B.C. Wine Culture

When others might be ready to retire, Okanagan winemaking legend Harry McWatters is just starting a new chapter as the proprietor of Penticton’s urban TIME Winery. Darren Hull photo

After 50 vintages, the legendary Harry McWatters has a new role as proprietor of the Okanagan’s first urban winery

Judging by all the activity at TIME Winery in downtown Penticton, it’s pretty obvious Harry McWatters isn’t planning to hang up his hat any time soon.

Finishing touches are being applied to the urban winery, which is expected to open sometime this spring. McWatters embarked on the project a couple of years ago, after he sold his Sundial Vineyard to what has become Phantom Creek Estate.

In April 2016, McWatters’ Encore Vineyards purchased the former PenMar Theatre complex, with plans to develop the Okanagan’s first urban winery. Two years later, in the year after he celebrated crushing his 50th vintage, the Okanagan wine pioneer’s dream is about to become reality.

After an extensive remodel of the PenMar Theatre, TIME Winery is set to open this spring with a tasting room and bistro. An auditorium for seminars will come later. Chris Stenberg photo

A massive near-rebuilding project of the 12,000 square-foot structure (which housed a four-part multiplex cinema) has evolved into a fermentation cellar, a barrel cellar and storage, with the fourth cinema retained as an auditorium. Plans are to use it for seminars and other events.

When we open the doors, I’ll be on the floor to greet guests and to do what I like best. And that is to sell wine!

“I really hope the (wine) industry will embrace it and use it as their downtown meeting place,” says the winery veteran.

Upstairs are Encore’s offices (for the TIME and Evolve brands) while downstairs the glassed-in main frontage is home to the tasting bar and dining area with garage doors opening onto a sidewalk patio.

McWatters contracted much-travelled and well-respected consultant chef Darren Brown to assist him in shaping the concept. However, even though he’s “really happy about the food,” McWatters is adamant: “I keep reminding everyone we’re a winery first and foremost. But in order for us to have as many bodies in the building as we can we have to have food service to do that.” And, he insists, TIME Winery & Kitchen’s creative small plates “will very much be in keeping with the brand.”

“We’re not looking to be a full-fledged restaurant. We are not trying to compete with people doing breakfast lunch and dinner. But you will be able to come in (on your own if you want) and have a very satisfying meal. And we’ll change things up pretty frequently,” says McWatters, who’s also quick to point out it was he who opened Canada’s very first winery restaurant when he launched Sumac Ridge in 1980.

“We had food service before the winery, because of the golf course,” he recalls. Then chuckles: “We’ve come a long way from those grilled cheese sandwiches.”

Chris Stenberg photo

As for what it will bring to downtown Penticton, there’s no shortage of interest.

“I’m overwhelmed by the number of people that I run into virtually every day who say, ‘We can’t wait till you’re open.’ Amazingly, many are in the wine industry.”

And that’s precisely the idea.

“One of my goals was to make it a hub for the industry to use,” he says.

As for his own role, McWatters plans to be very much front and centre. He’s cut back on his travel and other commitments to make it happen, with plans to be there almost daily.

“My day will consist of getting up and going for a swim, getting to my desk early and getting whatever I need to get done finished,” he says. “When we open the doors, I’ll be on the floor to greet guests and to do what I like best. And that is to sell wine!”

McWatters says his daughter, Christa-Lee McWatters Bond (director of sales, marketing and hospitality), keeps him on his toes. “She says, ‘You need to be visible; some people think you’ve actually retired.’ I say: God forbid!”

Tim Pawsey writes and shoots at hiredbelly.com as well as for publications including Quench, TASTE and Montecristo. He’s a frequent wine judge and is a founding member of the B.C. Hospitality Foundation.

Tim Pawsey writes and shoots at hiredbelly.com as well as for publications including Quench, TASTE and Montecristo. He’s a frequent wine judge and is a founding member of the B.C. Hospitality Foundation.

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