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Wine Wire: McWatters harvests 50th vintage, Cuvée back for 2018, Grape growers celebrate future growth, record turnout for CCOVI lecture series

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Hailed as the Okanagan Valley’s great wine pioneer, Harry McWatters marked his 50th vintage on Aug, 28 with the very first crush at the new TIME Winery facility in downtown Penticton.

McWatters is credited with laying down the foundation that would build British Columbia’s wine industry into the award-winning, internationally-recognized, $3 billion industry it is today.

After making his own wine in the 1960s, McWatters worked as a sales manager at Casabello Wines in 1968, and then settled with his family in the Okanagan in 1979, and built British Columbia’s first estate winery, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, in 1980. It was here that McWatters marked a number of industry firsts:

• The release of the province’s first traditional method sparkling wine
• The first varietal Chardonnay
• The largest planting of Bordeaux vinifera on the Black Sage Road
• Releasing Canada’s first ‘Meritage’ (a red or white wine blended from Bordeaux varietals), making it a truly international term.

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McWatters is the founding chair of several landmark organizations that continue to shape and support the Canadian wine industry, including the British Columbia Wine Institute (BCWI), VQA Canada, the BC Wine Information Society, the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society, and the British Columbia Hospitality Foundation. Now the CEO and president of ENCORE Vineyards Ltd., the home to TIME Winery, Evolve Cellars and McWatters Collection, McWatters and his team are in the midst of opening the new TIME Winery in a revitalized historic theatre in downtown Penticton.

Lauded many times over, McWatters has numerous accolades:

• Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Okanagan University College (2001);
• Order of British Columbia (2003);
• Both the Golden (2002) and Diamond (2013) Jubilee Medals of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II;
• Inducted into the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2005;
• In 2017, the Spirited Industry Professional award at the Vancouver International Wine Festival;
• And, in July 2017: the 2017 BCWI Award of Distinction, in recognition of his outstanding leadership, commitment and passion for the advancement of the British Columbia wine industry.

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“This is truly a milestone, and it’s not just one for me, but for the industry,” said McWatters. “People didn’t believe that we’d one day have an industry like we do now, but we survived.

“Fortunately, there were a number of us that banded together, that were stubborn enough to say that we’re not giving up. We created the BCWI and VQA Canada in 1990, which brought about meaningful standards for our industry. My challenge to the industry of today is that we must continue to raise the bar so that we can make sure our customers have great confidence in what’s in the bottle.”

With students and research
to support, Cuvée is back for 2018

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With the 2017 grape harvest looming, the time has also come to make plans for attending the 30th annual Cuvée Grand Tasting.

The 2018 event will be held Friday, March 23 at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls. Online tickets will be available at on Oct. 1, when wine afficianados can take advantage of early-bird prices.

This marks the fourth year that Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) has taken the lead in organizing Cuvée, a weekend-long celebration of VQA wines and local cuisine in the heart of Ontario wine country. Brock, through CCOVI, produces the Cuvée program to support the future of the grape and wine industry.

Cuvée 2018 will see the return of the popular “Winemakers’ Favorite Wines” feature, along with gourmet food delicacies and an Après Cuvée party fuelled by live music and featuring selections from micro-breweries, cideries and VQA wineries.

It has also been confirmed that last year’s Cuvée Grand Tasting generated more than $37,000 in net revenues, of which $15,000 goes to fund scholarships while more than $18,000 will support research to benefit the grape and wine industry. Another $3,700 goes to the Niagara Community Foundation, in recognition of their past stewardship of Cuvée.

Cuvée manager Barb Tatarnic said the 2017 event drew more than 750 guests to the gala Friday night Grand Tasting, with hundreds more taking part in the weekend-long enRoute program that offers special tastings at wineries around Niagara.

“Through the last few years we’ve rebranded, reworked and rejuvenated the event,” said Tatarnic. “We’re thrilled with its success and the positive feedback we’ve received from our guests”

CCOVI Director Debbie Inglis said Cuvée’s continued success reflects the vitality and significance of the grape and wine industry and its supporters.

“Hosting the event involves hundreds of hours of work by devoted volunteers, but it is all worthwhile when you see how the profits support crucial research projects and help students complete their education,” Inglis said.

Alexandra Gunn, a top student in Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture (OEVI) degree program, said her studies are a rich blend of classroom work and real-world research experience, and that attending Cuvée let her interact with industry leaders and realize how CCOVI’s research benefits grape growers and wineries first-hand.

“Cuvée is one of the paramount events to Ontario’s grape and wine industry and it highlights the importance of the OEVI program within the broader grape and wine industry,” she said.

Grape Growers of Ontario celebrate
‘Growing into the Future’

The Grape Growers of Ontario celebrated their 70th Anniversary at H.A. Staff Farms Ltd. on Aug. 24.

Over 350 guests joined together to pay tribute to 70 years of building and growing the grape and wine industry, and to celebrate “growing into the future.”  It was a celebration of the past and present and what they have accomplished together. Ontario’s grape and wine industry remains strong with an economic impact of $4.4 billion dollars.

“Since 1947 the Grape Growers of Ontario has been dedicated to working together with our industry partners and all levels of government to grow the market for Ontario grapes,” said Matthias Oppenlaender, Chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario. “And as every great wine region knows all great wines start in the vineyard.”

Grape Growers of Ontario 70th Anniversary farm gate get together, Aug. 24, 2017. Photos by Denis Cahill

“In Niagara, grape growers have been the backbone of our agriculture economy and the grape growing industry plays an essential role in our identity as Niagarans. As the Grape Growers of Ontario celebrate their 70th anniversary, I want to congratulate them on successfully representing and promoting Ontario’s grape growers and ensuring the success of Ontario wine at home, and abroad,” said Chris Bittle, MP, St. Catharines.

“We can be grateful to the Grape Growers of Ontario for playing a central role in the outstanding success of Ontario wines both domestically and on the international scene over the past seven decades,” added Jim Bradley, MPP, St. Catharines.

As part of the event, a picture was taken by a drone to link the past and present by re-creating a grape grower family picnic photo from several decades ago .

Record turnout as national
Triggs lecture series turns 10

As well as sharing his own strategies on grape vine canopy management, Stefano Poni welcomed discussion about the topic from a crowd of growers and wine industry professionals during the Ontario leg of the Triggs Lecture Series in Niagara-on-the-Lake this month.

The Triggs International Premium Vinifera Lecture Series marked a decade of sharing industry insight by bringing together a record crowd to learn between the grape vines.

Grape growers and wine industry professionals rang in the 10th instalment of the series in the heart of Ontario wine country on Aug. 3 and 4, and in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley on Aug. 8 and 9. More than 200 people attended over the four days, making this one of the most successful years for the series since it began in 2004.

Organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), this year’s instalment featured Stefano Poni, Professor of Viticulture and Chair of the Instituto of Frutti-Viticoltura of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Piacenza, Italy.

Bringing an international speaker of his calibre to the lecture series is an important part of CCOVI’s mandate to support the grape and wine industry in Canada, said Director Debbie Inglis. “Stefano shared a wealth of knowledge about canopy management strategies taking place at home and abroad,” she said.

“Hosting an international viticulture expert in key winemaking regions in Ontario and British Columbia allows our growers and winemakers to collaboratively discuss strategies to further advance and grow the industry on a national level.”

Poni said he was honoured to be selected as the featured speaker, as the event provided a unique opportunity for industry professionals from different regions to learn from each other.

“It was a great opportunity to assess if our research work, carried out on a somewhat different climatic area in Italy, could also be beneficial to Canadian viticulture,” Poni explained. “It was also a learning experience in terms of topics specific to the environment, such as the emphasis on cold winter injury here in Canada.”

He met with more than 100 industry professionals from across the region at four vineyards near Niagara-on-the-Lake on the first day of the series, discussing the impacts of vine spacing, canopy density and leaf removal on overall crop development. The next day, Poni summarized the discussions held during the vineyard tours in a public lecture at Brock’s Pond Inlet.

After his stop in Ontario, Poni headed to British Columbia for the second leg of the series. He met with more than 100 growers and members of the wine industry at four different sites, including a research vineyard and organically grown site. Although his public lecture the next day had similarities to the discussion held in Ontario, Poni catered his talk to the specific climate and growing conditions on the West Coast.

He said it was important to tailor his discussions to the different regions and provide specific solutions to specific cases, instead of following a ‘rule of thumb’ approach. “Applying sound physiological principles is a winning approach to viticulture issues pertaining to quite different viticulture districts,” he said.

To ensure the national lecture series continues to be held in two key wine-producing regions, BASF Canada, a company that provides crop protection products, again stepped in to sponsor and support the event.

“BASF is pleased to be able to continue our support of the Triggs Lecture Series through its 10th anniversary and to be able to give the series its national scope,” said Scott Hodgins, Crop Manager for Horticulture, Professional and Specialty Solutions at BASF Canada. “As Dr. Poni shared with our grower customers who attended, canopy management is a key factor in producing the high-quality grapes that go into excellent Canadian wines, and I believe he introduced some new ideas that will further develop our industry.”

Donald Triggs, the industry leader who co-founded the lecture series with his wife Elaine Triggs through a generous endowment, is pleased with the event’s continued success. 
He credits the hard work of CCOVI and Brock University in providing this valuable learning opportunity and building working partnerships that help advance the industry. “We need support to continue to develop the real potential of our wine industry and the technical resources that these institutions provide are very valuable to achieving that,” he said.