When Canadian wine icon Harry McWatters suddenly passed away last summer, the sense of loss so many felt went well beyond his personal relationships.
At McWatters’ service in Penticton, many of the 1,500 in attendance wondered who might fill the void he left in the B.C. wine industry, which he helped forge and cultivate for more than 40 years.
The Chefs’ Table Society of B.C. recognized the need to salute McWatters’ legacy.
“Our member chefs serve hundreds of bottles of B.C. wines every day,” said Robert Belcham, president of Chefs’ Table.
“I like to think there’s a little bit of Harry in every one of them. In retrospect, it’s astounding what Harry and his fellow pioneers accomplished in just over three decades — B.C. wines are securely on the global map.”
In honour of McWatters, Chefs’ Table is launching a new scholarship through the Okanagan College Foundation, with an initial contribution of $2,000 per year for a minimum period of five years. Students who are enrolled in a wine or tourism program at Okanagan College and participating in an international education experience will be eligible for the scholarship.
“We’ve donated first, but it’s really a call to action: We invite industry associations, wineries and private individuals to enhance our gift by donating online or contacting the Okanagan College Foundation and pledging their support,” said Belcham.
McWatters is a legend in the world of the B.C. wine industry. He was perhaps best known as the founder of Sumac Estate Winery and as a founder of the B.C. Wine Institute. McWatters is remembered in the industry as a leader in developing quality standards for wine grape growing, winemaking and wine marketing.
“Harry’s mentorship is rightly legendary,” said Jonathan Rouse, associate dean of the Okanagan School of Business and director of food, wine and tourism at Okanagan College.
“He always had his eye on emerging talent in the business, and vigorously mentored young people, through his roles as founder of the B.C. Wine Institute and his many ongoing industry affiliations.”
McWatters taught at the college and was bestowed an honorary doctorate for his vast contributions to the B.C. wine community.
WcWatters’ wife Lisa Lalonde and his family will also contribute to the scholarship.
“Harry collected experiences. He loved nothing more than planning trips based on where we would dine, what we would drink and who we would visit. We think Harry would love the creative use of these funds, and our family is pleased to add to the initial contribution in the amount of $1,000 per annum,” said Lalonde.
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