Harry McWatters, considered by many to be the Grandfather of the B.C. Wine Industry, passed away in his sleep at his home in Summerland on July 23. He was 74 years of age.
Harry had an impressive list of accomplishments, including founding Sumac Ridge in Summerland in the 1980s, one of the first estate wineries when there were only a few wineries in all of B.C. Nowadays, there are 370 licensed B.C. wineries.
Harry didn’t stop at owning one winery. He later headed See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls, Evolve Cellars in Summerland, and recently TIME winery in Penticton. Just a week and a half before his death, Harry had celebrated the first anniversary of TIME Winery with a public open house celebration.
Under his leadership, he was the first to plant a significant acreage of the noble Riesling at a time when most B.C. wine was made from inferior grapes. He was also the first to make a B.C. sparkling wine, Steller’s Jay.
Harry was a founding member of the BC Wine Institute that introduced the Vintners Quality Alliance or VQA, establishing high quality wine standards. And he played a leading role in recognizing excellence through the Okanagan Wine Festivals and he helped employees in the wine industry through the BC Hospitality Foundation charity.
I have known Harry McWatters since the early 1980s when I hosted a daily radio wine show. He was always willing to support my efforts at wine journalism and wine appreciation classes. He was a pioneer, an innovative but humble leader, a team player, generous, positive and willing to help others succeed.
Like a good glass of wine, Harry McWatters was full of life with lots of character and sunshine, fun to be around, and often at parties and celebrations. Those who knew Harry, and there many, will miss his joie de vivre. There is some comfort, however. His tremendous legacy will live on in the high quality of B.C. wines and the B.C. wine industry.
If you want to pay tribute to the life and times of Harry McWatters, I recommend two of his finest wines, the McWatters Collection Chardonnay ($24.99) and the McWatters Collection Meritage ($29.99). Both are available at Ironwood’s VQA store.
Upcoming Event at Local Winery
Lulu Island Winery will be hosting their Third Annual End of Summer Wine Swirling Event on Saturday, August 24 and Sunday, August 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The local winery is located at 16880 Westminster Hwy in Richmond.
On both days there will be winery tours starting at 10:30 a.m. every half hour as well as tastings of Lulu Island Winery wines. On Saturday at noon, they will celebrate their 2015 Riesling Chardonnay winning Gold and Best of Class in the 2019 Los Angeles International Wine Competition. All are welcome.
Eric Hanson is a wine writer and former Richmond and UBC Science Instructor