This post is part of our ongoing series, Canadian Wine — specifically, Canadian wineries and the remarkable wines they produce. Today, Meaghan Carey shares the story of Pearl Morissette's wines and their  high quality but "atypical" Niagara region style. Learn not only what makes their wines unique, but how the winery used their VQA experience as a major part of their branding.

Canadian Wine: Niagara's Pearl Morissette Wines

No one wants to be the one not invited to the party or picked last in gym class.

Yet it’s happened to all of us, which is probably why this common plot is at the centre of many stories. If you know anything about Pearl Morissette wines, you may think it’s the centre of their story as well.

In Ontario, after a wine is produced the winemaker can submit it to the VQA (Vintners Quality Assurance) for inspection and certification. The wines are tested in labs (for “faults”) and then blind tasted by a panel of judges. The purpose of VQA certification is to guarantee a certain minimum level of quality.

Pearl Morissette’s Rieslings have been repeatedly rejected by the VQA for being “atypical” of the Niagara region

Canadian Wine: Niagara's Pearl Morissette Wines

The 2010 vintage of Pearl Morissette Riesling was rejected four times by the VQA. In comparison to world wine regions, the Niagara region is still in its infancy, so you wouldn’t be alone in thinking, “What’s a typical Niagara Riesling?”. Does a 3-year-old have a defined personality that will remain the same throughout their entire life? Thankfully (for most), no, and a young wine region shouldn’t either; however, that’s a debate for another article.

François Morissette is Pearl Morissette’s vigneron (someone who cultivates the vineyard for winemaking). When his business partner informed him of the VQA’s repeated rejection of their 2010 Riesling by simply stating, “We’ve been blackballed,” Morissette needed a moment to translate the remark. It was a comment that stuck. The Riesling was released in 2011 under a playful new name: Cuvee Black Ball. That version wasn’t submitted to the VQA; the 2012 was, and rejected — twice. The 2013 Cuvee Black Ball received the approval of the VQA, while the tasting panel once again rejected the 2014.

Canadian Wine: Niagara's Pearl Morissette Wines

The ‘black ball’ expression lives on with Pearl Morissette’s wine club, the Black Ball Wine Society, and the cheeky painting of their winery buildings black. Although the latter started with just one building, it was so aesthetically pleasing they chose to paint all the buildings on their home site black.

Canadian Wine: Niagara's Pearl Morissette Wines

After spending a morning with Morissette and his winemaking partner Brent Rowland, it’s clear that although being excluded by the VQA has been the story most written about and most attached to the winery, it certainly isn’t the central plot for the dynamic, young winemaking team at Pearl Morissette.

Morissette has always been an innovator in the wine world. In the early 1990s he was part of a movement of sommeliers in Montreal who were pushing the status quo and creating innovative wine programs focusing on low sulphite wines. In 2000 Morissette followed his passion for wine to the Burgundy region of France, working several harvests and learning the traditional vigneron methods that have been practiced for centuries in the vineyards and candle-lit cellars.


While Morissette is French, he is French Canadian, and after several years living and working in France he felt the draw to return to his home country. Around the same time Toronto developer Mel Pearl decided to invest in the Niagara region, purchasing a vineyard site in Jordon. The region had been buzzing with the news of a Frank Gehry-designed winery and he felt the timing was right.

Canadian Wine: Niagara's Pearl Morissette Wines

Morissette moved to Niagara in 2007, with the full support of Pearl to pursue his vision of natural winemaking following organic and bio-dynamic principles.

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The home vineyard is located on Jordan Road next to the winery, and belongs to the Creek Shores appellation. The vineyard is 12 acres planted with Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir between the years of 2010 and 2012. This main site also features an orchard, an onsite event space, a herd of Galloway cattle, Berkshire pigs and a few ducks waddling around to greet you.

The original 19th Street Vineyard belongs to the Twenty Mile Bench appellation. It consists of 16.5 acres planted with Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling. These vines were planted prior to Morissette’s arrival in Niagara, and required several years of care before yielding the quality of grape Morissette desired for his wines.

Canadian Wine: Niagara's Pearl Morissette Wines

Through an ever-changing process of experimentation and exploration, the team at Pearl Morissette craft limited quantities of high quality wine. Each year is therefore a slightly different expression based on the climate and harvest. Morissette views his role as one of guiding the growing of the grapes and crafting of the wine. It’s a very low-interventionist approach.

The grapes are hand picked according to skin maturity, which Morissette and his team view as a key contributor to the flavours and textures of the wines. It’s texture that defines Pearl Morissette wines, obtained through their philosophy of oxidative winemaking. Oxidative winemaking is about allowing controlled oxygen exposure so the wine is able to develop non-primary fruit flavours and textural complexity. Wines made using an oxidative approach tend to be more stable, which leads to greater aging potential.

If you like miso, walnuts, or a hunk of Parmigiano, there’s a good chance you’ll like oxidative wines.

While some may consider the flavours and textures of Pearl Morissette wines to be atypical, the team that crafts the wines strives for each to be an honest expression of the Niagara region. To the critics, as Rowland so eloquently stated, the wines “… speak loudly in the glass.”

So what will be Pearl Morissette’s story?

Only time will tell.

From the short time spent at the Pearl Morissette winery, it’s easy to envision a key plot of changing the way we, and the rest of the world, think about Canadian wine. It’ll be a tale of teaching, inspiring and motivating other winemakers to say, “This is Canadian wine, this is Niagara wine.” Not proclaiming a wine to be a Burgundian style Pinot Noir made in Niagara. Of course, all while fighting our very Canadian urge to apologize for it.

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay is available at select LCBO stores. The full portfolio of wines is available for order from the winery’s website

More Reading

Canadian Wine: Pearl Morissette was written by Meaghan Carey. Meaghan shares her musings on life as she attempts to cook good food for family and friends from her small kitchen, on her blog Un Assaggio of Food, Wine, and Marriage. Raised in Cape Breton, Meaghan returns home as much as possible and loves to welcome friends to this picturesque corner of Canada each summer. Connect with Meaghan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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I wish I had better access to more Canadian wines. BC seems to have limitations in that area. This vineyard is so beautiful and the wine sounds like it would be a great tasting experience.


I’ll second Samantha’s opinion here. There are some lovely BC wines, but they and other Canadian wines tend not to be as accessible as I’d like here. Beer and spirits are growing more interesting by the day, but for some reason we’re lagging behind when it comes to getting Canadian wines in the spotlight.


It’s true we are limited in many of our local stores. There are some new online options like My Wine Canada that are shipping Canadian wines across Canada. I’ve not personally order but hear good things 🙂


I must say, I’m terribly curious about… well, about all of this. I don’t have much of a wine education, though there’s a lot here that I’m terribly interested in as a general rule, including terroir, food science, and chemistry. But there are elements that leave me scratching my head as well. When it comes to VQA assessment, I guess I don’t really understand the process entirely. Is the goal to certify a quality, likable wine? Or is it to ensure that a group of wines are all similar in terms of character? On the one hand, given the diversity of wines and vineyards out there, I can appreciate that a certification process might help consumers to readily identify wines by character in order to make selections more easily. On the other hand, I really just want to be directed to interesting, flavourful wines, and I personally don’t really care if they’re typical or atypical. In fact, I’d personally rather see more atypical wines in general, as I feel they can help shake things up and open minds to new flavours. The oxidative character of this wine definitely sounds like something I’d be into (it’s interesting to me how all of those flavours that you mentioned are rich in umami-inducing glutamates). Perhaps I’ll have to track a bottle down at next year’s FBC conference so that I can figure this all out for myself!

Thanks for this lovely piece. I’m going to have to keep a closer eye on your wine features in general. Cheers.


Hi Sean – Great questions! First I would say VQA is to both certify a quality standard and is eligible for appellation labelling. There are many levels of bureaucracy and policy to this discussion. The VQA operates as VQA Ontario and BC VQA. Both agencies have come under scrutiny in their respective provinces for needing their certification processes updated.

In the case of Pearl Morissette – how does the VQA quality assurance process work in Ontario?

Tasting is a cornerstone of the wine evaluation process that VQA Ontario uses to determine if a wine meets the required standard for appellation status, this is done by product consultants of the LCBO who have undergone a training process.

Wines are also subject to a comprehensive chemical analysis and a review of the wine content and label claims.

From the VQA website:
“The ultimate purpose of the VQA tasting is to ensure that the wine is likely to fulfil the consumers’ expectation based on what appears on the label.”

Which begs the question are they certifying wines that you think will sell in provincial liquor stores? Just because they are part of a government run entity does not justify the VQA determining what type of wine is to be made in Ontario – that is not their mandate.

This is certainly not the only example of great Ontario wines being rejected. Norm Hardie last had one of his wines rejected.

The certification matters for financial purposes as there are incentives for restaurants to stock VQA wines and in retail the winery gets more of the profit if it is a VQA certified wine.

Hope this answers some of your questions it is really just the tip of the iceberg. But these are certainly the topics I hope these feature can explore as we journey across Canada together.

Cheers Meaghan

Justine @

Great article, Meaghan! I loved getting to know a little more about the Niagara wine region — to be honest, it’s one I’m not terribly familiar with! Living closer to the Okanagan, I often forgot about Niagara region wines but will definitely have to give them a closer look.


Thanks for reading Justine! We are lucky in Alberta to have great access to some Ontario wines. Pearl Morissette will be available in Alberta later this year (hopefully!!).


I loved this article Meaghan! I live in the beer and cider world and literally know nothing about the small wineries in the Niagara region that are doing things on their terms! The whole wine making process intrigues me! I love that they are making organic wines using traditional methods. It makes me feel like the world hasn’t all gone to the crapper. Sometimes the method in which we use is more important than the end product itself, right?

You’ve made me curious and I will be trying Pearl Morissette ASAP!

Melissa (FBC Admin)

It can be difficult to find out of province wines in Canada. Each province has their own liquor laws so it can get tricky. You might have some luck with a specialty wine store or you can try this website that might be able to help you. Otherwise I would contact the winery directly to see if they can help you.


Hi Sandra – Pearl Morissette wines are available in limited quantities in Alberta, but we are lucky to see these great wines here! To my knowledge Kensington Wine Market in Calgary and Crestwood Wines in Edmonton would be the best chance. You can check provincial listings for Alberta at Such a great resource!! Also PM will ship to Alberta, you pay for shipping, but it is fast and you can shop their entire collection. Good luck!!

Greg Zyn

I can never differentiate between the locally made wine in the US and Canada, but maybe that is because I am not really good at a wine tasting. I need to work on my wine game as it is kind of embarrassing.

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