SUMMERLAND, B.C. — There is no questioning Harry McWatters’ contributions to the B.C. and Canadian wine industries. The man is a legend.
But even the word legend is premature because the man has never slowed down in over 40 years of being a leader in the industry, and it sure doesn’t appear like he’s about to put the brakes on his career any time soon. McWatters is still writing the legend.
Here’s a snapshot of some his contributions to the industry to date:
• Founder of British Columbia’s first estate winery, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in 1980
• Founder of See Ya Later Ranch Estate Winery in 1995
• In the spring of 2000, Sumac Ridge Estate Wine Group was sold to Vincor Canada and McWatters continued as president of Sumac Ridge and See Ya Later Ranch as well as being a vice-president of Vincor Canada
• McWatters “retired” as president of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery effective April 30, 2008
• On May 1, 2008, McWatters established Vintage Consulting Group Inc. and the Okanagan Wine Academy
• McWatters started at Casabello Wines in 1968 heading up their sales department. In 1978, he was promoted to director of marketing and transferred to the Okanagan Valley
• He has been a driving force in the development of British Columbia’s wine industry. In 1980, he led a group of wineries and local businesses to establish the Okanagan Wine Festival Society and acted as founding president. The society completed its 30th annual fall wine festival in 2010
• In 1990, he was appointed by the province of British Columbia to chair the newly formed British Columbia Wine Institute, a position which he held for five years and served as a director for 17 years
• McWatters is the founding chair of the British Columbia Wine Institute
• Founding chair of the British Columbia Wine Information Society
• A director of the Canadian Vintners Association
• Founding Chairman of VQA Canada
• McWatters was also instrumental in founding VQA Canada
So, what has he done lately?
Well, let’s see … there’s Time Winery, he started that. There’s also the McWatters Collection, a winery featuring premium wine that reflects the unique Black Sage terroir with the goal to leave a lasting legacy for future generations.
And just this spring, McWatters and his equally busy daughter, Christa-Lee McWatters, opened Evolve Cellars in Summerland. The goal at this newest winery “is to gently transform the fruit that Mother Nature creates, into wines that can be enjoyed by all.”
This collection of wineries comes under the umbrella of Encore Vineyards, which includes Time Estate Winery and the McWatters Collection.
I don’t know where McWatters gets the time or energy but he has certainly passed on the energy gene to his daughter Christa-Lee, who spreads her time between running (and owning) one of the Okanagan’s top restaurants, The Local Lounge and Grille, which is gorgeously situated on the water in Summerland, and the new Evolve Cellars.
I had a chance to get caught up with the McWatters’ portfolio while enjoying a spectacular meal prepared by The Local’s new chef Brad Clease. Here is what we enjoyed (Note: a selection of wines from Haywire winery, also in Summerland, are posted below the McWatters wines):
Time Estate Meritage White 2014, Okanagan ($25, 91 points) — A classic blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon with aromas of pear, melon, tropical fruits and gooseberry. It is made in an elegant style with oak nicely integrated and a long, vibrant finish. A perfect pairing with marinated scallop, panko fried oyster, house cured bacon, foie gras dust and beurre blanc.
Time Estate Chardonnay 2013 ($28, 90 points) — Lovely aromatics of pear, apple, melon, vanilla and butterscotch cream. There is a creamy/buttery feel on the palate with wonderful layers of fruit and spice that is round and juicy but not overdone. Tasty Chardy. This was spectacular with vanilla bean butter poached Alaska black cod, wild spinach gomae and tempura egg.
Time Estate Syrah 2012 ($35, 92 points) — Shows a deep, inky purple colour with a nose of grilled meats, pepper, earth, eucalypt and then the array of plums, currants, cassis, anise and barrel spices. This is a big wine in the mouth that starts with black pepper and currants, dark plums, grilled meats, garrigue and a touch of minty herbs. It’s bold and complex through the finish and it built to be aged. A very fine Syrah that worked amazingly well with the duo of braised pork belly, duck confit and butterscotch miso jicama fry.
McWatters Collection Meritage 2012 ($25, 91 points) — A blend of 68% Cabernet Sauignon, 20% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc from Harry McWatter’s vineyards on the Black Sage Bench. It has a lovely nose of blackberries, plums, cassis, a touch of raspberry-cherry and a range of spice. On the palate there is a nice range of fruit, including cassis, blackberry, cherries and a touch of earthiness in a balanced attack of oak/tannin and spice. Good length through the finish. Served with an artisan cheese plate.
Other Time and McWatters wines that was sampled but not served with dinner.
Time Sundial 2013 ($17, 88 points) — A quirky blend of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with a fresh and fragrant nose of melon, grilled pineapple, peach and coconut. It’s quite rich on the palate with soft acidity, succulent fruit and a touch of ginger spice.
Time Meritage Red 2012 ($30, 92 points) — A blend of 60% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon all from the estate’s Sundial Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. A beautiful nose of black cherries, cassis, currants, barrel spices, earth and cedar. On the palate this red blend displays a rich broth of bold dark fruits, kirsch, earth, firm tannins and enticing spice notes. It’s built on a powerful frame with the structure to age and improve for 5-10 years.
McWatters Chardonnay 2013 ($25, 91 points) — Hearkens back to the old-style California Chards with a big, rich, opulent nose of buttered toast, poached pear, tropical fruits and layers of fine oak spices. It has an extravagant feel on the palate with buttery-rich fruit, spices and a nice finishing jolt of citrus on the finish.
Haywire Raised in Concrete Pinot Noir 2013 ($25, 91 points) — Creamy cherry notes on the nose with warm pastry, raspberry, cranberry and lightly spice notes that don’t take away from the fruit. Gorgeous texture on the palate highlights the alluring cherry fruit, raspberry and balanced toasted spice notes. Very nice glass of wine.
Haywire Mike B Riesling 2014 ($25, 89 points) — Mike Bernardo, Vancouver’s Sommelier of the Year in 2014, was invited to the Okanagan Crush Pad to make 120 cases of wine through the Okanagan Wine Campus Program. He chose Riesling as his grape and has done a nice job here. It’s a lime-mineral bomb on the nose with a touch of lemon and citrus rind. It’s bright and fresh on the palate showing lime, apple, citrus and gorgeous minerality in a fresh and lively style.
Haywire Secrest Mountain Vineyard Gamay Noir Rose 2014, Okanagan ($23, 89 points) — A pale salmon colour and fermented and aged in concrete tanks, the nose of this Rosé shows interesting strawberry, rhubarb and cherry with a subtle creamy note. It has wonderful texture, an elegant feel on the palate with notes of raspberry, rhubarb, cherry and is fresh and lively through the finish.