Harry McWatters has been described as a visionary, a pioneer and a leader in the British Columbia wine industry.
His death last week, at the age of 74, has been mourned here in Summerland and throughout the province.
The list of his accomplishments is impressive. It includes founding Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in Summerland, See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls and Time Winery in Penticton.
He was also instrumental in forming the B.C. Wine Institute, the Vintners Quality Alliance Canada, the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society and the B.C. Hospitality Foundation.
His knowledge, which he was so very willing to share with others, was a factor in the growth of the British Columbia wine industry. Many have described him as their mentor and have spoken highly of the advice and guidance he provided.
His tireless work has been an important factor in the growth of this industry. Harry was a driving force in the growth of the entire British Columbia wine industry.
When I started working at the Summerland Review in the mid-1990s, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery was one of only two wineries in Summerland and the list of B.C. wineries was not long. Today, Summerland’s Bottleneck Drive has 19 winery members, and provincewide, there are 370 licensed wineries, according to the B.C. Wine Institute.
Harry played a key role during this growth and some have referred to him as “the grandfather of the B.C. wine industry.” He was also hugely influential in the growth of wine regions outside of the Okanagan, including Lillooet.
In addition to these incredible accomplishments, I will always remember Harry for his character, perhaps even more so than for his many achievements in the world of wine.
Above all else, he was a kind, humble and gracious man.
I remember calling Harry many times over the years, for information on stories about the grape harvest, ice wine, changes and additions to the winery and awards for excellence given to Sumac Ridge.
Speaking with Harry was a pleasant experience.
He was extremely knowledgeable about wine, while all I knew about it was that it came from grapes and was sold in bottles.
Slowly and patiently, and over many years, Harry took the time to answer my questions, in terms I could understand.
When I’d speak with him about an award the winery had received, he would tell me about his staff and the role they played in making these award-winning wines.
Over the years, as the wine industry and Sumac Ridge Estate Winery both grew, I still found him to be accessible and personable.
Each time we talked, he treated me with respect, something I’ve always appreciated and valued about him.
He showed the same dignity to others.
In the years I’ve known him, I don’t recall ever hearing him speak badly about anyone or about any group of people. He was never insulting or condescending.
Last week, after learning of his death, I spent some time looking through back issues of the Summerland Review from the 1990s and early 2000s, reading stories and remembering pictures I had taken of Harry. This was a time to remember and reflect on someone I appreciated and admired.
It was always a treat to have an interview with Harry, and I’d feel good afterward.
While his many wine-related accomplishments are impressive, for me his kindness and character are the qualities which have defined him.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.
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