It’s not very often you can experience the birth of an iconic winery and get invited to tour the vineyards with one of the founders of the modern BC wine movement. I was fortunate to be invited to discuss, tour and sample wines with Harry McWatters at his newest project, TIME Estate Winery, in the Okanagan Valley on the Black Sage Bench near Oliver, BC.
Harry has been involved in the BC wine industry since the 1960’s and has 48 vintages of experience under his belt. After touring the vineyards and winery with him I am convinced this winery will set a new standard in quality and sheer wow factor in years to come.
We began the tour by hopping in Harry’s truck and surveying the vineyards that have been owned by Harry since 1992. TIME Estate has a large variety of Bordeaux grapes growing on the 115 acres of prime wine real estate. Harry and long-time vineyard manager Dick Cleave – who himself has 35 years of grape growing experience – are able to coax rich aromas, strong tannins and full flavor from these vines by placing the vines at the correct angles to gain maximum sun exposure, and spacing the vines to produce large quantities of outstanding grapes.
The Sundial Vineyard is an ideal site to grow premium grapes with a southern exposure and stone free sandy soil which drains the root system of the vines very efficiently. This meticulous attention to detail and decades of experience results in red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc reaching ideal ripeness levels. They also plant Carmenere, a rarer varietal that seems to respond well to the climate and soils of the Black Sage Bench. White wine grapes grown here include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Semillon that seem to pick up more tropical nuances than the rest of the Okanagan.
These vineyards are so ideal for growing vinifera grapes that TIME was able to harvest Syrah grapes from third leaf which is unheard of in most of British Columbia, or any other wine producing regions. Every detail is explored including changing the traditional east west planting of the vines to a more advantaged north south position, experimenting with irrigation systems and reducing yields to encourage maximum flavor development and sugar content.
The tasting room and winery are in a temporary building on the property, but the foundation of the winery is complete. Harry and I toured the cavernous underground facility that was originality designed in a more vertical fashion. However Harry decided that the vertical design was too intrusive and commissioned a more vertical design that is buried deep into the side of a hill.
The lower portion of the future winery is complete with a sparkling wine vault and riddling room as Harry plans to craft only the finest sparkling wine using the traditional method found in fine Champagne wines. On the upper levels the tasting room, a hospitality suite, four guest suites and commercial kitchen are planned. There will be no restaurant at TIME Estates but they are planning many food and wine pairing events that is sure to delight visitors.
TIME has released wines since the 2011 harvest and I had the opportunity to sample vintages with Harry ranging from 2012 to 2014. These are no starter wines; they are outstanding in quality and would stand up to some of the world’s best wine region offerings. When TIME Estates is in full production they will craft approximately 30,000 cases of wine a year.
The 2013 Cabernet Franc is already sold out and I would expect the entire portfolio to be sold out soon due to the excellent price points, quality and small case production. Here are some notes on the wines I tried at TIME Estate Winery.
Sundial White, 2013
A successful blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc this 100% cold fermented wine results in a mixed fruit basket of pear, apple, melon and citrus flavors. This slightly off dry white has a surprisingly creamy and complex texture for a wine at this price point. To balance this texture the wine displays angular acidity that leads to a racy, fresh finish. 88 points. $20
Partly fermented and aged in oak this wine defines the modern Chardonnay style of balanced fruit to oak ratio. A combination of pineapple, melon and citrus fruit greet the nose. French oak aging adds complex touches of toasty vanilla and caramel flavors. A very well balanced Chardonnay, worthy of five to eight years cellar ageing to bring out potential tertiary flavours. 89 points. $28
(White) Meritage, 2014
If you have never tried a white meritage this would be the one to try! This wine is a classic blend of two thirds Sauvignon Blanc to one third Semillon. Partially fermented in oak, the creamy mouth feel of the Semillon blends seamlessly with tangy Sauvignon fruit. It features a perfumed nose that includes sweet melon, orange blossom and nectarine. The finish is extensive; I could best describe this wine as opulent. 91 points. $25
(Red) Meritage, 2012
This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc charges out of the glass with red and black fruits, plum, sage and toasty clove spice. Complex, extracted and well-structured this Meritage will age well for eight to ten years. A price of $30 makes this an outstanding cost friendly candidate for your cellar. 91 points. $30
Only 100 cases of this bold and complex Syrah are available. On the nose jammy blackberry, blueberry fruit with hints of eucalyptus, nutmeg and pepper. The Syrah grapes were fermented on the skins for three weeks which extracted maximum flavor and color from the grapes. This is a warm climate Syrah that delivers quality and complexity. Another cellar candidate, I would age for five to eight. 92 points. $35
I thanked Harry for his generous hospitality as he had a flight to catch. Harry is a busy man with a talent for creating a series of successful wineries and an ambassador of British Columbia wines. The new winery will be a crowning jewel in Harry’s career as time will tell.