Harry McWatters

Okanagan wine pioneer Harry McWatters died Tuesday.

Only one week after celebrating Time Winery’s first anniversary, owner Harry McWatters has died.

A post on the winery’s Facebook page said McWatters passed away in his sleep on Tuesday. He was in his early 70s.

After beginning his 50-year-long career in the wine industry in Vancouver, McWatters moved to the Okanagan, where he founded Sumac Ridge Winery in Summerland in 1980.

Throughout his career, McWatters was instrumental in helping found the B.C. Wine Institute, the B.C. Wine Information Society, VQA Canada and the B.C. Hospitality Foundation.

He later founded Evolve Wineries, Time Winery and the McWatters Collection. Time Winery is located in the old Penmar Theatre building in downtown Penticton.

For his efforts, McWatters was affectionately dubbed the godfather of B.C. wine.

“He was bigger than life,” said former Penticton MLA Rick Thorpe.

Thorpe met McWatters in the wine industry in 1989.

Thorpe said he, McWatters and Stoneboat Vineyards owner Lanny Martiniuk worked on a strategic plan for the wine industry in the 1990s, with one of their goals being to one day see 50 wineries in the Okanagan.

“And, of course, now we have in B.C. probably 300,” he said with a chuckle.

“Harry led B.C. wines to becoming world class. We should all be very, very thankful to him.”