BC’s wine industry has grown substantially over the past 50 years. It is hard to believe that there was only a handful of wineries in BC in the 1980’s to over 300 today. There have been notable individuals who have changed BC’s wine industry, including the one and only, Harry McWatters. We had a chance to catch up with him before he comes to Vancouver next week for the Vancouver International Wine Festival, happening from February 11-19.
Harry has celebrated many milestones in his career in the industry. Starting off as a salesman for Casabello Wines back in 1968, he realized one important thing: truly understanding your consumer and making changes to keep up with their demands. After moving and falling in love with the Okanagan, he founded Sumac Ridge in 1980. At this time, Sumac Ridge was a Golf Course so he shortened the course and planted the first set of grapes, consisting of Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay.
Sumac Ridge is a special place- it’s BC’s first Estate Winery. And in 1987, it was also the birthplace of BC’s first traditional method sparkling wine, Sumac Ridge Stellar Jay Cuvee, which Harry believes converted people to the idea of drinking wine. It was cold, bubbly, sweet and an easy transition that was more approachable by the average consumer- which is still true to this day, almost 30 years later. Sumac Ridge is also still very well known today, especially for the Gewürztraminer- Canada’s largest selling white BC VQA wine.
Another notable moment in Harry’s career was in 1990, when he became the founding chair for the BC Wine Institute and Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Canada. This was one of the most pivotal turning points in the industry as a regulatory system was established which guarantees the high quality and authenticity of origin for Canadian Wines. He also produced Canada’s first Meritage wine and received an Order of BC in 2003 for his contributions to the Canadian wine industry.
Fast forward to today, Harry now owns three wineries: McWatters Collection, TIME Winery and Evolve Cellars, which has a beautiful new tasting room in Summerland- a great spot for lunch!
This spring, expect exciting things from TIME Winery as Harry opens BC’s first city winery in Penticton. The winery is being constructed in the local theater, The Pen-Mar Cinema, which was build back in 1956 that Harry actually went to as a young boy. Crews are currently revamping the four existing theaters and turning them into the Fermentation Hall, the Barrel Cellar, the Stainless Tank Storage and finally, the fourth theater, will be used for special events. The new winery will also be home to a new tasting room, wine shop and bistro. Knowing how important the wine experience and consumer is to Harry, I know this is going to be a great spot and is on our list to visit this summer!
Some would argue that there wouldn’t be such an authentic BC wine industry without Harry. Be sure to go say hi and visit this BC Wine Legend on the tasting room floor during the Vancouver International Wine Festival!
Be sure to get your tickets for the Vancouver International Wine Festival before they sell out!!