When Harry McWatters (pictured above in 2013) announced on April 1 that he had sold his beloved Sundial Vineyard and still unfinished new winery I wasn’t all that shocked. I knew it was no April Fool’s joke. I had visited the site just last month and was surprised to see just how far behind it was, considering the originally planned 2016 opening. In fact there was no work happening, as far as I could tell.
The only person I bumped into was Dick (Richard) Cleave, the acclaimed viticulturist and vineyard manager who consults to several premium properties in the valley.
As I went on my way, I thought it was strange there was no sign of activity.
McWatters the Visionary
I vividly recall standing on that 115 acre patch of bare land, listening to McWatters explain to us why he had bought it. And how he was going to make serious red Bordeaux blends. At the time there were very few believers. But Harry was.
It was 1992—a mere couple of decades or so ago, a blink of an eye in wine terms.
McWatters and his partner Bob Wareham planted Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon).
Within a few years, Sumac Ridge was making Black Sage Merlot and other wines which debunked the myth that no good reds could be made in the south Okanagan. Further north, Blue Mountain had been making excellent Pinot for a few years. But Bordeaux varieties were another animal.
Very little in the wine industry happens in isolation. Pretty soon, the entire valley was falling over itself to get those ‘big red’ vines into the ground. The stampede to the South Okanagan—which eventually saw McWatters sell to Vincor in 2000—was under way.
Fast forward to this past week, when McWatters announced he’d sold the building and 60 acre vineyard to an as yet unnamed buyer for an undisclosed sum. Harry says the reason that work was stopped was due to the lengthy negotiations involved in the sale.
Black Sage (the name now owned by Constellation) enjoys a degree of well deserved notoriety, so it should come as no surprise that someone, somewhere has dug deep to take over McWatters’ renamed Sundial parcel.
It remains to be seen just who. And what their plans involve. **
Oh, and one more thing. Don’t count Harry out too fast. In fact, don’t count him out. Period.
More details here.
** In a telephone interview, McWatters said:
“The new owners are Asian, and focused on red Bordeaux … the company refers to itself as Bai Family Estates, and I do know that they have property in Richmond.”
“They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse … a substantial premium over the value of the property.”
McWatters also told me that the purchaser may want to modify the (winery) plans but still be ready for harvest in the facility this year. The vineyard will be his source of fruit and the winery his prime production facility.
He also emphasized:
“The real news is what we’re going to be doing in the future.”