One night back in February, I remember hearing Nicola squeal with excitement as she read about the up and coming launch party for Nocking Point Wine that was due to be held in Birmingham a few months later.
Nicola's high level of excitement wasn't down to the fact that she loves wine, although that did play a small part, but because Nocking Point Wine is owned by Stephen Amell, the actor who plays DC Comic Book hero- The Arrow, and his friend Andrew Harding. The launch was being held to coincide with the City of Heroes convention being held at Birmingham's Hilton Metropole that weekend which meant that Stephen would be in town and also be in attendance to meet, greet and mingle with the revellers on the night.
Nicola is a huge fan of The Arrow and made an executive decision that we just had to be there for the launch party. So thanks to cheap return train tickets with Virgin Trains and very reasonably price overnight accommodation at Premier Inn (which happened to be right next door to the party venue), we had our Nocking Point Launch Party trip to Birmingham booked and confirmed.
It wasn't long before May arrived and we made our way to Birmingham for what turned out to be a great weekend. We arrived early in the afternoon and after checking into our hotel, we decided to check out the venue for the impending party as well as grab some lunch. Part of the Fullers stable of pubs and hotels, Old Joint Stock is a traditional pub situated inside a Grade II listed building. Originally built as a library back in 1862 before becoming the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank and then one of the early branches of Lloyds Bank in 1889, the building is now home to a fantastic bar that is regarded as one of the top 25 in the UK. As well as the stunning bar, the building is also home to the Old Joint Stock Theatre, a professional 100 seat studio theatre which hosts musical theatre shows, improv comedy and much more.
Speciality pies are the main focus of the menu but if pies don't do it for you, there is a huge range of good range of mains, sharing platters and sandwiches choose from. With thoughts of a lighter lunch, we both opted for sandwiches but Old Joint Stock clearly don't know the meaning of a light lunch as we were both stuffed after our well filled sandwiches. (Maybe we shouldn't have ordered those sides of fries?) Fullers London Pride is one of my favourite beers and Old Joint Stock sells more of this beer that anywhere else in the UK but with so many beers on show that I hadn't tasted before, I decided to wash lunch down with a pint of Frontier (a new craft beer from Fullers that lacked any real body) and a bottle of Wild River that packed a huge hoppy citrus punch. Keen to get into wine tasting mode for the evening ahead, Nicola started as she meant to go on, with a cool white wine and soda.
Suitably fed and watered, we made the short walk back to the hotel for an afternoon nap, hoping to be fully refreshed for the arrival of The Arrow!
It was almost showtime and myself and Nicola crossed the road and joined what was already becoming a rather lengthy queue of party-goers outside of Old Joint Stock. The rumour mill was running at full speed as word spread up the line about who else might be in attendance at the launch. The City of Heroes Convension had seen cast members from Flash, The Arrow, and Gotham so we were all hopeful that we might see Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin, Sean Pertwee to name a few, unfortunately most of the other actors and actresses had started their own journeys home after the event.
When Stephen and Drew arrived, Stephen took time to walk along the queue saying hello and allowing those on the outside edges to grab a sneaky photo or two, before heading back inside to start welcoming us to the launch party.
We were some of the first to get inside and once through the doors we were each given some drinks vouchers to use at the bar, as well as a commemorative wine glass each. Simple instructions were given out about how the night would work but in short, there would be a bar area on one side set up where we could try out the Nocking Point white and rose wines and another bar area set up where there would be samples of the various Nocking Point red wines. At first I was concerned that we would only be getting a snifter of each of the wine but as it turned out, there was unlimited refills on any of the Nocking Point Wines which meant that there was going to be one or two people in Birmingham who would dealing with sore heads come Monday morning, myself and Nicola included!
As it happened, we were right next to the bar serving up the white and rose wine and as I took my sample, I tried to move on to allow others to get to the bar however Nicola and the girl that had been next to us in the queue were rooted to the spot. I mentioned before that most of the stars from the convention had made their way home after the event but The Arrow's trusted assistant John Diggle - AKA actor David Ramsey had been recruited for the evening to act as a bartender and he was pouring wine right in front of us! Nicola eventually blurted out those immortal words "can I get a picture?", to which David replied with a cheeky grin "Selfie?" I think it's fair to say that no matter what happened across the rest of the evening, Nicola had had her money worth. Big thanks to David for being a good sport and making Nicola's night.
After such excitement, we needed a seat and as we were still ahead of the slowly dispersing queue, we managed to commandeer a raised table near the back of the venue that was only a shot distance from the loos and also happened to be on the main path from the kitchen to the bar which meant that every time a platter of canapés passed by, we had first refusal. Special credit needs to go to the kitchen and waiting staff on duty who done a great job feeding the 400 or so people who eventually crammed the bar. I've been to a few events where there is a small element of finger food where the principle of 'if you're not fast, you're last' applies but Old Joint Stock continued to serve food right up until closing time. Our location meant that we were able to make good use of the buffet service and I can honestly say that the kitchen team served up a fantastic range of tasty treats.
It didn't take too long before it was standing room only inside Old Joint Stock and the wine kept flowing. At times Stephen and Drew took their turn pouring wine from the makeshift bars, although I was never lucky enough to actually chat with Stephen about Nocking Point but did manage a quick chat with Drew about the brand an their plans for the future. Currently the wine is only available through The Nocking Point Wine Club and also only available in the USA - so whilst the night wasn't a proper launch event, more an introduction to the brand and their wine, it gave the lucky attendees the chance to sample and enjoy some pretty good wines.
Nocking Point produce a very easy to drink white and rose wines which we both enjoyed, however I would say that the red wines that come out of the 3.5 acre vineyard in Walla Walla Valley in Washington state are some of the best that I've tasted especially the 2009 Merlot that had me returning for a refill, time and time again.
The wines are named with an element of inspiration taken from The Arrow - Wicked Aim, Verdant House and Vigilante to name just a few, this coupled with cool label artwork designed by legendary DC Comics illustrator, Jim Lee, means that each bottle quickly becomes collectors item. If I had been smarter on the night, I could have asked for a few empties on the way out!
As the night drew to an end, Nicola made one last attempt at getting up close and personal with The Arrow but Stephen must have gotten word and was trying to make a quick exit. Not quick enough though and Nicola managed to snap a picture of The Arrow and Diggle bidding each other goodnight.
It wasn't too long before the party began to wind down as the licensing laws in England meant that by 11pm, we had to be on our merry way. We had both had a great night chatting with fellow Arrow fans and enjoying the endless supply of wine so we were more than happy to make the short walk back to our hotel for a good night sleep.
I'm not sure if we will ever see Nocking Point Wine reach the UK but if we do, I'll be doing my best to get my hands on a bottle or two.