Pearl Morissette is a difficult spot to find, even if you know where you are going. Off Jordan Road in Niagara, down an unmarked driveway, the winery and storage facility are housed in two nondescript black buildings nestled within a farm. We visited in late October and the grounds were a commotion of calculated harvest activity.
The winery was born in 2007 and François Morissette, a Quebec native and Burgundian-trained winemaker, holds the reins. He brings a traditional French mentality to winemaking while driven to express the Niagara terroir (variable weather and all). His vineyards are managed organically, without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and the fruit is handpicked in stages where only ripe berries are collected. The juice is fermented with indigenous yeast and nothing is added to the wine except a conservative amount of sulphur. His new 2013 release of Gamay was made and bottled without adding any sulphur, something that is unheard of in Canada. His wines have a purity and vibrancy that is hard to find anywhere.
Most of the fruit (Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling) comes from the 19th Street Vineyard, a 16.5-acre plot within the Twenty Mile Bench VQA. It was planted in 1999 and 2000 on layered soil—silt on top of heavy clay loam that all sits on limestone bedrock. Their Home Vineyard was planted between 2010 and 2012 on Jordan Road over gravel soils with more Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. It's just starting to yield small amounts of fruit this vintage. The Gamay is made with purchased fruit from the Redfoot Vineyard—a site with iron-rich, red clay soils.
While the production of Pearl Morissette is growing slightly, François' vision is to keep the winery small. He now produces between 2500 and 4000 cases of wine depending on the vintage. As a winery garnering more and more attention and reverence both with sommeliers and tuned-in consumers within Canada and abroad, demand for Pearl Morissette's wines will only grow. Enjoy them while they are still easy to get.
Here are some standout Pearl Morissette wines on offer from My Wine Canada:
There's great tension between this wine's richness and its refreshing acidity. Green apple characters and lemon with subtle spice notes imparted by the barrel fermentation, but no flavours of new oak. This is Chardonnay with poise that will excite those who appreciate the elegance and energy of Burgundy and the very best of Niagara.
During the production and aging of this Pinot, the wine went down some freakish and unexpected roads, taking on a life of its own and shocking François with how good it turned out. It was aged almost entirely in stainless steel. It smells intensely smoky and woodsy with very bright acid with characters of red fruit (raspberry and cherry) and red apple skins.
This is a blend of two grapes I had never tasted together before, arguably the stars of Ontario: Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. The blend is roughly equal parts and the grapes come from young vines. It is very delicious as a fresh and vibrant fruit-driven wine: raspberry, blackberry, bramble and baking spice.
This wine is finely structured on the palate with fresh acidity and present, yet soft, tannins. There are flavours of tangy red berries, violets and earl grey. The finish is long. While many producers in the region aim to extract a lot of colour and body from the grape, this is not made in that style. François is letting the grape express the vintage, and the expression is a very lovely balance between structure and grace.
Pearl Morissette is our featured winery this month in the Wine Club! Join here and you'll receive fantastic wine from this winery - right to your door!
Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.