The godfather and éminence grise of many key developments in the BC wine industry has died at the age of 74.
Harry McWatters died in his sleep at his home in Summerland on July 23, a week following the first anniversary of the opening of his newest venture, Time Winery in Penticton.
McWatters saw 50 vintages in BC and was the long-time proprietor of Sumac Ridge, the province’s first estate winery. He was instrumental in the establishment of the BC VQA system and played a key role in later reforms that included the BC Wine Appellation Task Group that made several recommendations to government in the interests of modernizing the sector. These include the creation of new subappellations, which McWatters had supported in his role as a consultant to new producers in regions such as the Fraser Canyon.
McWatters spearheaded the establishment of Meritage – a term for Bordeaux-style blends made outside Bordeaux – in Canada, and was a champion of sparkling wines. Steller’s Jay Brut from Sumac Ridge gave BC sparkling wine a profile, and broke the ground needed for other producers to build. Similarly, in 2000, he released Pinnacle, a red blend from Sumac Ridge from the 1997 vintage that was the first $50 “icon” wine from the Okanagan. It established a new benchmark for the BC industry at a time when $25 bottles from the Okanagan were considered pricey.
Giving his take on the development of the industry earlier this year, McWatters proudly noted that wines made entirely from BC grapes now accounted for 19% of all wine sales (in litres) in the province. This is up from less than 12% in 2009. Moreover, for every million dollars added to winery sales in the province, approximately $3.3 million flows into the rest of the BC economy.
However, McWatters also wanted to see government continue to improve the environment for small and mid-sized wineries. This included less bureaucracy for wineries, standard rules for all producers of BC products, and the end of interprovincial shipping barriers. The latter moved a step closer to reality with federal legislation passed June 21, and this last week’s decision by BC to remove limits on how much liquor BC residents could bring back from other jurisdictions for personal use.