Who is Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond from Evolve Cellars?
From the Evolve Cellars website, “Christa-Lee has been part of the BC wine industry since birth. Growing up as the daughter of BC wine ambassador Harry McWatters instilled in her a true appreciation for and love of wine – which included her making wine when she was 9 years old (not for public consumption, of course). She has worked with wineries large and small, from the tasting room to the boardroom. In 2015, Christa-Lee launched Evolve Cellars with the ENCORE Vineyards Ltd family.”
Let’s find out more about Christa-Lee; her newest venture, Evolve Cellars, her favourite wines, how she works with her father, Harry McWatters, to produce their range of wines from the TIME, Evolve Cellars, and McWatters portfolios.
My Interview with Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond
What is the favourite wine that you produce at Evolve?
That’s a hard question like choosing a favourite child. For me, Pink Effervescence. There are very few days that go by that I don’t drink it. I love it. I am a bubble person.
If you were not drinking Pink Effervescence?
I’d drink White Effervescence.
If you were not drinking White Effervescence?
My new one, Elan Effervescence. We have 3 sparkling wines. There are some great ones produced in BC. The Bub from Haywire; Cipes Brut. They are doing a great job.
Have u been to the Nova Scotia section of the Tasting Room and tried the L’Acadie sparkling?
Yes, the L’Acadie sparkling is delicious. Bruce Ewart was the wine maker from Hawthorne Vineyards and is making the L’Acadie Vineyards wine.
Is there any European bubble you like?
In all honesty I have not tasted any. It is crazy at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. I haven’t left our table. I’ve been pouring wines for the public. I need to get the team to bring me wines. I am a big Champagne fan.
I heard that you have been in the business for 35 years?
Yes, and I made my first wine at 9 years old. It was a Riesling Gewürztraminer blend and we called it Gewurtzling. It was off-dry.
Did your dad gave you a barrel?
We used carboys. We were partners with the Schmidts of Sumac Ridge. Brian Schmidt, now the wine-maker of Vineland Estates, who is a couple of years older than me made the wine with me.
I assume you don’t have any left?
I don’t have any more. We probably drank the last bottle 15 years ago. Brian’s dad had a bottle and we shared it together.
What in 35 years what is your favourite accomplishment?
My favourite accomplishment? That’s a tough one. I think it is just the evolution of the industry. For me personally, I like the launching of new brands. I’ve been excited about Evolve, as I brought it from concept to labelling. It is doing well with awards and has customer appeal. It’s like birthing a child I imagine. For me to see success and people coming to our table at the Festival and asking for Effervescence is an accomplishment. I know that they know the product. Probably the other accomplishment was See Ya Later Ranch. I was one of the heads of the team of creating the brand and launching it. Another is probably launching the sparkling wine for the Olympics by Sumac Ridge called Tribute. To me I really enjoy creating and launching brands and products; and seeing them be successful.
Do you put much input into particular wines? Taste them along with the wine-maker?
Yes we taste constantly with Lawrence Buhler, our wine-maker. Right now we are talking about what we want the next vintage to be. He is talking to the grape growers so they can start farming for what we want. Today I discussed that we want to increase the sparkling program. We are all involved; it’s collaborative. Lawrence gets to pour wines at events like this. He gets insight. He isn’t making wine for himself only. He is making it for the consumer.
I think your dad, Harry McWatters, said that you always have to make the wine for the consumer.
That is exactly my mentality as well. The industry has always been consumer-driven. If you look back to the 70s and early 80s, wines were sweet, full, and bubbly. Look at Baby Duck. That is what the consumer wanted. I don’t have to love every single wine that we make. Hopefully I do, as it is a reflection on who we are. We really have to make sure our wines have consumer appeal.
So your aspirations are more bubble. Do you want to grow 2 or 3 times the size of Evolve?
Yes. Our goal is to be around 20,000 cases. Now we are at 5,000 cases.
I see that you are the Chair at the BC Wine Institute. Tell me what you do there.
We have a great team. Miles (Prodan) is our president. It is a Board of 9 members; 3 small wineries, 3 medium, and 3 large wineries. An equal representation of industry. Once on the Board, we represent all members. It is really about the marketing and promotion of BC VQA wines. Getting the word out to the world, and in BC, telling British Columbians to drink BC.
Do you actively go to the non-VQA wineries and tell them about the virtues of VQA?
No. It is more about supporting our members and delivering on their expectations, and creating the climate for them to be successful. Hopefully with what we are doing, non-members will see the benefits of joining.
Yesterday i was talking with Ezra Cipes about the 2020 initiative and I am wondering if your winery is organic.
We are not organic; we are Sustainable. It is important to respect our environment.
How much do you influence your dad’s wines?
We are a team. We sit down and look at the focus of where we want to go. As Lawrence blends, he brings the wine to us. We decide as a team. He is doing the work in the cellar and has a primarily decides the style, but we all work together; the 3 of us. The entire portfolio: TIME, McWatters and Evolve. Nothing is blended without all of us. We were recently blending the 2016 Pink Effervescence. It was the three of us making sure that we have the right blend, the right colour. Lawrence put together 8 blends for us to review. Normally we are on the same page and that is nice. We are pretty much of the same mind.
To grow you probably need more vineyards? Are you looking to buy more vineyards?
We are not. We sold our vineyard. Opposite to what most other people would do. We have contracted back the fruit from that vineyard and we secured a number of long-term contracts. Selling the vineyard lets us really look at what we want to do in as opposed to what can we do with our vineyard. You can’t grow every variety. BC is so fantastic as there are 80 commercially viable varieties. Some people argue we should be focused. I like that there are so many varietals. It is so exciting here in the Festival Tasting Room. For example, TIME, we would not have had a Riesling because we can’t grow it on Black Sage Bench, or why would you? So using other vineyards, we are getting ready to launch a Riesling. We have some new varietals, and get to have some fun. We are working with great growers and making great relationships.
Thank you to Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond for spending the time with me to talk to me about your long history in the BC wine industry, your love of sparkling wine, and your direction for Evolve Cellars.