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Fine wines, fine cause a winning combo for Konopka

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators centre Zenon Konopka has teamed up with a Niagara-on-the-Lake winery to launch his own red and white vintages. He plans to donate $1 from the sale of each bottle to (Getty Images).

You grow up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, you almost can't help but gain an affinity for fine wines.

The Niagara Region has been widely recognized for years as a producer of some of North America's highest quality vintages. So it's hardly a surprise to hear Zenon Konopka — a native of that area — sharing his thoughts about wine in the Ottawa Senators dressing room.

"I grew up on a farm and we grew grapes and we had vineyards," said the 31-year-old Senators centre. "So from a young age, I understood the process of how wine was made. It's a lot of fun and it's a good business ... I enjoy talking about wines and tasting wines.

"I'm definitely not a wine connoisseur, but that’s the magic of wines. Nobody knows everything about wine and everyone’s got different taste buds. What you like might not be what I like. But it’s a great discussion, so it’s been pretty fun getting into this business."

In recent years, the former Ottawa 67's star has also become an entrepreneur of some note and naturally, a few of his business ventures involve the wine industry. He's a minority shareholder in a company called Vin-Aire, which manufactures wine aerators, an alternative to traditional decanting.

Now Konopka is putting his brand on the wine itself. In partnership with Palatine Hills Estate Winery, which is based in Niagara-on-the-Lake, he's created ZK28 wines. Both the white and red vintages were launched at a private function Thursday night, but Konopka is equally enthused about another partnership that is associated with the product.

He plans to donate $1 from the sale of each bottle — and all proceeds from tonight's event — to, a group created to help prevent and raise awareness of the effects of head injuries on athletes and children. Konopka became aware of the group during an appearance on TSN's Off The Record, when he shared a panel discussion with Keith Primeau, a former NHLer whose career was ended by four concussions and co-founded

"It was something that really stuck with me and when we talked about the wine label, I realized that this is the time to do it and give back to a great cause," said Konopka. "I've been approached for awhile to do a wine label out of Niagara-on-the-Lake because I'm from there ... (The wines) fit our portfolio, having wine aerators and grapes. This is a hobby that helps a good cause and gets some awareness out there."

Primeau, who attended the wine launch with business partner Kerry Goulet — both are post-concussion sufferers with a passion for the cause — said they were pleasantly surprised when Konopka offered to associated his new wines with their group. 

"We were taken aback by his generosity, for sure," said Primeau. "It takes money to move (a message) and we’ve been shoestring. It’s been Kerry and I trying to get message out as best we can. To have someone like Zenon step up and help in this way is going to allow us to generate even more awareness and recognition."

ZK28's version of red wine ("Power Play") is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, while the white ("4-on-4") is a combination of gewurztraminer, riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.

"It's a good, solid wine," said Konopka. "I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with it."

Konopka hopes to have his wines available soon in LCBO stores in the Ottawa area. About a dozen restaurants in the capital, including the Empire Grill, Metropolitan and Fratelli's, will soon offer ZK28 wines in their establishments.

"We've launched it in Ottawa, my second home, and we'll try to branch out from there," he said.

Konopka might having another potential sales spot right across the Senators dressing room. Defenceman Chris Phillips and a group of partners are months away from opening The Big Rig, a pub and microbrewery to be located in the west end of Ottawa, next door to the new IKEA plaza. If all goes as planned, Phillips said, he'll open for business sometime in May.

"It's been a couple of years in the making," said Phillips. "A lot of talks and ideas thrown around with the partners I'm involved with. We're getting close to (opening) day and it's going to be exciting. I've been involved with other places before, but this one is more unique. It's our own ideas and we're bringing it from the ground up."

Phillips sees it as a venture that'll help set up his life after he retires from hockey.

"(Ottawa) is basically home now," said the Calgary native. "So setting something up that we'll have to work with and have fun with when hockey is done is something that I'm pleased to be doing."

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