For the first time in months, I drove out to the Niagara region. As the rush hour traffic thinned, the view of the lake, row upon row of vines felt like a glass of chilled white on a hot, hazy day. I felt a sense of calm being surrounded by wineries. It reminded me of the sprawling paradise just an hour away from downtown Toronto. Concerts under the stars at Jackson Triggs, tastings at Megalomaniac, Flat Rock, Tawse and always a new winery to discover.
We have friends in Vineland who are living the dream, weekly tastings, daily golf, hot tub in the evenings – Ian and Maria are enjoying the spoils of decades of hard work. When they invited us out, Maria suggested a visit to Pearl Morisette – a wine I have seen on the occasional wine list, but never tried.
Our visit coincided with a Niagara region monsoon. That made it challenging to search through the high speed wipers for the Pearl Morisette sign. Especially when there is no sign. You have to hunt for the clues. A green barn, a few cows, a locked office. I’ve watched The Amazing Race Canada. We were not easily deterred, especially with wine waiting.
Svetlana Atcheva met us under the awning and showed us into a room the size of a couple of large garages – a whiteboard with an expansive TO DO list, no Disney-like gift shop to peruse. This is where the magic happens.
Pearl Morissette is the result of dream. Montreal Sommelier Francois Morissette spent several years in Burgundy working with some of the best winemakers in the region. In 2007, Toronto developer Mel Pearl proposed a deal not easy to refuse. “He offered Francois the chance to create his own vineyard,” said Svetlana, “One condition: no compromising” he said.
To Morissette, this meant letting the grapes do what they do best. Not influenced by sales, by Robert Parker or any other convention. No blending, no addition of yeast to speed up the process. Morissette wanted to know what the land would produce on its own with as little intervention as possible.
They grow the fruit for the skin ripeness not the sugar content. “It’s about leaving the least footprint possible,” says Svetlana. “This is the wine speaking.”
And this wine keeps speaking much longer than you would expect thanks to clay and cement vessels that allow the wines to grow accustomed to oxygen. They test the process to see how long a wine can be exposed to oxygen without going bad. The wine we tried was opened six days earlier. Svetlana says some of their wines remain unspoiled 30 days after opening.
Francois keeps 10 % of each batch in the library to test “the quality of drunkenness”.
Svetlana says these wines bring you up beautifully – they don’t make you suffer. “You created a wine that doesn’t give you a hangover???” Svetlana asked Morissette. “That’s the real reason I came here,” she confessed to us.
So what about the wines? I will say up front, to the dismay of just about every person I know who is either German or has studied wine, that I am not a Riesling fan which, of course, was our first wine. This was unlike any Riesling I had ever tasted. Dry, balanced, with lovely citrus notes, peaches, a touch of sage.
Each wine was the same: unexpected and unconventional. The non-Riesling fan loved the Riesling. The non-Chardonnay fan loved the Chardonnay. The one who generally stays away from Cabernet Franc…well, you get the idea. It’s why you can’t find these wines at the LCBO because they don’t fit the standard flavour profiles. That’s not hurting the business. As soon as the wines become available, they are snapped up by regulars, restaurants and importers.
The 2012 Cabernet Franc had me at first sip. This was nothing like any I had tasted before. Svetlana called it their “Spectator” Wine in honour of the profile-by-numbers that win high scores from Wine Spectator. Le Spectateur surprised even Francois and Svetlana who realized early on something special was brewing. The result – everything I expected from a Cabernet Franc was dispelled. This wine had lovely aromas of cherry and red fruit – exceptional balance and never ending finish. I could not leave without taking a few bottles home. It will age well…unless I get there first.
Pearl Morisette 3953 Jordan Rd, Jordan, ON 902-562-4376. By appointment only.
Look for the barn.