Harry McWatters, a legendary figure in the B.C. wine industry, began his life in 1945, one of the greatest vintages of the 2oth century. On July 23, at age 74, McWatters died, leaving behind an unmatched legacy in building the industry he loved.
According to a Facebook post by TIME Winery and Kitchen, which was co-owned by McWatters, he passed away peacefully in his sleep in the comfort of his Summerland home. McWatters, known as grandfather of the B.C. wine industry, had a hand in founding the B.C. Wine Institute, the Vintners Quality Alliance Canada and the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society along with many other accomplishments.
“Harry’s sudden passing comes as a surprise to all as he was only last week celebrating the success and anniversary of our downtown Penticton winery, TIME Winery and Kitchen,” stated the post.
“He has left an unbelievable legacy. We are all the richer his many contributions, and the extensive and profound impact he has had on his province, community, and industry,” said Leeann Froese, owner of Town Hall Brands and publicist for McWatters.
Froese said she’s known McWatters both personally and professionally for over 20 years. She said that he was passionate not only about his businesses and the wine industry, but also about giving back to the greater community.
“It’s been my honour to work with Harry for the past 20-plus years. I’ve learned many things from him and he’s inspired many people,” said Froese. “Many of the people in the B.C. and Canadian wine industry owe him a debt of gratitude for the path that he’s laid.”
McWatters’ involvement in the B.C. wine industry began decades ago, first as a salesman, then founding Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in 1980, where he developed B.C.’s first traditional method sparkling wine, Stellers Jay Curvée in 1987. Later, he founded See Ya Later Ranch Estate Winery, and went on to sell both wineries in 2000 to Vincor Canada. At the time of the sales, he remained president of both wineries and vice president of Vincor Canada until he “retired” in 2008 to establish Vintage Consulting Group.
“His imprint on the Canadian wine industry is immeasurable,” said Jay Wright, president and CEO of Arterra Wines Canada. “We are deeply saddened by the news and our thoughts are with the McWatters family at this time. We will be raising a glass in our founder’s honour today.”
McWatters received many honours, including a doctor of laws degree from Okanagan University College and, in 2003, received the prestigious Order of British Columbia for his service to the B.C. wine industry.
“As the founder of the Wine Festivals Society, Harry had a tremendous vision. His passion for B.C. wines and pride in watching the industry grow was unmatched. Today we have lost an industry giant and true champion. His family are part of our family and we know the industry will feel this loss deeply. To Harry, we shall all raise a glass in gratitude and respect,” said Angela Brown, chair of the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society.
Hundreds of comments have flooded in on social media, both expressing their utmost sympathies to the family and their many thanks to McWatters.
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