What is a dark horse?
Wikipedia: a little-known person or thing that emerges to prominence, especially in a competition of some sort or a contestant that seems unlikely to succeed.
Cambridge Dictionary: a person who keeps their interests and ideas secret, especially someone who has a surprising ability or skill
I am not sure why Dark Horse Wines picked its moniker (though I can guess), but meeting Beth Liston, the Californian wine maker, you instantly get the feeling she would have succeeded in anything she put her mind to. Down to earth, feet on the ground and with a vision that knows no bounds, Beth knows exactly what she wants and she has been putting this energy into both her winemaking, displaying amazing ability and skill using the best winemaking practices from around the world, and lately also into establishing The Dark Horse Champions, a campaign that seeks out and rewards unsung heroes in photography, fashion and food.
Beth was on a flying visit to London last month, when we met up with her at the Looking Glass Cocktail Club in London’s Shoreditch to hear about her latest venture and to taste the two latest wines she has brought across the pond.
The two wines joining her Dark Horse Chardonnay and Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon on UK shelves are the Dark Horse Merlot, a robust dark ruby red wine, it’s big, its bold and the ideal wine to have with a barbecue or a nice Sunday roast, and the Dark Horse Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp, clean, citrussy wine, perfect for the summer or with salad or fish dishes all year round.
We were lucky enough to try all four Dark Horse wines on the night and we loved them all. They really are Californian sunshine in a glass.
The Dark Horse Champions was born from Beth’s desire to award those who are bold and innovative and who defy expectation in everyday life and she drafted four other likeminded craftsmen in to help her select three Dark Horse Champions who, like them, have taken a risk on the unexpected to achieve something outstanding in their field. Apart from Beth herself, the judges were Janan Leo, Founder of Cocorose London, who turned the strains of her daily commute into a million pound business after launching an innovative foldable shoe, Mark Gevaux aka ‘The Rib Man’, the ‘godfather of street food’, who lost his leg and job as a butcher and rebuilt his career in street food at farmers’ markets, becoming one of the most talked about street food vendors on twitter, Tom Hunter, award-winning internationally acclaimed artist, who started out fly pitching on pavements and finally Jen Rubio, co-founder of Away Travel, who saw a gap in the market for affordable yet well-designed carry-on bags.
The Dark Horse Champions are rewarded with a bursary to develop their craft and business and will be mentored on to the next stage of their career by their respective judge. Each will launch their new venture in conjunction with Dark Horse wine and will be supported by a full media and influencer program in addition to the financial bursary.
Beth Liston says: ‘Dark Horse seeks the bold and distinctive, those who are more than what they appear, strive for their passion in their craft and achieve the exceptional. Our champions are all pioneering leaders in their field who have achieved something extraordinary, and will go on to inspire the Dark Horse in all of us’.
‘We hope that by winning a Dark Horse Champion award that we are encouraging our winners to be brave and challenge the norm, giving them a much needed boost to continue to defy expectation in their craft”.
And these are the three inaugural Dark Horse Champions:
o Harriet Sanders, Founder of Harriet Sanders Accessories – Harriet graduated from London College of Fashion and quickly set about starting her brand of iconic handmade leather handbags made from ethically sourced Italian leathers. From starting her business in her garden shed, she has gone from strength to strength, winning Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016. Harriet’s belief in design, quality, colour and good customer service pushes her company forward, and it is her bold approach to her craft that has defined her success.
o Rosaline Shahnavaz, Award-Winning Photographer – At the mere age of 25, Rosaline’s work has been published and exhibited extensively both in the UK and internationally. Rather than seeking to create ‘perfect’ pictures, Rosaline boldly strives to capture the real, unexpected moments of life. Refusing to accept that she couldn’t achieve her dream job without family connections to guide her path, Rosaline presumed nothing and pursued her dream to become the true definition of a Dark Horse.
o Jez Felwick, Founder of The Bowler – One of the first street food trucks in the UK and now a firm favourite, Jez ran his own talent management company before ‘putting his balls on the line’ and boldly setting up The Bowler. Jez defied expectation to launch The Bowler after falling in love with the American street food scene on his travels. In a thriving industry, The Bowler has gone from success to success, bolding standing out from its competitors with an offering that is unique, innovative and delicious.
Jez also supplied the food on the night and we can only say that it was really, really good, especially the chicken meat balls in a Thai sauce and the beef chorizo meat balls. Lovely!
Dark Horse Merlot and Dark Horse Sauvignon Blanc are both available at Sainsburys and Ocado RRP £8.00. For more information on Dark Horse Wine and Dark Horse Champions, follow Dark Horse on Instagram @darkhorsewineuk or visit