Okanagan Wine Festival in full swing with Founders Award honouring late wine legend, Harry McWatters

Lisa Lalonde, Christa-Lee and Darrien McWatters, wife and adult children of Harry McWatters receive the Harry McWatters Founder's Award. Credit Okanagan Wine Festivals.

In an emotion-filled spotlight, the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society’s annual Fall Okanagan Wine Festival commenced October 3 with the society presenting an award posthumously in Harry McWatters’ name to his family: the renamed Harry McWatters’ Founder’s Award.

It’s been a whirlwind few months for the team at TIME Winery. Harry McWatters passed away in July of 2019, leaving an industry in mourning. He was an icon and legend in the British Columbia wine industry, and many called him the “Grandfather of British Columbia Wine”. He was the founding president of the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society, first chair of the BC Wine Institute, and an internationally renowned and acclaimed judge and expert. He was awarded the Order of British Columbia in 2003 for his services to the wine industry.  

The British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards event is the kickoff party for the annual Fall Okanagan Wine Festival. Winery teams, industry professionals, members of the trade and media took part in the celebration that awarded medals to more than 100 British Columbia wineries. The most special moment of the evening was the presentation of the traditional Founder’s Award, but with a twist, as it was re-named as a surprise to the family. 

Since 1985, The Founder’s Award recognizes outstanding and selfless contributions to the wine and grape-growing industry and is offered as an achievement to pioneers of British Columbia wine. Past winners include George and Trudy Heiss, the Schmidt family, John Schreiner, and Christine Coletta. Because Harry was the founder, he could never previously receive the award. This year the award was presented as a posthumous homage to Harry McWatters and has also been renamed in his honour, and now called the Harry McWatters Founder’s Award. 

The event organizers emphasized how important and fitting this tribute is to the “Grandfather of British Columbia Wine” since he embodied what this award stands for. He was an individual with tremendous vision and unwavering passion and pride for British Columbia wines, who dedicated his life to the growth of this industry.

The award was presented by Christine Coletta and received by Harry’s adult children Christa-Lee and Darrien McWatters, and his wife, Lisa Lalonde.

“First of all, thank you to the entire industry. I am sure that our dad would have been speechless, and overwhelmed with emotion, just like we are. It is such an honour to have this award carry on in his name,” said Christa-Lee McWatters, who is now president & CEO of Encore Vineyards. “The last couple of months have been hard. D and I are coping with the family business while grieving a loss, and each of these things alone would be huge.”

“Since our dad passed away, we have been sorting out the business, so much of it was in his head. And we know everyone in the industry is watching. They want to see how we are coping. There are rumours swirling around. But there always are. You know what Harry used to always say, if you haven’t heard a rumour in the B.C. wine industry by 10 a.m., start one.”

“I’ve had to make some hard decisions,” she continues. “Like bringing all three of our brands (Evolve Cellars, McWatters Collection, and TIME Winery) under one roof; and we are limiting how much fruit we crush this year. I believe these decisions, while tough to get through, are right for the business. Simplifying some things gives us some time to re-group, focus, and take the company in the right direction.”

“And the last thing I must share is that through all of this, our family and our team have been amazing. All are on board.”

Adding to this, on October 5, TIME Winery & Kitchen was honoured to win the Farm to Glass award at the Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards. The spotlight is on this team for its merit, despite its emotional challenges.

Christa-Lee is looking ahead with conviction.

“We invite you to come and see us at the winery or pick up a bottle of one of our brands. Together we will raise a glass to Harry, the new Founders Award, the legacy he leaves, and the future we will all create in this industry.”

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