Wine and Dine

Derek Kontkanen is the winemaker at Dark Horse Vineyards, the Okanagan’s newest winery, which evolved from Inniskillin in Oliver.

Dark Horse isn’t only a pop-rap hit song by Katy Perry and Juicy J, it’s the Okanagan’s newest winery.

For years, Inniskillin Okanagan produced wines using grapes from its 23-acre Dark Horse Vineyard on Oliver’s Golden Mile Bench.

Often the wines were also identified on the label as being from Dark Horse Vineyard.

However, Inniskillin recently decided to give Dark Horse its completely own brand and label.

The labels on heavy-glassed bottles feature the silhouette of an elegant dark horse, of course, and black and silver colouring.

The reasons for giving Dark Horse its own exclusive identity are myriad.

Dark Horse Vineyard’s location on the Golden Mile Bench is special because the bench was the first sub-region of the Okanagan appellation.

It received that distinction because the bench is on the west side of the Okanagan Valley where its southeast exposure captures and holds the heat of the sun, nurturing grapes that grow in the gravel-silt soils left behind by a passing glacier 10,000 years ago.

In this unique terroir, Dark Horse Vineyard is situated at a 350-metre elevation (65 metres above the Valley floor) where frost is rare, water drainage and retention and air circulation are ideal.

In fact, if you want to get technical, the vineyard is irrigated by a dual system of buried micro jet and drip, which creates a broad, long and slow wetting and drainage pattern.

The result is grapes grow small and thick-skinned, which are perfect for concentrated wines with texture.

In addition, Dark Horse vine rows are planted in orientation with natural air-flow channels, so the grapes enjoy cool evening breezes, which further allows the grapes to develop complex flavours.

The vineyard was formerly planted with less-desirable hybrid grape varieties in the 1970s.

However, vineyard owner Alan Tyabji uprooted them in the great-grape pull-out of 1988 to plant premium vinifera varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

More than 30 years later, Inniskillin and Dark Horse winemaker Derek Kontkanen are crafting these grapes into top-shelf wines.

Kontkanen is a combination scientist-artist who earned his honours degree at the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.

He worked at Inniskillin Niagara before moving west to head up the winemaking at Inniskillin Okanagan and Dark Horse.

The Dark Horse 2016 Meritage ($60) is the winery’s flagship blend of traditional red Bordeaux varieties.

As such, it’s dark and complex, but also vivid and approachable with a profile of blackberry, plum and vanilla.

The 2016 Cabernet Franc ($45) is a single-Bordeaux-variety expression of raspberry, plum, mocha and vanilla.

The 2017 Pinot Noir ($45) is bright and brilliant with aromas and flavours of cherry, strawberry and vanilla.

The only white in the portfolio is the 2018 Chardonnay ($40), a tropical-inspired treat of pineapple, coconut and caramel.

Dark Horse and Inniskillin are part of Arterra Wines, the conglomerate owned by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, which also includes Okanagan wineries Jackson-Triggs, Nk’Mip, Black Sage, See Ya Later Ranch, Sumac Ridge and Steller’s Jay.

Arterra also owns Ontario wineries Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, Sawmill Creek, Open, Bodacious, and Naked Grape; international wineries Kim Crawford (New Zealand), Ruffino (Italy), Bu (France, Italy and Spain); Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi (California), Mallee Rock (Australia), Ravens Wood (California), Mouton Cadet (France), Meiomi (California), Wallaroo Trail (Australia) and Revolution (California); Growers Cider; Wine Rack stores in Ontario; and RJS Craft Winemaking stores in Canada and the U.S.

Historic Chianti.

Ser Lapo is first person to ever mention Chianti wine in a written document in 1398.

Therefore, a reproduction of the Italian merchant’s handwriting is featured on the label of Mazzei Ser Lapo 2016 Chianti Classico Reserva ($33).

Ser Lapo also happens to be an ancestor of the Mazzei family, which has been making wine in Italy’s famed Tuscany region since 1435.

Chianti is usually synonymous with wine made of the red Sangiovese grape, but for the Ser Lapo, the blend is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot.

The result is an Old World beauty with aromas and flavours of cherry, raspberry, violet and cocoa.

Ser Lapo is imported by Vancouver-based Renaissance Wine Merchants and is for sale at the government liquor stores in Penticton, Kelowna’s Orchard Park and Lakeshore and some private stores such as Riverside in Penticton, Vernon Square, Cask & Barrel in West Kelowna and Mission Liquor in Kelowna.

Drink more amazing wine.

Forget Dry January.

James Cluer of Vancouver-based Fine Vintage Ltd. is recommending these resolutions for 2020: drink more amazing wine, eat more delicious food, go on some bucket-list adventures to wine regions, make new friends and have an absolute blast.

To help you keep those resolutions, Cluer has options.

Fine Vintage offers the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) first level one-day course in Kelowna on Jan. 25; the three-day level-two course in Kelowna on Feb. 23 and March 7-8; the six-day level-three course in Kelowna over the first three weekends in February; and the Canadian Wine Scholar seminar April 18-19 in Kelowna.

Fine Vintage is also leading six trips to wine regions around the world this year – Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy, South Africa, Spain, Rhone and Tuscany.

All the details are at

Augmented reality.

Man says: Don’t tell me if you’ll go out for dinner with me. Just smile for yes or backflip for no.

Woman replies: I’m pretty good at backflips.

That’s one of the corny-clever pick-up lines you’ll hear when you point your smartphone at a bottle of wine from The View Winery in Kelowna.

The View has built augmented reality into the labels of 10 of its wines.

What that means is after you download the winery’s free app you can bring the label to life with your smartphone.

A man and woman will appear on the screen, deliver the pick up line and tell you a little about the wine in the bottle.

By the way, the backflip pick-up line is on the label of the Gewurztraminer, which is touted as being luscious peach and melon with crisp acidity.

The View is the first Canadian winery to use this technology.

The labels were developed for The View by Csek Creative of Kelowna.

Steve MacNaull is a reporter at The Okanagan Weekend. Reach him at

Also catch Steve’s Okanagan Wine & Dine Show on Saturdays at 11:15 a.m. on If you miss it then, shows are always available in the podcast vault.