Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Second Coming of Harry McWatters

Photo of Harry McWatters courtesy Vincor

Probably to no one’s surprise, Harry McWatters is developing another centre of power in the British Columbia wine industry.

The founder in 1980 of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery retired last year from that winery and from associated positions with Vincor, which has owned Sumac Ridge since 2000.

McWatters immediately set up Vintage Consulting Group Inc., a wine industry talent pool he assembled in Penticton. By all reports, he was soon involved with more than enough projects.

Last week, he has announced three key appointments to Vintage Consulting:

* Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond, who left her marketing job at Vincor at the end of last year, has been named a vice-president at Vintage Consulting. In a news release, McWatters said that she will “focus on the marketing, sales and hospitality side of our business.”

She is a familiar name in the Okanagan wine business. She is Harry’s daughter and was schooled in marketing at Sumac Ridge before getting wider responsibilities at Vincor as marketing manager. Bright and personable, she is every bit as good at marketing as her father – and that is formidable.

* Tom DiBello, who left CedarCreek Estate Winery last month after 10 years as the winemaker, has agreed to become one of consulting team at Vintage. “Tom is respected as one of the very best winemakers in Canada, and brings with him a wealth of knowledge, in both enology and viticulture,” McWatters said in his announcement.

DiBello, a graduate of the University of California’s prestigious wine school, has a quarter century of experience making wine in the United States, Australia and Canada. Under his hand, CedarCreek twice received the award as Canada’s winery of the year in the Canadian Wine Awards competition.

His skills will help fill the hole that will be left at Vintage next month when Mark Sheridan leaves McWatters’s firm to become general manager at Hester Creek Estate Winery. An Australia viticulturist, Sheridan managed Vincor’s vineyards in the Okanagan for 10 years before joining the Vintage group of consultants last year.

* Jodi Ennis, formerly a manager of hospitality and administration at Sumac Ridge, is becoming the full-time administrator at Vintage. That frees up McWatters and his team to focus on wine industry projects.

McWatters generally keeps the names of his clients confidential. It is known, however, that his firm helped get the Fort Berens Estate Winery at Lillooet established last year. It is also reported in industry circles that his firm has been developing a proposal for a facility providing custom winemaking services for start-up wineries.

Vintage is structured so that it employs only a handful of fulltime people but has available a roster of top notch consultants that can be drawn on as required. McWatters has the connections and the experience to go out and find whatever wine industry talent his clients may need.

Vintage has the potential to become a wine industry powerhouse, given McWatters's track record. Under his direction, Sumac Ridge was an important innovator - the first to plant a major vineyard of Bordeaux varietals on Black Sage Road; the first to develop a commercially successful Okanagan sparkling wine; the first to have a winery restaurant; the first winery in Canada to begin using Meritage on its Bordeaux blends; and the first Okanagan winery to release a $50-a-bottle of time.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. No winery did more to popularize Gewurztraminer. The largest selling Canadian Gewurztraminer is Sumac Ridge's Private Reserve.

McWatters also was influential in industry affairs as a founder of the B.C. Wine Institute, a promoter of the Vintners' Quality Alliance wine standards, and a founder of what is now called the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society.

Clearly, he is not a retiring kind of fellow.


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