This is Part 1 of a two part look at Venissa Wine Resort. Located about 35 minutes from Venice, Venissa’s small one hectare vineyard grows a very special grape called Dorona. Once thought lost, a chance discovery led to its being reborn and it’s now the source of some fabulous golden wines.
Skip to Part 2 – For the love of the lost grape, Dorona – for more about the bottles and the all important tasting.
A visit to the charming Venissa estate and an interesting story
This is the story of how I learned how Venice’s lost Dorona grape found new life in an old monastery on the isle of Mazzorbo.
It was a gorgeous sunny morning in May. I was catching the Venetian Vaporetto Line 12 from Fondamente Nove and heading to the tiny island of Mazzorbo – about a half hour away.
Mazzorbo lies on the still Canale di Mazzorbo and is connected by a bridge to colourful Burano – known for its lace making and bright buildings.
Instead of being flooded by tourists dodging fluttering lines of washing drying in the sunny streets, its quieter beauty hides the stunning Venissa vineyard and winery.
Taking up most of the island, Venissa is where the once lost Dorona Grape is being saved from extinction.
The day was perfect – warm and still. I entered into a beautiful landscape where an ancient bell tower kept watch over the vineyards that were coming alive with spring buds and a promise of liquid gold just a few months away.
The vineyard is planted behind the walls of a once abandoned monastery, where it was also used to grow grapes hundreds of years ago. Its one hectare of precious grapevines are only there due to chance discovery of its owner, Gianluca Bisol, in 2001.
The only grape variety grown on that small patch of land is called Dorona di Venezia – once thought extinct to the region and now celebrated again for its golden colour and notes that sing loudly of its salty terroir.
A devastating aqua alta
In 1966, Venice suffered a devastating aqua alta – high water – that rose more than two metres and flooded the low lying lagoon islands, destroying hectares of once thriving vineyards. The extended period drowning under the salty water was too much for most of the region’s vines and they perished.
Many of these once healthy vineyards were pulled out and replaced by agricultural crops or became grazing lands. It changed lives forever, but sadly the vines were considered too fragile to replant anew. And just like that, centuries of tradition were left behind. Some families turned away from crops altogether and went to work in other areas, including the glass making factories of nearby Murano.
One grape that had been commonly grown in the region was a variety called Dorona di Venezia. Cross bred from Garganega (a grape from the nearby Veneto region) and Bermestia (Emilia Romana), it was once prized by doges and famed for its golden colour.
But when the 1966 floods subsided, the small plantings on the lagoon islands of Venice were thought lost forever. It was struck from the official grape register of Italy and all but forgotten.
Vineyard roses do more than just look pretty
As we talked about the history and the estate, my tour guide Serene shared the fascinating story about how it all came to be. How this long lost grape was rediscovered in amongst sharing the principles that guide the growing of this rare, premium grape.
We walked past rows of happy vines and I noted the pretty roses and a canal that flowed down the centre of the land, with vines on one side and garden crops on the other.
She drew my attention to the roses I’d admired and explained how they protect the vines.
Because roses are susceptible to disease and pests, they’re the first to show signs of problems – before the vines are affected. This early warning sign enables the vines to be treated naturally with preventative measures before issues spread.
Nature is grand when humans notice and work with it, not drown it in poison!
She also pointed out that the land, with its small and almost imperceptible undulations, has an astonishing 18 microclimates, with the lowest the closest to the lagoon – just 1.2 metres for the roots to go before reaching the salty water beneath.
Torcello and an exciting discovery
Back to that day in 2001…
On the nearby island of Torcello stands the ancient Byzantine Church of Santa Maria Assunta. Founded in 639AD, it’s a special place. It’s also where Venissa’s owner, Gianluca Bisol will sometimes take his clients and friends.
In 2001, when visiting Santa Maria Assunta with a client, he saw a garden he’d never noticed before. Walking closer, he peered through its gate and saw the garden contained a small vineyard.
He struck up a conversation with the woman tending the garden, who let him in to take a closer look.
She told him how the vineyard contained varieties from around the world as well as an old local varietal – Dorona. Gianluca took a closer look and saw three plants he didn’t recognise. In particular, the leaves were something he couldn’t identify. And so he asked to take some cuttings.
The search begins
This discovery led to research about the region’s winemaking history. There had in fact been many vineyards in the lagoon’s islands, including on the land where Piazza San Marco now stands.
Gianluca began scouring the local islands for signs of vineyards and found a further 85 Dorona plants growing nearby Torcello. This meant there were now enough to enable testing to begin. It took many years and finally led to the official confirmation that the Dorona grape variety had survived.
Over the next 10 years the plant was studied: researched for historical evidence, DNA tested and finally evaluated over three years by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture.
Then on 23 March 2012, the Dorona Grape was re-registered with the Ministry’s National Catalogue of vine varieties with its official use for winemaking.
It had been 11 years. Dorona was back and here to stay.
The first vintage – or How Venice’s lost Dorona grape found new life
Even before the grape was officially registered, Gianluca and the team had begun replanting the vines on the beautiful estate and the first vintage was produced in 2010. Bearing its stunning gold leaf label, Venissa’s vintage notes say:
Read Part 2 now – For the love of the lost grape, Dorona for those hand beaten golden labels and the all important tasting
In addition to my own visit on 6 May 2023, the following sources helped with getting the facts right for this post
- Venissa Winery: the Storia Experience, guided vineyard tour and wine tasting
- Venissa – the wine, the gold, the venetian lagoon (Docufilm, published 30 November 2016, YouTube)
- Catalogo nazionale delle varietà di vite | Ministero dell’agricoltura della sovranità alimentare e delle foreste (National catalogue of vine varieties, Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forests, Italy)