The first time I heard there was a vineyard in Venice I couldn’t believe it. A vineyard in a lagoon? How could a vineyard survive in a city built on water, a city known for its frequent flooding and acqua alta? It seemed so improbable but then again so does the whole idea of Venice itself, an empire that dominated the Mediterranean Sea and enjoyed spectacular power and prosperity for much of its history. Even today, in spite of rising sea levels, sinking platforms and too many tourists, Venice persists. And like the city, so does the vineyard.
Worlds away from the flurry of tourists ambling along the Grand Canal, a quiet vineyard lies hidden from view on the the tiny island of Mazzorbo. Enclosed by ancient walls and towered over by a 13th century bell tower, it seems frozen in time and offers a different image of the lagoon: one that is peaceful and exceedingly bucolic, a sharp contrast to the crowds concentrated in St. Mark’s Square. Mazzorbo is home to only 350 people and lies largely under the radar of its more popular neighbor, the colorful island of Burano, so stepping onto the vineyard feels like discovering one of the lagoon’s best-kept secrets.
This vineyard is part of Venissa, a wine resort and estate built around a mission to revive the Venice Lagoon by helping travelers experience a more authentic side of this sought-after destination. With a handful of stylish guest rooms, a Michelin-starred restaurant and a Contemporary Osteria, it has all the fixings of a pampered stay immersed in the quietude of the lagoon but Venissa is more than just a down-to-earth luxury property. It is a project deeply committed to the history and heritage of Venice, beginning with its native grapes.
Venissa is the brainchild of Gianluca Bisol, part of the prominent Bisol family that has been producing award-winning sparkling wines in Veneto since 1542. Sixteen years ago, as Gianluca was taking a tour of the lagoon, he came across four grape vines in a woman’s garden on the island of Torcello. The grapes were an unfamiliar variety, vividly gold in color, so he inquired into their origins and learned that they were the long forgotten Dorona di Venezia, an autochthonous varietal native to the lagoon and one of the rarest varieties in the world.
Although Venice had enjoyed a tradition of viticulture in the past, major flooding in 1966 wiped out much of the city’s agriculture and the Dorona grapes were thought to be lost to history. Gianluca clipped some vines, sent them for DNA testing and once their identity was confirmed, he decided to give new life to this ancient grape. He took over an abandoned Benedictine Monastery with a walled vegetable garden and replanted the Dorona grape in its natural habit.
Today, the vines are thriving, a testament to the resilience of the lagoon and a reminder of how passion and drive are essential to help maintain the vast cultural wealth and heritage present in Italy.
The estate produces the eponymous Venissa, a gold wine once enjoyed by the Venetian Doges and now savored by oenophiles and savvy travelers. This rare wine is produced in small numbers and is markedly gold in color, with delicate aromas and a fresh minerality. In line with Venissa’s mission to promote and safeguard the heritage of Venissa, the Bisol family designed a special bottle to contain this special wine: the glass is made in nearby Murano, a small island with a long history in glassmaking, while the paper-thin gold leaf label is made by the Berta Battiloro family, the last Venetian family to work in this historically prominent field. Each bottle is numbered by hand and only 5,000 bottles are produced each year.
I was lucky to try this rare wine – along with delicious farm-to-table fare, at Venissa’s Osteria Contemporanea. Like its name suggests, the restaurant aims to transmit the casual atmosphere of a rustic osteria combined with the creativity of a contemporary dining experience. The restaurant uses seasonal, high quality ingredients in its dishes, including fresh fish and vegetables from the community garden beside the vineyard; I enjoyed ribbons of heritage carrots with a creamy pistachio sauce, tortellini with wild greens and a light pesto with pine nuts and stuffed mushrooms with local herbs. The dishes were innovative, nutritious and delicious – and accompanied by spectacular wines.
To top off the evening, I tasted the best rendition of a modern tiramisu I’ve had in eight years in Italy (after one too many deconstructed tiramisus, this one was a real treat). The base consisted of a homemade biscuit topped with a layer of coffee granita and the whole cup was filled the lightest mascarpone foam. It was light and dense at the same time, with the right sweetness and nice balance between coffee and chocolate. I was in heaven.
Venissa is a truly inspiring project, one that is quickly evolving and growing. A short 10 minute walk across a wooden footbridge lies Casa Burano, Venissa’s recently opened property which features modish rooms in historic homes scattered throughout the island, giving guests a feel for daily life in the colorful fisherman’s village. This albergo diffuso is closely integrated with the local community and is a wonderful base for exploring the peaceful archipelago of Native Venice. Venissa is also launching a new brand of natural, lagoon-sourced products under the label Venusa, which includes local wines, craft beers and jams made from native apricot trees and prunes.
Venissa Wine Resort
Address: Fondamenta di Santa Caterina, 3, 30142 Mazzorbo, Venezia VE
Tel: +39 041 52 72 281