The wines of Pearl Morissette
Visiting wine country in Ontario, Canada, part 5


Francois Morissette

I visited Pearl Morissette three times on my Canadian trip. The first visit was on my own, the third was a stop on the way back to the airport so Steven Spurrier could have a chance to taste these striking wines, and in between I ended up there one night for a pool party. It was fun!

The Pearl Morissette project started in 2007 as a collaboration between winegrower François Morissette, a French Canadian who was trained in Burgundy as a vigneron, and Toronto developer Mel Pearl. It’s based on a property in Jordan, which falls under the Twenty Mile Bench VQA. 

They began farming in 2008, and have 35 acres on the property that were planted in 1999/2000, and a further 50 acres that have more recently (2010) been planted on top of the escarpment. 

Varieties grown are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Riesling.

François is a very thoughtful, committed winegrower, who makes wines naturally, with just minimal amounts of sulfur dioxide added. He had spent some time working with a group in Montreal who worked with the first natural wines in Canada. ‘I was acquainted early on with no-sufur wines,’ says François, ‘for better or worse!’

Here he saw an opportunity to develop a project from the very beginning. ‘I have evolved the business very slowly,’ he says. ‘I have done some business with Guillaume nursery to get the best planting material.’ He’s not sure that Pinot is the best variety for this site, even though this was his initial vision. ‘It is a bit warm for Pinot Noir here. I will give it 110% of my focus, but we will see.’

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,’ says François. ‘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. 

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.’

‘Our golden tool is the quality of the lees: that is why I am concerned about the skins.’ He recycles the lees to use in future vintages. ‘It is our little solera. The old guys in Burgundy did this. Lees were everything.’ 

He keeps back 20% of the production to see whether the wines will age, and to release when they are ready to drink. ‘It is not fair to ask a customer to age them.’

François doesn’t like new oak very much. ‘I’m not against new oak, I am against the make up,’ he says. ‘I am against the oak that is tainting the wine.’

When he started here he wasn’t too keen on Cabernet Franc and Riesling, but he’s changed his mind. ‘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.’

I really liked François and his wines. He’s doing something different, and I reckon these already lovely wines will just keep getting better.


Pearl Morissette Riesling 2012
This is a tank sample. Some nutty notes, as well as fine, pure, citrus characters, as well as herbs and wax. Intensely mineral and fine with lovely purity and great depth of flavour, with great texture. Fine and expressive. 91–93

Pearl Morissette Riesling 2011
Matured in stainless steel. Lovely apple, nut and citrus nose. Rounded, complex and taut. The palate is fresh and vivid, with nutty notes as well as citrus fruit. Lively with great precision. 92/100

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2011
Barrel fermented. Nutty, rounded and quite pure with apple, pear and lemon notes. Broad and textured with layers of flavour. Elegant style. 93/100

Pearl Morissette Riesling 2010
Ripe and nutty with lovely sweet pear fruit and some lemony notes. Rounded texture with nice purity and some minerality. Refined with subtle nuttiness. 92/100

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay 2011
Lovely texture here: ripe and full but fresh at the same time, with stone fruits and pear. Textured with notes of spice and minerals. Lovely combination of precision and richness, finishing long. 94/100

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay 2010
Rich and broad, quite nutty and mealy. Some bready notes, but also nice citrus. Quite broad and generous. This will tighten, apparently. 92/100

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay 2009
Very fresh with nice tension. Some nuts and citrus, as well as white peach. Nice freshness and precision with some subtle toastiness. 92/100

Pearl Morissette Pinot Noir 2011
Sweet, supple and quite pure with nice direct sweet cherry and berry fruit, as well as a bit of spicy grip. Nice weight and purity. Good tannins. 91/100

Pearl Morissette Pinot Noir 2007
The first vintage, made at Hidden Bench. Lovely black cherry and plum fruit nose with some savoury, spicy notes. Supple, sweet palate with hints of earth and spice, showing a bit of meatiness. 90/100

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc 2012
35–40% whole bunch. Supple, pure, ripe and elegant with nice sweetness and wonderfully pure black fruits. 92–94/100

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc 2011
Sweet, ripe and elegant with open cherry and plum fruit. Rounded, with some raisiny notes, and a bit of grip. Nice finesse, with some green notes but they work in the context of the wine. 93/100

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc 2010
Sweet and pure with graphite and chalk notes. Lovely structure with fine grainy characters. Ripe and complex with lovely depth, purity and a silky stucture. Essence of Cab Franc. 94/100


Pearl Morissette
Hidden Bench

Closson Chase
Huff Estates
Rosehall Run
Norman Hardie

Wines tasted 07/13  
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