Long associated with summer holidays filled with lake recreation, triathlons, and the Peach Festival, Penticton is also a gateway to Canada’s most beautiful wine country. However, less than a decade ago, the city’s downtown core was in decline and needed a makeover. The city council longed to reclaim its vibrancy, to invest in the future of the frayed lakeside community. And so, a plan for revitalization began to take shape. As the downtown transformed, new businesses moved in; suddenly the area had restaurants, wine bars, dynamic breweries, and even a distillery.
Now, Penticton lays claim to the Okanagan’s first urban winery.
Harry McWatters is a founding pioneer of British Columbia’s thriving wine industry. Having celebrated his 50th vintage in 2017, McWatters is primarily recognized for establishing Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in Summerland in 1980, and Hawthorne Mountain Vineyard in Okanagan Falls in 1995 (the latter of which was sold to Constellation Brands in 2000 and renamed See Ya Later Ranch Estate Winery in 2003).
Among many wine-related firsts, McWatters is founding chair of the British Columbia Wine Institute (BCWI), and of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) of Canada. He is also responsible for producing British Columbia’s first traditional method sparkling wine, and for Canada’s largest planting of Bordeaux varietals on a fallow 115-acre vineyard, along Black Sage Road in Oliver.
McWatters planted those noble vines on the site designated as the Black Sage Vineyard in the early 1990s; it quickly became synonymous with wines of great quality. Less than a decade later, in 2000, McWatters sold a portion of that vineyard to Vincor Canada. He kept 60 acres, but having sold the name Black Sage with the vineyard, he christened his remaining portion Sundial.
In 2008, McWatters established his own consulting firm which, in part, evolved into Encore Vineyards Limited, under which his three wine brands—McWatters Collection, Time Winery, and Evolve Cellars—are made. Evolve is the brainchild of his daughter, Encore’s marketing director Christa-Lee McWatters Bond. Born into the industry (she made her first wine at Sumac Ridge at age nine), her career has followed in her father’s footsteps; she is currently the chair of the BCWI.
The McWatters family (including Christa-Lee’s brother Darren, who works in production) had dreams of building a winery on the Sundial Vineyard site. A plan in hand, they broke ground and began construction on Time Winery. While still in the early stages, though, an offer to buy the entirety of Sundial Vineyard came forth. They couldn’t refuse—the sale allowed them to make wines from fruit sourced from throughout the Okanagan, not just estate-grown Black Sage grapes. But that meant the family was once again in need of somewhere to make their wines.
Built in 1956, the PenMar Theatre had been an integral part of downtown Penticton’s landscape for decades. It closed in 2012, and after efforts by a local community arts society failed to breathe life back into the mainstay, McWatters purchased it in 2016.
Starting with an entirely new strategy, the family hoped to build more than just a winery; they envisioned a gathering place. “The plan is for community events. We want to be the central hub of the industry,” McWatters Bond says. “It’s all about camaraderie.”
Located just three blocks from the lake, the remodelled PenMar is now the sleek home of Time Winery. “I believe that the addition of our winery will be a big spark in the continuing redevelopment of the downtown area of Penticton,” asserts McWatters. “This is becoming the entertainment district.”
The PenMar’s glass visage, fir beams, red detail (to match the winery’s logo), and industrial accents are lightyears ahead of the theatre’s previous appearance. Inside, one of the viewing rooms remains intact, allocated for community events such as conferences, seminars, and receptions—and yes, movies. The PenMar’s front concession area has been transformed into a tasting room, retail shop, and restaurant; the entire visitor’s centre can be viewed through its modern glass facade and functioning garage-style doors, which open up to a 60-seat patio.
Looking out over the visitor areas below, Time’s offices have been relegated to the old projection rooms on the second level. In the back, the three remaining auditoriums house a functioning winery and barrel cellar. It is here that the bold and complex McWatters Collection, the elegant and racy Time, and the approachable and fruit-forward Evolve wines are made—and deftly juggled—by winemaker Lawrence Buhler.
At the heart of it, Time is a complete package, and one guaranteed to become a destination for locals and tourists—not to mention a worthy addition to the growing charm of the parish.
UPDATE, April 3, 2018: Lawrence Buhler is no longer with Time Winery.
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