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iN WINE: A tribute to B.C. wine legend Harry McWatters

Harry McWatters
Harry McWatters

This week the Okanagan wine industry suffered a tremendous loss. Known by many as the godfather and pioneer of B.C. wine, Harry McWatters died July 22.

Harry was an icon, a generous teacher, a mentor and a loyal friend to many in the wine industry.

Also known as a trailblazer and a maverick, he has left behind a beautiful legacy.

Harry began his investment in the B.C. wine industry in 1968 as a sales manager at Casabello Wines in Vancouver. He moved to the Okanagan in 1977 with his family, founding Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in 1980 and See Ya Later Ranch in 1995. He is also the man who drove the agenda to create a quality wine measuring system known as VQA (Vintner’s Quality Assurance) in 1990 – the only way for the industry to move forward was to have rules and guidelines allowing consumers a guarantee that they were indeed purchasing B.C. wine made with local grapes.

“I personally believe that without the introduction of VQA, we would likely not have a wine industry in British Columbia today, and most certainly not the thriving enterprise as we know it," he said. "As this industry found its legs, it attracted new wineries, new winemakers and new investments. This fresh era, in my opinion, was the catalyst for growth, fostering novel and exciting dining opportunities as the wine industry grew and garnered international acclaim.”

In a tribute to McWatters from the B.C. Wine Institute, CEO Miles Prodan called him a dedicated advocate of B.C. VQA wine.

"Harry was key to the B.C. Wine Industry’s growth from the first estate winery to more than 280 grape wineries operating in the province today. His drive, ambition and command for excellence has helped build an internationally-recognized wine industry - an industry that contributes more than $2.8 billion to the provincial economy, supports 12,000 full-time jobs, and attracts roughly one million visitors annually.”

Most recently, in 2018 Harry and his family opened TIME Winery in Penticton. Housed in the revitalized, heritage movie theatre building downton, TIME is a first in the urban winery trend making this accomplishment another milestone in his legendary career.

To add to his list of accolades, The Vancouver International Wine Festival's coveted Spirited Industry Professional Award was recently presented to Harry, hailing him as the Okanagan Valley's great wine pioneer and, as of 2017, a 50-vintage veteran of the wine industry. Harry also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Okanagan University College and in 2003 and received the prestigious Order of British Columbia for his services to the B.C. wine industry.

Thank you Harry for leading us into the future and for loving our industry with all of your heart. You will be greatly missed.

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