Canadian Wine Industry Pioneer Harry McWatters Remembered

Ottawa, July 24, 2019:   It is with a heavy heart that I share news of the passing of Harry McWatters, who played a central force in cultivating and nurturing a Canadian wine industry for the world to discover.

Our sincere condolences go out to his family and friends.

With a vision and confidence, Harry has been a driving force in the British Columbia and Canadian wine industry for more than 50 years.  In 1980, Harry became the founder of British Columbia’s first estate winery and was a pioneer in establishing the Okanagan Wine Festival Society, which today ranks among the top wine festivals in North America.

In 1990, Harry was appointed by the province of British Columbia to chair the newly formed British Columbia Wine Institute.  He was the founding Chair of the British Columbia Wine Information Society, founding Chair of Vintners Quality Alliance of Canada spearheading national wine standards, founding Chair of the British Columbia Hospitality Foundation, and a long term Director on the Canadian Vintners Association.

A dedicated ambassador of Canadian wines, Harry has helped the BC wine industry expand from the first estate winery in 1980 to almost 300 wineries operating today, and was instrumental in the Canadian wine industry’s growth from a few dozen wineries to almost 700 wineries across 6 provinces in 2019.  His dream extended beyond British Columbia, as his drive, ambition and command for excellence has helped build an internationally recognized Canadian wine industry — an industry which contributes more than $10 billion to the national economy, employs 37,000 Canadians, and attracts roughly 4 million annual tourists.

Widely respected Canadian wine writer Tony Aspler recently stated, Harry McWatters has been the face and the heart of the British Columbia wine industry for 50 years adding that his contribution to the Canadian wine scene is as large as his physical presence. “He’s Canada’s Robert Mondavi.”

For his business and community work, Harry has received numerous domestic and international awards and lifetime achievements in the areas of winemaking and marketing, business development and entrepreneurialism. Among these achievements, he has received the Medal of the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; the Order of British Columbia (outstanding achievement); induction into the British Columbia Restaurant Hall of Fame; the Canadian Vintners Association Award of Distinction, and was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Okanagan University College, to name just a few.  The impact of these achievements cannot be understated, with the halo effect benefiting and highlighting the entire Canadian wine industry’s recognition on the domestic and world stage.

We, as an industry, are all deeply saddened by this news.

Today – please open your favourite bottle of Canadian wine and raise a glass to toast Harry and his ever lasting legacy.