Are you planning a trip to Venice? Make sure to give yourself extra time to explore some of the hidden gems in the Venetian Lagoon. There are many surprises to discover, including a vineyard with native grapes.
A two-minute walk from the Burano vaporetto stop, just beyond the bridge that connects the islands of Burano and Mazzorbo, you'll find the Venissa Estate which houses a walled vineyard that's open to the public and is home to the Dorona di Venezia grape, a native varietal that had nearly gone extinct after the "acqua alta (flooding)" in 1966.
A History of Winemaking
The history of winemaking in Venice goes back 2500 years, and up until the year 1100 there was even a vineyard in Piazza San Marco! After the 1966 flood many vineyards in Venice were destroyed and much of the knowledge about traditional winemaking of the area was lost. Native varietals were thought to have become extinct.
In 2002, Gianluca Bisol was on the island of Torcello in front of the basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, the oldest church in Venice. It was there that he spotted a grapevine with a peculiar leaf growing in a garden on the grounds of the monastery.
Curious, he found the owner of the garden on the property, Nicoletta. The vine had been planted by her father and she said the name of the varietal was "Dorona." Gianluca was intrigued by this unknown varietal and contacted his historian and friend, Carla Coco.
Carla and Gianluca began to research the historical archives of Venetian grape varietals. They also enlisted the help of agronomists and enologists who uncovered the lost history of winemaking and native grapes in the Venetian Lagoon.
The team of agronomists and enologists were able to locate the last 88 Dorona plants that had survived the 1966 flood. During their search, they met a farmer named Gastone who still produced wine made from the Dorona grape for his family and who still carried on the traditional winemaking methods, including a long maceration time for the Dorona grape.
Gianluca dreamed of bringing back this traditional wine and searched for a location to plant a vineyard. He found an abandoned estate on the island of Mazzorbo, right next to Burano. The property, closed in by medieval walls and surrounded by water on three of the four sides, is crossed by a canal and houses a fish pond. Agronomists advised against planting here, given the high sodium content in the soil.
Despite this, and despite the risk of flooding that could destroy the vineyard, Gianluca decided he wanted to plant there and named the estate Venissa. The grounds, which also house a fourteenth-century bell tower, had previously contained a vineyard from the year 1300 and were a center of winemaking from even earlier (800). In fact, winemaking continued on the site until the 1966 flood.
Augusto Scarpa, who owned the winery at the turn of the 20th century, was one of the first Italian enologists.
Gianluca's first Venissa harvest was in 2010 with a production of 4880 bottles.
Venetian Tradition and Design
With that first harvest in 2010, Venissa brought back a forgotten tradition of winemaking in the Venetian Lagoon. The vineyard has the lowest yield of grapes produced per hectare in the world. This is due to its terroir in the natural salt waters of the lagoon that often flood.
The white-skinned Dorona grape (Dorona di Venezia) has adapted to survive in the salty conditions of the frequently flooded vineyards and can only grow in the Venetian lagoon.
It has a long maceration period and is the perfect balance between a red and white wine: the robustness and longevitiy of a red wine the elegance and freshness of a white wine.
A unique wine steeped in Venetian tradition merits a bottle with the same qualities. For this Gianluca met with one of the fathers of Murano glassmaking, Giovanni Moretti. The bottle itself is handmade in Murano and is adorned with a gold leaf label at Mario Berta Battiloro. Berta Battiloro is the last of the three hundred gold leaf workshops that once existed in Venice.
This short documentary covers the story of Venissa and includes interviews and shots of the beautiful scenery around the estate.
In addition to the vineyard you can visit the vegetable gardens, managed by nine retirees on the island; in the spring they harvest the famous "castraure" (artichokes) of Mazzorbo.
Some of the vegetables produced in the gardens are used in the Michelin-starred Venissa Restaurant, and in the Osteria Contemporanea, which serves more informal cuisine.
The estate is also home to the Venissa Wine Resort, which offers guests five elegant rooms and is a beautiful and quiet oasis from which to explore the Venetian Lagoon.
Have you been to Venissa? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.