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. The city council longed to reclaim its vibrancy, and so a plan for revitalization began to take shape. As the downtown transformed, new businesses moved in; suddenly the area had restaurants, 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 later renamed See Ya Later Ranch Estate Winery).
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.
But for his next act, his sights are set on Penticton.
Built in 1956, the PenMar Theatre was 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.
The goal was to build more than just a winery—McWatters and his team envisioned a gathering place. “The plan is for community events. We want to be the central hub of the industry,” says Christa-Lee McWatters Bond, daughter to McWatters and marketing director for the family’s Encore Vineyards Limited. “It’s all about camaraderie.”
Located just three blocks from the lake, the remodelled PenMar is now the sleek home of Encore’s 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 light years ahead of the theatre’s previous appearance. Inside, one of the viewing rooms remains intact, allocated for community events such as conferences, seminars, 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 Encore’s wine brands—the bold and complex McWatters Collection, the elegant and racy Time, and the approachable and fruit-forward Evolve—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.
UPDATE, July 4, 2018: Graham Pierce has joined as director of winemaking, and Nadine Allander has joined as winemaker.
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