Venice's only vineyard flooded by historic high waters

The only vineyard in Venice, Venissa, has been inundated with water. Roger Morris reports.

Venissa, Venice
Venissa, Venice

Another casualty of the current historic flooding taking place in Venice is the city’s only vineyard – Venissa, founded in 2002 by the Prosecco producer Gianluca Bisol on the island of Mazzorbo in the Venetian archipelago.

“Unfortunately, our vineyard has been completely flooded, and we will have to wait until spring to see the damages,” Bisol reports. “We really hope it’s not going to be like 1966 when Venice lost all its vineyards.” 

The current flooding from heavy rains, high coastal tides and high winds has raised water levels to more than 175 centimeters (5 feet 9 inches), not far below the level of the 1966 flooding, the worst in modern times, when water reached 194 centimeters (6 feet 3 inches) above flood stage. Extensive damage occurred throughout the city.

Bisol decided to re-establish vineyards in the Venice Lagoon after they were lost in 1966 and searched for several years before finding vines of the historic Dorona grape in the garden of a private residence. He established a vineyard in an ancient walled garden on Mazzorbo, next door to the tourist destination Burano, and began producing a limited-production, high-priced white wine. Harvested grapes are transported to the mainland to be made into wines. Gradually, Bisol built a wine resort around the vineyard. 

“Venissa now has also a boutique hotel, a Michelin-starred restaurant and an osteria,” Bisol says. Additionally, he and his family added to the hospitality concept by converting old buildings on Burano, a short walk away by a small bridge, into tourist residences. 

Bisol says he realises that the problems his vineyards are facing are minor compared to those of other residents of the city. “Since there are several people that are having far more difficulties than us, like elders living at ground floor in the island of Burano,” Bisol says, “we decided to release six magnums of old vintages from our personal wine cellar – 2010-2011-2014 vintages – with values from €1000 to €5000 per bottle. All the income will be given to the community.”

Following the 1966 flooding, Venice decided to construct a flood defence system, named “Mose” (MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico), but it is still not operational after more than 16 years of construction and at least €5.5bn ($6.08bn) of public funding. The subject of many corruption charges, Mose was scheduled to be operational by 2018.

According to Bisol, the current estate was initially planted to vineyards during the 14th Century, and a winery was added in the 1800’s. Augusto Scarpa, one of the first Italian enologists, operated the winery between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Grapes were grown and wine made until the 1966 flood. 

The first vintage of Bisol’s Venissa was launched in 2010, with 4,480 bottles produced, and it immediately became a collector’s item because of its quality and its rarity. Current vintages sell for about €334 ($370) per bottle. “The minerality and strong notes of the salty terroir of native Venice are what most appeal to wine lovers,” Bisol says.

Rosso Venissa, produced from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines grown on the nearby island of Santa Cristina, was introduced in 2011.

Roger Morris

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