are our friends from L.A. and Vancouver," Jean told me. "It's a real family affair today, all hands on deck. Now, what do you want to try?" she asked as she pointed to the five wines.
"Suggestions?" I asked.
"I like the lighter wines during the day, and then the heavier reds in the evening," she stated. I immediately liked the answer since it allows for drinking both during the day and evening. Kidding.
The lighter wine would be the Apex 1.5 Rosé. It is a blend and produced by Chuck Reininger as well. It is the perfect wine for an afternoon gathering or business lunch. At 100 cases, get on the wait list early.
The Cabernet Sauvignon Wicked Aim quickly became my favorite. It's full, hearty; it was released May 1, 2014, and is by winemaker Jerry Myrick. This is the glass I want greeting me at the end of a long day or over a first romantic dinner.
The line also offers the Verdant House Wine 2013, Year Two: New Bow (which features female winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla and Forgeron, my second favorite), Maja White Blend also by Gilla, Apex Rose and Year One Vigilante Red. Each unique and each able to be paired with either fine dining or snacks, wine, cheese. And a portion of all goes to the fight against cancer. Amell's mother has fought breast cancer twice, while Harding's grandfathers both encountered the disease.
Jean sipped each with us, telling us the story of the wine. It's obvious she, Amell, Harding, they love what they're doing with this project.
So with the Hollywood schedule of a super hero and the duties of two new dads, how hands on are the duo?
"We taste every wine that we're going to make, we have our friends over, we have a blind taste test," Amell added. "And we work with three great winemakers in Walla Walla. The key is knowing what you do know and knowing what you don't. So the mixing, the making, that process, we are hands off. But we're not just lending our name, we are very hands on," he concluded.
And Harding is truly the businessman of the two.
"In 2014 we did 1200 cases and were 100% sold out. We're on track to double that in 2015 and will continue doubling until we max out at about 10,000 cases per year," Harding injected with an excitement and an enthusiasm that was, and is, infectious.
And while Amell is just as much about the wine and the business, he never forgets another reason they are doing it.
"We want people to feel good about the purchase. I mean, they are buying it after all," he began. "The wine isn't free but they're able to do it and contribute to a good cause. We are working with the 'Hole in the Wall Gang' today with a silent auction, a raffle, it's great they get to come and have a good party, listen to good music and help a good cause. We're never going to have a party just to have a party. We're always going to identify something and someone that could use our help. We have been given a great platform to help people and it would be wrong not to use it,
"Everything about the brand is supposed to be would we do this, would we drink this, would we like this, would we wear it," Amell continued. "For the party today, is this the kind of party that we would like to go to if two of our buddies were throwing a fall release party? We haven't been interested in any preconceived notion of the wine industry or what it is or is supposed to be. We were just two buddies that wanted to create a winery in our image, which sounds like a weird thing to say but that's how we've gone about it," he laughed.
If sold out cases and rooms full of happy consumers are an indication of success, then Amell and Harding have achieved their goals. Both are a delight, well versed, unassuming, approachable, personable. And the product isn't bad at all, not just a vanity adventure, but a real foray in to winemaking.
And as for Amell's celebrity, he appears to be the best kind: the kind that doesn't care. As TV's Arrow he does his good under the dark of night, hidden from site. With Nockingpoint Wine he's able to do some good out front and have some fun with friends and family while doing it. He and Jean make a great couple and as bromances go the Harding/Amell one literally has everyone enjoying its fruits.
A special note to Heroes for Hire. They are a unique agency that matches causes and those that personify heroes in the media, TV and film. They're so interesting, they'll be a future story. But they've helped matched a lot of heroes and events and helped raise money for many charities and deserve a shout out.
Now, I snagged a bottle of Wicked Aim and I've got the latest Arrow on HuluPlus. A nice red for this week's problems in Starling City.
Photos by Daniel Charleston and Heroes For Hire