Venissa, a project and a wine sui generis that deserve our attention

venissaHonestly, despite everything I’ve read about Venissa and the wine that is grown and raised there (above), I couldn’t really wrap my mind around the place and the project until I visited there recently with Adam Japko’s Design and Wine Tour.

I’ve known Matteo Bisol for years, since I first met him in Texas in 2009. And over the years, we’ve become friends thanks to our shared interest in wine (his family is a legacy producer of Prosecco) and poetry (he and his family were intimate friends and patrons of the great Veneto poet Andrea Zanzotto).

In 2008, the Bisol family replanted a historic vineyard on the Venetian island of Mazzorbo in 2008, using a local clone of Garganega called Dorona.

The vineyard had lay fallow since the great flood of 1966 (see the newsreel below).

Once the water had subsided, Matteo explained to me when I visited a few weeks ago, there was scarce interest in replanting. Although the site had produced wine for hundreds of years (stretching back to the Middle Ages), Italy’s economic boom of the 1960s was luring erstwhile farmers to the newly emerged industrial sector on the mainland.

Even if there had been interest in reviving the growing site, it would taken years before the soils would have been purged of elevated levels of salt in the soils owed to the severe flooding.

matteo bisolToday, the Bisol family uses the same drainage system that has been in place in the vineyards for generations.

Seawater flooding is inevitable, explained Matteo (that’s Matteo and me in the photo above). But it is manageable in part because the Dorona grape seems to have adapted to the environment and conditions where it is grown.

As you walk through the small vineyard there, with its wild grasses growing high between the rows, you can’t help but breathe in its robust health and life. It’s a remarkable experience and an entirely unique one. There’s really nowhere else in the world where something like this does or could exist.

Mazzorbo island is one in the group of the oldest Venetian settlements, dating back to the Longobard invasions of the late Roman era. Torcello is the most famous of these.

The Bisol family has done a superb job of preserving the viticultural legacy there: an island vineyard planted with a historic and entirely unique clone of Garganega that most likely evolved in situ.

dorona venissaAt dinner that night at the Michelin-starred Venissa restaurant, our group of roughly 30 persons had the opportunity to taste the wine.

It’s vinified in an elegantly macerated style. I liked it a lot: it showed great depth and nuance in its layers of flavor and I was impressed by its surprising freshness and fruit character on the nose.

It’s not cheap. Bottles can be had through private channels for around 120 Euros. The bottles are adorned with a gold leaf label intended to evoke the wine’s color and name: Dorona is believed to come from uva d’oro or golden grape.

But to my mind, the quality or value of the wine is not what’s important. What’s significant in my view is that this wine, a true wine sui generis, exists and has a sustainable structure in place that will preserve its future and legacy.

This example of extreme viticulture on a tiny island off the mainland reveals so much about Italy’s place in the world of wine and the country’s unrivaled ability to produce singular expressions of vitis vinifera.

When in Venice, if only a day trip to walk the gorgeous vineyard and see the drainage system, the journey is well worth the time on the water. Mazzorbo is easily reachable, btw, by public transportation and the vineyards are always open to anyone who cares to read their rows.

Thank you again, Matteo, for a wonderful visit and this precious chapter of Italian wine so intelligently preserved and thoughtfully presented.

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