I first met Harry McWatters in 2005, during Vancouver’s International Wine Festival. In the following days, during lunches and dinners (always with wine), I learned many things about him: he had an unwavering affection for sparkling wine (he created the province’s first, and most quaffed, traditional method bubbly, Steller’s Jay Brut, in the mid-1980s), a fine palate, and to my approval, didn’t suffer fools.
Among his many achievements: he established the province’s first estate winery, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, in 1980, and was a founding member of Canada’s Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA), and the BC Wine Institute (BCWI). In the early 1990s, he planted Canada’s largest plot of Bordeaux varietals on a fallow 115-acre vineyard, along Black Sage Road in Oliver. Along the way, he accumulated Hawthorne Mountain Vineyard (now, See Ya Later Ranch).
Eventually, he sold it all.
In 2008, he established his own consulting firm which, in part, evolved into Encore Vineyards Limited, under which his three more recent wine brands (McWatters Collection, Time Winery, and Evolve Cellar) are made.
While interviewing McWatters in 2010, he shared with me the story of how he first began making wine. Growing up in North Vancouver, he was used to drinking wine with dinner but, after moving out, suddenly found himself without access to his family’s wine stock. “So,” he told me. “At age sixteen, I started making my own wine.”
Last January, for a story on him for MONTECRISTO Magazine, I made a quick trip to the Okanagan to visit his still unfinished Time Winery in downtown Penticton. While eager to open the doors on his sleek new effort, McWatters needed a reprieve from the winter even more; he was leaving for a vacation in Mexico the next day. Even so, with the weather delaying my flight, McWatters pulled up to The Station Public House near the airport. We ordered beer and cider and chatted while people stopped to gather around; everyone knew Harry. I’d never seen him so casual, nor relaxed. It’s the memory of Harry McWatters that I hold most dear.
On July 23, 2019, after more than 50 vintages making wine, and just one week after celebrating the first anniversary of his pride and joy, Time Winery and Kitchen, McWatters passed away in his sleep at his Summerland home.
Raise a glass in memory for this extraordinary man, preferably one filled with bubbly.
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