There’s no better way to honour the late Harry McWatters than to toast his incredible life and contribution to the Okanagan wine industry with a vintage from one of his wineries – Time, McWatters Collection or Evolve.
That’s exactly what my wife, Kerry, and I did when we heard the news of his passing at the age of 74 on Tuesday.
We cracked open a bottle of Time 2018 Riesling ($23) and reflected on his unprecedented career in B.C. wine.
In fact, with 51 years in the industry, McWatters was in the wine business longer than anyone else in Canada.
He started as a sales manager at Casabello Wines in 1968 in Vancouver and moved to the Okanagan in 1977 with his family to found one of the Valley’s first estate wineries, Sumac Ridge in Summerland in 1980.
See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls followed in 1995.
Those two wineries were sold in 2000 to international conglomerate Vincor, which later became Constellation Brands, and is now Arterra.
McWatters stayed on for a while as an executive, but his entrepreneurial ways meant he soon set up his own business called Vintage Consulting Group to help start-up and established wineries.
He also went on to found Penticton-based Time and McWatters Collection wineries.
Along the way, his daughter, Christa-Lee, got involved and together they co-founded Evolve Winery in Summerland.
The three wineries are all under the Encore Vineyards umbrella, which McWatters was CEO and president.
I imagine Christa-Lee will go on to capably run the company.
McWatters was integral in shaping the modern Okanagan wine industry from the handful of wineries when he arrived to the 300 there are today.
He was a founding member or president of the B.C. Wine Institute, Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) Canada, B.C. Wine Information Society, Okanagan Wine Festivals Society and B.C. Hospitality Foundation.
Awards have been showered upon McWatters – the Order of B.C., Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, Award of Distinction from the Canadian Vintner’s Association, induction into the B.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame, Award of Distinction from the B.C. Wine Institute and Spirited Industry Award from the Vancouver International Wine Festival.
His career and awards are, indeed, impressive.
But in the end, it’s how people remember you that matters.
And McWatters will be remembered as a devoted family man, friend and mentor, a pioneer and innovator who helped the local wine industry to great heights.
My wife and I would have saluted McWatters with the newly-released 2018 Time Brut ($35), the winery’s first foray into sparkling.
However, that bottle was gone shortly after it was released on July 12 to celebrate the first anniversary of Time’s opening in the refurbished Pen-Mar movie theatres in downtown Penticton, making it the Okanagan’s first urban winery.
When I spoke with McWatters in 2017 as planning was underway to open the urban tasting room and restaurant, he said he had no plans to retire because he loved what he did and wanted to do it everyday.
The toast with Time Riesling was apropos as the 2017 vintage of the wine won best in show at the B.C. Best of Varietal Wine Awards and top white at the Cornucopia Food & Drink Festival in Whistler.
Both vintages are exceptional classic Riesling with aromas and flavours of lemon, lime, apricot and peach wrapped around a balanced and off-dry minerality.
There are two other Time wines perfect for toasting McWatters this summer.
The 2018 Rose ($25) is a bolder, Okanagan-style pink made of Syrah boasting ripe strawberry and some herbaceousness.
The 2018 White Meritage ($25) is composed of the traditional white Bordeaux French blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Tributes by the hundreds have poured into Time’s Facebook page for McWatters.
A celebration of life for McWatters will be held Aug. 9 at 1:30 p.m. at the Penticton Lakeside Resort.
“As the founder of the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society, Harry had a tremendous vision,” said current society board chair Angela Brown.
“His passion for B.C. wines and pride in watching the industry grow was unmatched. Today, we have lost an
industry giant and true champion. His family is part of our family and we know the industry will feel this loss deeply. To Harry, we shall all raise a glass in gratitude.”
In 1990, McWatters was also the first chairman of the B.C. Wine Institute, which is also feeling the loss.
“Cheers to you, Harry,” said institute president Miles Prodan.
“You are a true pioneer of our industry who will be deeply missed. The industry won’t be the same without you.” B.C. Wine Institute
Before her dad passed, Christa-Lee McWatters attended the B.C. Wine Institute annual general meeting and was re-elected chair of the board.
Joining her on the board are Dapinder Gill from Kismet, Leo Gebert of St. Hubertus, David Wilson from Mark Anthony Group, Ezra Cipes of
Summerhill Pyramid, Charlie Baessler from Corcelettes, Greg Berti of Andrew Peller, Erik Fisher from Monte Creek Ranch, Josie Tyabji of Arterra, David Kozuki from the B.C. Grapegrowers’ Association and institute president Miles Prodan.
Christa-Lee also presented three awards for outstanding contribution to the B.C. wine industry.
The first Industry Recognition Award went to laywer Jeffrey Thomas, who chaired the B.C. Wine Authority for 10 years.
The second Industry Recognition Award was bestowed on Darrell Jones, president of Save-On-Foods, which was the first grocery store chain to welcome B.C. wine to its shelves.
The Award of Distinction went to grape growers Richard Cleave and Robert Goltz of R&R Vineyard Management.
“Richard and Robert have been fundamental in planting and farming most of the premium vineyard sites and production methods for grape farmers post-free-trade agreement in 1990,” said Prodan.
“They are two of the most knowledgeable viticulturists in the province.”
Steve MacNaull is a reporter at The Okanagan Weekend. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.