The name Harry McWatters is inextricably linked with the development of B.C.’s wine industry. Along with the likes of Father Pandosy and Helmut Becker, McWatters stands at the top of the pyramid of larger-than-life legends who really made wine happen here. For McWatters, it’s been major creative input—to say nothing of blood, sweat, and tears—from his days at the long-gone (and not very lamented) Casabello, to the founding of Sumac Ridge and the VQA program (although I still like the other term that was in the running for a while: ABC, for Appellation British Columbia), to his groundbreaking work to bring the use of Meritage to Canada. Now he’s doing it again, and it’s TIME.
It’s hard not to come up with punny things to say about the latest McWatters venture, TIME Estate Winery. With the start of his 46th working vintage, he’s broken new ground again—literally and figuratively. When McWatters sold the Sumac Ridge operation, he wisely held on to some choice South Okanagan vineyard property—namely, the Sundial Vineyard, first planted with grapes in 1964. It remains the location of one of the first—and largest—plantings of Bordeaux grape varieties in Canada.
Now, almost 50 years later, it’s one of the most highly acclaimed vineyards in Canadian wine country, moving toward a bright future with a marquee winery producing handcrafted wines that reflect the terroir of the Black Sage Bench. It’s definitely all about time and place.
In 2011, TIME Estate Winery got its licence, using existing buildings on the site, and produced its first Meritage and Chardonnay, under the McWatters name. Trust McWatters to start his new program with Meritage, the name he was instrumental in bringing to Canada. Plans are well under way for a stunning winery building and visitor’s centre; you can get a preview glimpse at www.timewinery.com/.
McWatters and his team organized a cozy (and tasty!) luncheon launch of the three TIME wines so far on the market. It was to have been at the new Yaletown restaurant Good Wolfe, but co-proprietor Richard Goodine ran into some difficulties with city hall (tell me one restaurant that hasn’t!), so it was relocated to Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar, which rose to the challenge magnificently with spot prawn ceviche and avocado tempura, seared arctic char with house-cured-bacon polenta, and roasted lamb loin and rosemary gnocchi with Bing cherry and chocolate demi-glace.
The wines were—who’s surprised?—magnificent, the two Meritages being the predictable standouts. The 2012 White Meritage—made from 79 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 21 percent Sémillon—is light but luscious, perfect with the ceviche and the surprising avocado tempura. It shows good, golden colour; the aroma is pure gold, too. The Red Meritage is Merlot-fronted (60 percent), with 25 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Cabernet Franc. It’s deep and full, but subtle and still somewhat restrained. Very elegant; it stood the lamb, with its rich cherry and chocolate accents, in perfect stead.
In case you’ve forgotten, Meritage (rhymes with heritage, from which it’s derived) is a term first registered in California in 1989, coined by a group of vintners to establish standards of identification for a group of American white or red blends made from traditional Bordeaux grape varieties. Sumac Ridge—then run by McWatters—was the first Canadian winery to sign on to the Meritage protocol.
The rules: in order to be called a Meritage, a wine must be a blend of at least two Bordeaux varieties. For reds, these are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Gros Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and St. Macaire. For whites, they are Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. No single grape variety can make up more than 90 percent of a Meritage. Production must be limited to a maximum of 25,000 cases per vintage, and there’s a modest royalty per case payable to the Meritage Alliance in California. I can’t see TIME exceeding the 25,000-case limit anytime soon—the winery’s production is slated to peak around 30,000 cases in total when it’s fully operational.
Some TIME-ly stats. White Meritage 2012: 275 cases produced, 13.2 percent alcohol, price $25. Red Meritage 2011: 625 cases produced, 14.1 percent alcohol, price $29.99. Chardonnay 2011: 440 cases produced, 13.1 percent alcohol, price $27.99. These inaugural releases are available winery-direct (at email@example.com), at select private retail stores and restaurants, and at a limited number of B.C. VQA shops.
They’ll be gone fast, so get yours now.
Now, allow me to steal a few of Jerry Ragovoy’s lyrics from the timeless Rolling Stones tune: “Time is on my side.” Yes it is, Harry, yes it is. You’ve proven that yet again.