In the traditionally male-dominated realm of sommeliers, Svetlana Atcheva broke barriers to help transform small-town winery, Pearl Morissette, into a crown jewel of Canadian wineries. Today, she is the heart and soul of the Jordan, Ontario-based establishment – acting as an ambassador for Pearl Morissette and helping to produce the wine itself. But Atcheva’s trajectory towards becoming one of the most influential figures in the country’s industry started long before she arrived at Pearl Morissette.
Before becoming integral to the off-the-map winery, Atcheva’s sommelier career began in a far different setting. After immigrating from Bulgaria and working rigorously to becoming a classically trained sommelier, she joined the team at popular Toronto restaurant, Ascari Enoteca, to build innovative ahead-of-their-time wine lists and train many of the now-established Toronto sommeliers. Boldness and creativity have always defined Atcheva’s career, but eventually, the itch to carve her own path led Atcheva to Pearl Morissette, where the notion of thinking differently is ingrained into the winery’s core philosophy.
“There’s a difference between knowing about wine and dedicating yourself to knowing wine,” explains Atcheva, outlining the philosophies that define her time at Pearl Morissette. “Neither is better than the other, but be clear on what you want to do, because they can interfere with each other. Books can teach you a lot about wine, but the one thing you need to pay attention to if you want to know wine, is the wine itself. It’ll tell you everything you need to know. So sometimes it’s really, really useful to forget everything you learned from books.”
She left her well-established job in the city and joined the then-unknown estate in 2012. Through her passion and dedication to the work at Pearl Morissette, she has become instrumental in building the winery’s esteemed reputation from the ground up. Where Atcheva and Pearl Morissette’s relationship first bloomed was in their appreciation for traditional, natural wine-making practices. They let nature dictate the wine through a hands-off approach of traditional non-intervention winemaking. Of course, as the pillar of the winery’s production and its education, the ethics and philosophies surrounding the process are integral to Atcheva’s role.
This mutual appreciation for traditional winemaking is largely inspired by her relationship with her mentor and Pearl Morissette’s vigneron, Francois Morissette, who first helped cultivate these beliefs. In the years following Atcheva’s move to work alongside Morissette, she has helped transform the winery to include one of the country’s most renowned restaurants, led by co-chefs Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson and heralded by The New York Times and Bon Appétit alike.
“Ultimately, in my view how one practices their craft is also how one aspires to live,” says Atcheva. “So, in that sense, the traditional processes here – as anywhere else – are just an aspiration for an intelligent and inspired response to one’s environment; hopefully more intelligent, transparent and connected with each passing year.”
In such a competitive, intricate industry, Atcheva plays an array of integral roles to help Pearl Morissette become one of the most celebrated wineries the country has to offer while reinvigorating small-town Jordan, Ontario. With an influx of patrons visiting the town due to Atcheva’s work with Pearl Morissette, the brand has even made plans to open a bakery in the town in early-2022 and continue to grow its impact moving forward.
As for Atcheva’s advice to those hoping to make a similar impact in their craft, the approach is fairly simply in principle, but difficult in practice.
“Do the work,” she says. “Keep in mind that regardless of how much knowledge one gains, you cannot know it all; nobody does – so don’t get caught in the arrogance of ignorance. Keep an open mind, always ready to be surprised and reform your opinions. […] Do not be afraid to be wrong – and equally important – do not be afraid to be right, especially when your opinion is different from the prevailing rhetoric.”
Through a delicate balance of appreciating time-honoured winemaking practices and a penchant for innovation and experimentation, Atcheva has established herself as one of the country’s most dynamic leaders. As for the future of Pearl Morissette, the team’s obsessive curiosity and passion for extraordinary results inspire a certain degree of unpredictability, but with Atcheva and Morissette’s leadership, the winery’s future is undoubtedly bright.