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  • Wine Time

    The world of wine is mourning the loss of Harry McWatters, the larger-than-life godfather of BC wine, who passed away last month after more than 50 years in the Canadian wine industry.

    Faithful readers may recall me waxing poetic about the late and great McWatters over the years, who first came to prominence in 1979 for opening Sumac Ridge, which was the first estate winery in BC.

    Sumac Ridge has long been a favourite winery of mine, and my feet have trodden the rows at the vineyard many times over the years on my annual pilgrimage to the Okanagan Valley.

    Sumac Ridge was sold to an international conglomerate known as Constellation Brands in 2000, but McWatters stayed on as president until 2008, when he retired after a long and fruitful career.

    Retirement did not seem to suit him, as he quickly launched a high-powered viticulture consultancy, and shortly after started up the TIME Estate Winery as a spry septuagenarian.

    I was fortunate enough to cross paths with the legendary Harry McWatters several times over the years, most recently when I walked into his startup TIME winery a few years back while it was still under construction, and found him enthusiastically pouring wine and regaling customers in the tasting room.

    I went home that day with two cases of his first release, promising myself to return to see the winery in its full splendor the following year.  I never had the chance to return, as the building and vineyard was sold just as the construction was completed, with the TIME Estate Winery moving from the famed Black Sage Road location to downtown Penticton, into a historic theatre converted into an urban winery and restaurant, which is still a top attraction and on my must-see list every time I visit the Okanagan Valley.

    In addition to founding several wineries over his five-decade career, McWatters was also the driving force behind the establishment of the Vintners Quality Association, the regulatory framework for quality assurance and designations of official appellations for wine regions in Canada.

    This legal framework is similar to the appellation system in the old-world wine countries of Europe, which guarantees the label reflects the specific geographic area the grapes were grown, and revolutionized the free-for-all labeling of Canadian wine at the time, dragging our nascent wine industry into much higher levels of quality.

    I joined the rest of the Canadian wine industry in raising a glass to honour the memory of the grandfather of BC wine, fittingly with a bottle of Meritage from the TIME Estate Winery, made as a Bordeaux-style blend of the best grapes in the vineyard.

    While I was lucky enough to have several bottles from TIME resting in my cellar from visits to the Okanagan, there is also wide availability at well-stocked wine shops here in Alberta.

    The terroir at the vineyard lends itself to growing the grapes of Bordeaux, with both red and white varieties available at your local bottle shop.

    The White Meritage is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with an elegant mélange of pear and honeydew aromas, nicely balanced with hints of oak.

    For the red fans, the Red Meritage is a quintessential Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv, and Cab Franc.  Aromas of red fruit and spicy pepper dominate on the nose, with silky-smooth tannins nicely rounded by oak ageing.  Despite the winemaker exhorting me to lay the bottles down for a few years before opening them, the temptation was too much to resist, so I have already enjoyed a few at home.

    Their pinnacle wine is a Syrah, and is priced to match.  At $35/bottle, the Syrah is expressive of the local terroir, with bold aromas of blackberry, and the ever-present sage that grows like a weed in the area.  With plenty of dark  plum notes and spice on the tongue, this wine spend a full year in oak, resulting in a full-bodied big red that stands up to dishes like peppercorn steaks or strong cheeses.

    Our Canadian wine industry was made immeasurably better by the late and great Harry McWatters for over five decades, and we are unlikely to see his ilk again.  His legacy will continue with his daughter at the helm of the three family-owned wineries in the Okanagan, as well as the eponymous McWatters Collection, the label affixed to only the best of the best wines.  Look for them at a bottle shop near you!