Venice and wine making, a millenary history
Venice has had a prominent role in wine history for centuries. To this day that memory has not been lost to oblivion, to the contrary. The city’s lagoon nature, balancing delicately between water and soil, has characterised the double development, in both the water horizon and inland areas. A city without landmass or vineyards, Venice has become, over the centuries, the crossroads of the most prominent wine trade routes. The Venice fleet supplied the leading cities of the time with the Mediterranean’s most prized wines. By the same token, the inland parcels produced wines of inferior quality, but which were useful for local use and commercial businesses.
Since the 13th century, after Conquest of Constantinople with the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), Venice began to expand strongly towards the East, with control of the Greek islands, from the nearby Ionian to far Crete and the Dodecanese. This was partially due to the “minor ice age”, which from 1300 made continental Europe’s climate very cold. Because of this the cultivation of the noble grape drew to more southern and warmer latitudes. Hence control of wine commerce with Greece became crucial. The port of Monemvasia, on the Peloponnese coast, became so important that it gave its name to Malvasia wine. Thanks to the maritime domain, Greek Malvasia arrived in Venice and soon became the most requested and expensive wine. Businesses selling the prized Greek wines were called Malvasie and to this day, browsing Venice’s calle street names still betray the city’s ancient wine past: Calle de la Malvasia, Calle de la Malvasia Vecia, Ponte de la Malvasia, Calle Malvasia. This trait is also present in the tradition of drinking wine at local bàcari and magazen, inns and wine merchants where wines are still sold in small glasses and served with small tapas-like snacks, locally known as ombra con un cicheto. This habit continues in modern day.
Historic city vineyards
The idea to restore life back to Venice’s ancient wine heritage and recuperate the varieties of vitis vinifera present in vegetable gardens, yards, courtyards, public gardens, convents and in the lagoon islands, in order to construct a veritable “gene bank” for Venice’s historic vines. In 2010 the Consortium Vini Venezia started research in partnership with Professor Attilio Scienza, University of Milan and Padua, and with CRA-VIT in Conegliano, to bring to light the genetic identity of the vines present on Venetian soil. On approximately 100 types analysed, 30 varieties were identified, three of which still remain unknown.
The final result of this analysis is now visible in two vineyards. The first is located at a stone’s throw from the Santa Lucia train station in the courtyard of the Carmelitani Scalzi convent. The other is on the island of Torcello, in the Baslini estate. The genetic material used for the two vineyards comes from the catalogue sample fields of Università di Milano and from CRA-VIT in Conegliano. The plants were produced by Vivai Cooperativi nurseries in Rauscedo and from Vivaio Poletto in Orsago, near Treviso.
Vines at the Carmelitani Scalzi convent in Venice
The vineyard in the Carmelitani Scalzi convent
In 2015 seventeen rows were planted in the courtyard of the Carmelitani Scalzi convent with 100x120 guyot training method. The grape varieties present are: malvasia di Candia, malvasia di Candia aromatica, recantina Forner, malvasia del Chianti, malvasia di Asolo, malvasia nera di Lecce, malvasia di Sitges, incrocio Manzoni 2.15, incrocio Manzoni 13.0.25, bianchetta, grapariol, raboso del Piave, verduzzo trevigiano, fiano, vermentino, dorona, terra promessa, voskeat e arenì (two Armenian varieties), glera and moscato. In addition to this, in the pergola that covers the courtyard walkways, there are malvasia, merlot, cabernet, glera, marzemino and terra promessa, plus unknown varieties and resident table grapes. With the 2017 harvest, two wines will be produced: a blend of white grapes (600/700 bottles) and a blend of red grapes (200/300 bottles). One hundred of these bottles will be destined for Mass celebrations within the convent.
The vineyard in Torcello
In 2014 sixteen rows were planted on the island of Torcello alternated with fruit trees, and 100x120 pruned-spur cordon-trained method. The grape varieties present on Torcello are: malvasia nera di Lecce, malvasia di Sitges, malvasia di Candia, malvasia di Candia aromatica, recantina, dorona, raboso, grapariol, marzemino, verduzzo, bianchetta, turchetta; and then there are rows with clusters of friulano, glera, luviana, moscato giallo grapes and other clones found in the gardens and vineyards on Venice proper which showed particular or anomalous habitus in regards to classic varietal characteristics.
From 2017 the Torcello vineyard should produce approximately 300 bottles of white wine and 200 bottled of red.
Venice wines, past and present
Nowadays in the inland areas of Venice there are numerous denominations belonging to the Vini Venezia consortium, Malanotte Docg andLison Docg, dedicated exclusively to supporting indigenous grapes of raboso and friulano areas; Lison-Pramaggiore Doc, Piave Doc andVenezia Doc, producing whites and reds made with both local and international grape varieties. The entire area has been hit with the current Prosecco and Pinot Grigio trend, which is leading the way to extensive monocultivar farming. Valid commercial reasoning is behind this for sure, but there’s risk of the area losing its territorial identity. The historically most famous wine regions have created their fortunes thanks to the combination of terroir and indigenous grapes. It is no coincidence that the most interesting wines continue to be those produced with the raboso in the denominations Piave Doc, Malanotte Docg or Friularo Docg. Among whites, those using friulano and the misgeneration of Manzoni 6.0.13, created in the 1930s at Scuola Enologica in Conegliano by Professor Luigi Manzoni, grafting two noble varieties such as riesling renano and pinot bianco. We how the income generated by Prosecco and Pinot Grigio will help the winemakers to maintain the tradition of these lesser known wines alive, and in the hope that the quality and the notoriety of these, both domestic and internationally, will continue to grow.
by Alessio Turazza
translated by Eleonora Baldwin
photos by Edoardo Legnaro