In Niagara (9) the impressive wines of Pearl Morissette


Pearl Morissette is one of Niagara’s most interesting producers, making compelling wines, and marching to the beat of a different drum. It started back in 2007 as a collaboration between winegrower François Morissette, a French Canadian who trained as a vigneron in Burgundy as a vigneron, and Toronto developer Mel Pearl. The home base is in Jordan, and the 14 acres of vineyards here are part of the Creek Shore VQA on gravel soils. There are also 23 acres at the 19th Street vineyard, part of Twenty Mile Bench VQA. And since 2019 they have taken a 10 year lease on a 60 acre vineyard near Redstone, on red clay. They sell many of the grapes from this, but it has also allowed them to grow things like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

‘There are just two of us,’ says Svetlana Actheva, who works alongside François, ‘so we can’t double production. In 2020 they made 6000 cases, having sorted out 30-40% of the crop. ‘Ultimately 8000 cases is the maximum we can do here at the quality we expect,’ she says.

Svetlana Atcheva

The vineyards are planted 1.2 m x 0.9 m, which is very close spacing. To adapt to the high humidity François has raised the fruit wire from 30/40 cm to 60 cm. ‘Farming in this area brings more questions than answers,’ said François to me when I first visited back in 2013. ‘It is extreme viticulture: you have to be extremely adaptable.’ His focus in the vineyard is on the quality of the skins of the grapes. He wants to get these just right, so he protects them from too much sunlight.

Francois Morissette

François is a very thoughtful, committed winegrower, who makes wines naturally, with just minimal amounts of sulfur dioxide added just before bottling (although they sometimes spray the grapes on the sorting table with just a small amount of sulfites), and an emphasis on working with the lees. Everything ages on primary lees until just before bottling, and there’s no racking, fining of filtering. ‘Building the biomolecular stability of the wines enables us to use very low sulfites,’ says Svet.

‘Our golden tool is the quality of the lees: that is why I am concerned about the skins,’ says François. He recycles the lees to use in future vintages. ‘It is our little solera. The old guys in Burgundy did this. Lees were everything.’ Initially, he thought that Pinot Noir might be the focus, and after many disappointments he’s decided it isn’t right for his place. Varieties that François wasn’t originally that interested in have become a key focus, including Cabernet Franc and Riesling. ‘I wasn’t supposed to do Cabernet Franc and Riesling,’ he says. ‘But I’m fascinated by both. The grape variety is just a vessel; a medium. Cabernet Franc is arguably the best suited red grape to Niagara. It can make some stunning wines.’

There are some interesting cement/stone fermenting vessels in the winery, made by Sonoma Cast Stone, in Petaluma, California. There are also some old wooden foudres. ‘I am not interested in stainless steel for fermenting,’ says François. ‘It is too clinical. The winery is all about texture and the vineyard is all about skins.’

‘We taste like maniacs,’ says Svet. ‘During harvest we taste every vessel two times a day, and during elevage we taste twice a week.’ She adds, ‘the wine makes itself, but if you are aspiring to stability, you need to have continual attention.’

Svet says that a 20 year old vine in Niagara is like a 60 year old vine anywhere else in terms of the stress they have to live through. She also says that in Niagara, it’s better to build structure through phenolics as opposed to oak. ‘Phenolics are the skeleton of the wine.’

The wines are made with very low sulfite levels. ‘Building biomolecular stability of the wines allows us to use very low sulfites,’ says Svet. ‘Their primary lees protects them.’ Often they will spray the grapes with 5% SO2 solution on the sorting table, but in some vintages this isn’t necessary.

Since 2018 all the wines are in the same bottle, which is a Burgundy shape and weights just 359 g.

We tasted some samples of wines in progress.

Pearl Morissette Dix-NeuvièmeChardonnay 2021
Fermented in concrete and foudre, now in stainless steel before bottling. This is mealy and textural and has nice brightness. Very supple with fine crystalline citrus fruit and a hint of apple. So fresh and fine, with beautiful delicate fruit. 94/100

Pearl Morissette Dix-Neuvième Chardonnay 2020
All in foudre, a much more solar vintage. 24 month elevage, no racking. Full yellow/gold colour. So lively and crystalline with power and spicy citrus notes, as well as a bit of apple. Some toast here with beautiful depth and intensity, showing some structure. Very fine. 96/100

Pearl Morissette Young Vine Riesling 2021
From vines planted at 19th Street in 2017, this is a new cuvée with no name yet. Fermented and aged in concrete and foudre, full malolactic. Intense and mineral with lovely stony citrus and apple fruit. So expressive, showing concentration and minerality. Dry and very fine and just 10% alcohol. 94/100

Pearl Morissette Black Ball Riesling 2020
From 19th Street, vines planted in 1998/99. 100% foudre. Wonderful aromatic. Chalky, citrussy and mineral. Very fine and pure with amazing precision, and a bit of structure. Sensational. 96/100

Pearl Morissette Syrah 2021
Tank sample, from a wine aged in foudre. Floral red cherry fruit with some appley notes. Fresh, pure and appley with red cherries, berries and plums. Sappy, fine and very smashable. 93/100

Pearl Morissette Gamay 2020
100% whole cluster, 24 months elevage in foudre. Powerful, vivid and structured with grainy notes. Very Gamay: like old Beaujolais. So fine, fresh and mineral, showing cherries, plums and spice with a bit of wildness and fine green notes. 94/100

Pearl Morissette Furie 2020
This is a red blend with Cabernet Sauvignon prominent. Compact and fresh with blackcurrant and cherry. Has nice freshness and poise: very expressive with some green hints and a chalky, gravelly freshness, and hints of iron and spice. 93/100

Pearl Morissette Merlot 2020
100% whole cluster. Fresh and supple with lovely black cherry fruit and some berry notes. Fine and spicy with a green edge. Lovely weight and balance, showing drinkability and depth. Nice whole cluster tannin here. 94/100

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2020
From 19th Street. Destemmed, 100% foudre. Blackcurrant and blackberry fruit with nice texture and depth, with grainy black fruits, showing good structure but also freshness. Sleek with nice precision. Supple and drinkable with a subtle mineral character and some notes of ash and amazing finesse. Finishes tannic, but so well balanced. 95/100

Bottled wines

Pearl Morissette Riesling Oxyde 2019
100% foudre, 12.5% alcohol. Wonderfully aromatic. Flinty matchstick mineral notes with some apple. The palate is rich and saline and spicy, with lovely depth and texture, showing sweet apple and lime. Great concentration, with some sour cherry on the finish. 94/100

Pearl Morissette Blackball Riesling 2017
12% alcohol. Foudre and concrete. Very fine, expressive and mineral with some apple and lime. Very crystalline with good acidity. Supple, pretty and refined, with wonderful mouthfeel. Such precision but it also gives pleasure. 95/100

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay Dix-Neuvième 2018 Twenty Mile Bench
12% alcohol. Apple, cherry and lime with some rich texture and depth. Supple with some softness to the palate and fine spicy notes. Grainy structure, with supple pear and apple. 93/100

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay Dix-Neuvième 2017 Twenty Mile Bench
Yellow/gold in colour. There an innate richness here with crystalline citrus, white peach and fine spicy notes. Chalk and mineral characters as well as a nice acid line, and good texture. Pear and apple fruit with good precision and depth, as well as a bit of structure. 95/100

Pearl Morissette Roselana 2021 Niagara Peninsula
A blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Gamay. Full orange/red colour. Aromatic, fresh and peppery with juicy red cherries, plums and some structure. It’s almost a lighter red with strawberries, cherries pepper and spice. So good. 93/100

Pearl Morissette Primesautier 2021 Ontario
The glou glou red released in June. 100% concrete. Textured, fresh and juicy with sweet cherry and plum fruit, and a touch of leafy green. Very expressive and drinkable with nice weight and some peppery hints. 93/100

Pearl Morissette Primesautier 2020 Four Mile Creek
This is 100% Lemberger, but it had to be abandoned in 2021. Destemmed and 100% concrete. So fresh, pure and vivid with intense black cherry and blackberry fruit, as well as crunchy raspberries. Modest tannin and high acidity, with some peppery notes. Brilliant drinkability here. 93/100

Pearl Morissette Bonbon 2020 Four Mile Creek
A demi muid of Lemberger kept back and aged for a further year. Juicy, with nice acidity. Has freshness and crunch with some green hints and lovely raspberry and blackcurrant fruit. Has good acidity and nice structure. 94/100

Pearl Morissette Chamboulé 2021 Creek Shores
This is Pinot Noir from the home farm. Supple with some green notes as well as strawberry and cherry, with a grainy, juicy quality. Sour cherry and plum notes add interest. A hint of cumin on the finish, with mid-palate volume. 92/100

Pearl Morissette Chamboulé 2018 Niagara Peninsula
19th Street. These vines have since been removed. Slightly faded colour with herbal hints, sweet strawberries, cherries and some fine spices. Juicy and fine grained with hints of silage. 91/100

Pearl Morissette Couleuvre Syrah 2019 Lincoln Lakeshore
12.5% alcohol. 100% whole bunch then aged in foudre. Supple, lively, peppery and bright with nice green hints. Textural with black cherries, pepper and some structure. Notes of red apple and strawberry. Has nice flesh but also some firmness: a lovely, expressive wine. Very fine. 94/100

Pearl Morissette Couleuvre Syrah 2020 Lincoln Lakeshore
Aromatic with sweet black cherries and blackberry, with floral hints and also some pepper, smoke and spice. Ripe, broad and intense on the palate with good structure and massive intensity. This is an astonishing Syrah with sleek ripe fruit, amazing depth and lovely peppery detail. 96/100

Pearl Morissette Ressac Cabernet Franc 2019 Lincoln Lakeshore
First vintage of this, from Redfoot. 13% alcohol. Juicy and crunchy with nice cherry and raspberry fruit, with good acidity and nice crunchy structure. Chalky and fine. 94/100

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeline Cabernet Franc 2017
13.5% alcohol. 100% whole cluster. Concentrated, spicy and firm with blackberry and black cherry fruit, as well as notes of mint, ash and chalk. Firm black fruits here with some opulence, but also freshness. Very minty with potential for development. 93/100

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeline Cabernet Franc 2018
Brooding and supple with notes of apple and blackberry on the nose, as well as chalk and spice. The palate is firm and grainy, as well as quite spicy, showing sweet blackberry and cherry fruit with apply detail. Very fine. 94/100

See also: Restaurant Pearl Morissette

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