The Okanagan wine industry has lost a true giant.

Harry McWatters died in his sleep this week at his home in Summerland. He was 74.

If you have never heard of McWatters, you must be new to the valley.

He was a driving force in establishing the VQA designation, both provincially and nationally, as well as the Okanagan Wine Festivals.

He spent more than 50 years in the wine industry and his fascination with winemaking dates back to when he was a teenager. In 1980, McWatters co-founded Sumac Ridge, B.C.’s first estate winery. In 1995, he founded See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls.

He announced his retirement in 2008, but that was short lived.

He’s now known to a new generation as owner and operator of TIME Winery and Kitchen in Penticton. Like many of his projects, it was an out-of-the-box idea — a winery located in an urban setting. He took an abandoned movie theatre and transformed it into a swanky destination, breathing new life into a neighbourhood. He also involved the next generation as both his children are actively involved with TIME.

McWatters’ many accolades include an honourary doctorate from Okanagan University College and the Order of British Columbia.

He also dabbled in politics — always behind the scenes — and was on the provincial board of the BC Liberal party as well as the local riding association.

Beyond his list of firsts, accomplishments and awards was a decent human being.

“Harry was a great guy, fun to be around, great to work with and everyone who knew him is very sad,” long-time friend and former business associate Rick Thorpe said. “Harry knew how to enjoy life to the fullest. He was a real practical joker. He nurtured his own children along to where they’re now heavily involved with TIME Winery.”

Thorpe recalls working on a strategic plan with McWatters and grower Lanny Martinuk knowing that if the B.C. wine industry was to survive, everyone had to work together.

“Harry was obviously concerned about his own business, but very committed to growing the entire industry,” Thorpe said.

“Harry negotiated with the government. He knew that for us to compete globally, we needed quality wine and for that to happen, people had to work together. I never met a person who would work harder once they committed to a project. He could always count on me, as a friend, to be there, but more importantly, I could always count on him.”

Harry McWatters is gone, but will not soon be forgotten.

James Miller is managing editor of The Kelowna Daily Courier