After discovering Venissa, the “walled vineyard of Venice”, on our recent travels, we invited their Wine Ambassador Annalisa Florian to our London offices to share her insights (and a bottle or two of the latest 2014 Venissa Bianco release) with the team…
If you haven’t heard about Venissa yet, check out our producer profile here.
Q. Venissa is an incredibly unique project – with such low lying vineyards surrounded by saltwater – what have been the biggest challenges working on this project? Is there a danger the floods of 1966 could happen again?
The biggest challenge is the rising water levels. They were at the highest ever level last year, three and a half times more than normal! But the vines have the salt in their DNA, after decades of viticulture in Venice, and they know how to manage the salt. It’s incredible that they don’t die! They are stronger than ever. The high tide at a certain point of the year is always a concern, if we would have the same long high tide of 1966 (lasting 2 days) we would lose all the vines. It’s really heroic viticulture and it could happen again – its always a risk. At the moment, the vineyard exists due to the natural balance between the vines and its terroir. We use an irrigation system which works well enough when we need to use it. We built the system only for cleaning the roots with fresh water in case of emergency due to excessive flooding. We can survive… fingers crossed!
Q. Can you explain how the rain water and the shallow roots work?
Since we are based on an island one metre above sea level, there is no space for the roots. They can’t grow in depth so, naturally, they have adapted to grow on the surface, superficially. Also because the vines “understand” year after year that they need the fresh water of the rain to clean the salinity from their roots, having shallow roots is necessary for the vines to survive. Ironically it is the shallow roots system that makes it possible for the vines to survive and the essential stress on the grapes comes not from lack of water, but through the stress caused by the high salt content in the water. This stress creates the complexity of flavour in the grapes; a perfect natural balance that is a miracle and pretty unique to this type of viticulture.
Q. You describe the wine as a white wine with the shoulders of a red wine – can you explain what you mean by this?
We simply decided to maintain the traditions of the past. We asked several older locals how their relatives and parents (generations ago) were vinifying the wines on the islands of Venice and we discovered the process of “long skin contact”. We simply adopted the same method. Extended skin extraction gives power to the wine, “broad shoulders” and long life. Since it is not possible to build a cellar to mature the wines in barrel, using skin contact is an alternative approach to building the wine for a long life.
Q. Can you tell us about the unique climate in the Venetian Lagoon; how that affects the grapes and their flavours or causes any issues in the vineyard? I think of Venice as being very humid in the summer – does that not cause problems in the vineyard?
It causes no problem at all. We have a very well-balanced climate. Since we are an island, we have a nice breeze throughout the most humid times of the year – the island is different from the city! The unique climate has only a positive effect: breezes in the summertime, strong wind in winter. Herons and other birds walk in the vineyard during their migration from Russia to Africa. They stop in the Lagoon because they can find a lot of food in this biosphere. There are 30 different insects that transfer pollen in only one hectare and 40 different local herbs that grow up in between the vines. It is a rich biospehere of life.
Q. Why was this island chosen to plant the vines?
Because of the soil – perfect for agriculture and vines! The vegetable garden and vineyard belongs to a tradition more than 1000 years old. After the Barbaric invasion, the locals of the mainland – all farmers – were escaping, jumping on their boats and reaching the islands of Mazzorbo and Torcello. They were the first islands they found and where they started their new life (between 166 and 476AD).
Q. Can you tell us more about the latest Venissa Bianco 2014 release?
The 2014 has amazing floral notes and an incredible saffron hint. The 2014 vintage was quite difficult in Italy because of the long rains and cold weather, but on Mazzorbo island we were very lucky because we were protected from the cold and the summer wind due to the flat, Venetian Lagoon being sheltered by the Dolomite mountains. The wonderful calm and well-balanced weather of the Lagoon in 2014 hosted a lot of birds that were escaping from the other regions affected by the cold weather.
Q. Can you tell us about how you came to work with the artisans involved in the packaging? The label is so striking, it is a collector’s piece by itself.
Because we want to protect, preserve and amplify the amazing art of local Venetian artisans, we made a point of including their work as part of the Venissa project. Their skills are going to disappear unless they are supported. Berta Battiloro is the last living family member of seven generations who all worked gold by hand. Anyone can use machines, but when worked by hand it is simply different – and makes the difference! It is a similar philosophy with our wine. So we put together the last wine of Venice and the last gold artworker of Venice.
Q. Are there plans to develop the project moving forward? For example, is sweet wine production possible?
Maybe! Our idea is to bring back the agricultural traditions – maybe even animals to graze on the land. More beer with local herbs, more jams and vegetables, olive oil, and… a Venissa Vermouth! But the hectare of Dorona (Venissa Bianco) on Mazzorbo island will be always the luxury product and the only wine.
Q. How is the beer made? What is special about it?
Only 1,500 bottles of the beer were bottled in its first production, the second run will be 2,500. It’s an Amber beer, unpasteurised and fermented with the local Santonico herb which is grown on the island. The beer is refermented in bottle (natural carbonisation). It has a deep golden colour – reminiscent of amber – fresh and delicate perfume and spicy notes that come from the Santonico herb.
Q. After tasting the beer we all thought it was amazing and full of flavour. How would you pair the beer gastronomically?
It’s perfect with cheeses. Also curried meats or spicy fish (turbot is great!). It also works wonderfully as a dessert beer.
Q. Where do you sell it?
We sell only to the Pierluigi restaurant, one of the most famous restaurants in Rome – where all the movie stars go to have dinner! And then a few nice places in Venice – Danieli luxury hotels and Ai rusteghi, for example.
Q. The beers have a very beautiful design. Can you tell us more about this?
We simply decided to use watercolour painting for the Venusa line of products. Venusa is the “cousin” to our luxury line, Venissa. We will have the beer, the Rosso Venusa, the jams, and (very soon) the Vermouth. We want to use all the elements that nature gives us – vegetables, fruits, local herbs and grapes.
Watch this space for the Venissa Beer release – an F+R first!