Call him the pioneer, father, grandfather, godfather or whatever other adulatory term you like, of the modern B.C. wine industry.
Harry McWatters is a star in the vinous galaxy and has been recognized as such with the Vancouver International Wine Festival’s coveted Spirited Industry Professional Award.
Notice how the acronym for the award is an apropos SIP.
The annual SIP was presented at an awards lunch Friday during the Vancouver fest, a tribute to McWatters’ immense contribution to the sales, service and promotion of wine in B.C.
McWatters, 71, has innovated in the B.C. wine realm for close to half a century.
He started his career in 1968 in Vancouver as a sales manager at Casabello Wines and moved to the Okanagan in 1977 with his family to found Sumac Ridge Winery in Summerland in 1980, and See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls in 1995.
The properties won winery of the year awards several times.
They were sold in 2000 to international conglomerate Vincor, now Constellation Brands, and McWatters stayed on for a while as an executive.
He started Vintage Consulting Group to help start-up and established wineries and went on to found new wineries Time and McWatters Collection.
His daughter Christa-Lee also got involved in the wine industry and together they co-founded Evolve Winery.
Along the way, McWatters also found time to be a founding member of the BC Wine Institute, VQA Canada, BC Wine Information Society, Okanagan Wine Festivals Society and BC Hospitality Foundation.
“I’m humbled, I’m honoured and very proud of all you producers and merchants for making Canada a great wine-producing country,” said McWatters as he accepted the award.
McWatters’ admirers are many.
“Harry McWatters is quite simply the Robert Mondavi of British Columbia,” said wine journalist Tony Aspler, comparing the SIP winner to the late godfather of California wine, Robert Mondavi.
Added master of wine Rhys Pender: “Harry has been instrumental in building the B.C. wine industry into something producing serious, quality wines that are growing in reputation around the world.”
McWatters is in good company.
Other SIP winners include Sandhill winemaker Howard Soon, Vancouver Wine Academy co-founder Mark Davidson, International Wine and Food Society president Sid Cross, Norman Gladstone of Gladstone and Co. Wine Imports, and wine writers John Schreiner, Anthony Gismondi and the late Jurgen Gothe.
McWatters has also been awarded the Order of B.C., Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, Award of Distinction from the Canadian Vintner’s Association and been inducted into the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame.
His latest project is renovating the former Pen-Mar movie theatres complex in downtown Penticton into the Okanagan’s first urban winery and home of Time and McWatters Collection.