On a sunny afternoon last week, Harry McWatters welcomed the first grapes to the new Time Winery in downtown Penticton. Standing three kilometres and 50 years away from where his career started at Casabello Wines, he christened the fruit with a splash of chardonnay from a bottle of his McWatters wine collection.
Fittingly, the grapes’ destiny is to become part of the blend of traditional method sparkling wine for the McWatters collection.
One of the architects of the modern Canadian wine industry, McWatters’ career evolved from working as Casabello’s sales manager to launching British Columbia’s first boutique winery, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, with Lloyd Schmidt in 1979.
During the years, he racked up numerous firsts for British Columbia’s wine industry.
When asked what was different about his fiftieth vintage compared to his first, McWatters doesn’t miss a beat. “The biggest difference is the consumer,” he says. “If we’re not consumer-driven today, we’re in trouble.”
The wines he sold under the Casabello label were made from native grapes, not the European varieties exclusively planted in the Okanagan Valley today. “The people that were drinking wine with any regularity typically wanted wines that were red, higher in alcohol and sweeter,” he explains.
The average wine lover in the 1970s didn’t know chardonnay was a grape, he adds.
“It’s a lot easier today because people are more willing to try new things and be taken into different areas. That wasn’t the case in the 1960s.”
McWatters is the founding chair of the British Columbia Wine Institute, VQA Canada and the British Columbia Hospitality Foundation among others.
It’s clear that McWatters’ longevity can be attributed to his passion. He has no plans on retiring, especially when there’s so much potential at the heart of Time’s newly renovated facility that turned an old movie theatre into a winery and hospitality centre.
“If you think of the history of wine, 50 years is just the blink of an eye,” he says. “In British Columbia, I’m just the first to get 50 years under my belt. I’m pretty confident that there’s going to be a lot more people who make that milestone too.”
— — —
Wines of the Week
Time Estate Winery 2014 McWatters Collection Chardonnay
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
$30.95 (LCBO No. 488536)
The McWatters Collection label represents some of the best wines coming out of the Encore Vineyards cellars, which is best know for Time Estate Winery and Evolve Cellars labels. Here’s a rich, flavourful chardonnay. Fermentation and aging in French oak barrels really amps the mix of nutty and spicy flavours and adds to the long, persistent aftertaste.
A Noble Blend
$25.95 (LCBO No. 454793)
This enjoyable, fragrant white has been a staple for JoieFarm winery. A blend of five grapes (including Gewurztraminer and Riesling) from 11 different vineyards, the 2016 version is a refreshingly different wine.