Andrew Harding (’05 MBA) and his friend Stephen Amell were road-tripping from Los Angeles to Oakland to watch the Toronto Blue Jays play when they decided to make a quick detour.
Harding convinced Amell to stop in Paso Robles to do a little wine tasting. The Canadian actor, who would soon become known for portraying Oliver Queen—aka Green Arrow—on the CW show Arrow, had never been.
Their short side-trip turned into a three-day visit. They never made it to the game. But, at the end of their impromptu May 2012 adventure, Amell turned to Harding with a question that changed their lives. “Hey man, how do we do this all the time?”
By the end of that year, they founded Nocking Point Wines. Now, 10 years later, it’s grown into a primarily subscription-based business that ships custom, celebrity-curated blends to nearly 10,000 members and more than 100,000 individual customers each year. While most sales are online, Nocking Point also recently opened a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla.
“All of our wines are really approachable, and they have really interesting stories behind them,” says Harding, a former MTV executive who founded the music licensing start-up SourceAudio.
The story behind Pink Wine for Dudes, one of Nocking Point’s flagship offerings, is “pretty simple. We’d always had our buddies over for football, and they’d laugh when we’d have rosé and they’d have beer. When Stephen and I made our first rosé we thought we should have some fun and turn it on its head and say, hey, this is OK for guys to drink. It was a reaction to the looks and the comments we got from our buddies who are beer drinkers.”
Harding grew up in Walla Walla next door to Chris Figgins (’96 Hort.), president and winemaking director for Figgins Family Wine Estates. His parents, Gary and Nancy, founded Leonetti Cellar, the oldest winery in the Walla Walla wine region.
Nocking Point started small, with not quite 1,700 bottles of Year One, a Bordeaux-style blend made by Marie-Eve Gilla, founder and then-winemaker of Walla Walla’s Forgeron Cellars. Harding and Amell affixed the labels by hand, and Amell posted about the wine’s availability on Facebook. It sold out within 24 hours. “Our problem was not selling the wine but having enough product,” Harding says. “We’re very lucky.”
He first connected with Amell soon after the Hollywood hopeful drove to LA from Canada in 2009. Harding’s wife, Jen, is Canadian, and Amell found her on Facebook. All three met up at a sports bar, and, Harding says, “He and I just hit it off.”
Harding was still at MTV, where, he says, “I was a VP by 29 years old. There weren’t many at that age at that level. And I attribute some of the knowledge and confidence I gained by going through the MBA program at WSU. It was an absolute turning point for me. I was challenged in ways I’d never been challenged before.”
When it came to their wine venture, the friends “could play to our strengths,” Harding says. “Mine is technology, and his is in acting and having a fanbase.”
Nocking Point produced its first vintage in 2013 and started collaborating with celebrities in 2015, partnering with friends such as Jared Padalecki, star of the CW show Supernatural. Since then, collaborators have included actor Jason Momoa, TV and radio personality Adam Corolla, actress Ginnifer Goodwin, wrestler Chris Jericho, celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, and more.
Kutcher is an investor and member of Nocking Point’s board of directors. Skateboarder Tony Hawk is on the advisory board. So is wrestler Cody Rhodes and former pro wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Both have been consulting winemakers for the brand.
Most of the grapes and juice that Nocking Point uses comes from the Walla Walla and Columbia Valleys. Nocking Point partners with winemakers such as Justin Wylie, owner of Va Piano Vineyards, and Sean Boyd, owner of Rotie Cellars, to make the wines. Boyd crafted the first two offerings of the recently launched line of Gametime wines, a pre-season edition red and a pre-season edition rosé. Since last fall, Gametime wines have been available at BevMo and through GoPuff, a food-and-alcohol delivery app.
Proceeds from Nocking Point’s Outside Wine, a red blend selected by Kutcher and Kunis, help fund charities such as Hawk’s The Skateboard Project, which helps young people build skate parks in underserved communities, and Thorn, co-founded by Kutcher and Demi Moore. It builds technology to defend children from sexual abuse. Outside Wine follows Quarantine Wine, an Oregon pinot noir selected by Kutcher and Kunis to raise funds for charity during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic, Harding and Amell, both based in the LA area, would travel several times a year to Walla Walla, where Harding’s twin sister, Sarrah Harding, manages customer service, fulfillment, and the tasting room.
In 2020, the company received more than 130,000 orders, and produced and sold nearly 30,000 total cases.
“Walla Walla makes world-class wine,” Harding says. “I’m proud to be part of it, that’s for sure.”