Before telling you about my experience at Venissa restaurant, I have to start with a story, a rather fascinating one.
The vineyards of Venice
Did you know that in Saint Mark’s square there once was a vineyard? Venice and wine are inextricably linked. There are traces of vine in the islands, testimonies in the ancient maps, toponyms referring to viticulture. Due to the growth of the city and the population changes, these vineyards almost disappeared. The final blow came with the Acqua Granda, the exceptional Acqua Alta of 1966, that basically wiped out the majority of vineyards and fruit trees of the lagoon.
In 2001, Gianluca Bisol, visiting the island of Torcello, noticed a small vineyard. But first things first… who’s Gianluca Bisol? He’s member of a family, whose name, here in Veneto, is immediately associated to wine. 21 generations of wine producers during 5 centuries in the Valdobbiadene area, north of Treviso.
The lost grape of the Doge
So, he, great expert of wine, was in Torcello to visit the Basilica (magnificent, by the way), and noticed, just in front of the facade, a small vineyard. I saw it too, and it is very suggestive, with some ancient statues guarding the lines.
A lady was there, Nicoletta. He asked her about that vineyard, since he couldn’t recognise the grapes. Nicoletta explained it was once her neighbours vineyard. Now alone and with no expertise, she wasn’t able to take care of it anymore and she was thinking of taking it apart. No one in the island was able to help her.
You have to know that Torcello was one of the first settlements of Venice. In 1100 it reached about 50.000 inhabitants. But nowadays they are only 16. Nicoletta told Bisol that this half abandoned vineyard, among other kinds of vine, had also three plants of an ancient local variety, the Dorona, golden grape, cultivated since the first settlements. And beloved by many Dogi, the “dukes” of Venice.
At this point, Gianluca Bisol is intrigued and involves an historical researcher, some agronomists and an oenologist to learn more about this grape. They managed to retrieve 88 plants, survived to the catastrophe of the Acqua Granda, mostly the ones of Gastone Vio in Sant’Erasmo.
Mazzorbo island, the perfect place
Then they identified a perfect estate for the production in the island of Mazzorbo, connected to Burano by a bridge. Surrounded by medieval walls, a piece of land crossed by a canal and a building, a former winery, which seems convenient. The production here had stopped after the Acqua Granda and was now property of the municipality of Venice.
Bisol and his collaborators here replanted the ancient vine. Its position is unique, surrounded by the sea on three sides, with salty water at 1 meter below the sea level. A terroir (land and environment) with a strong personality. High water here happens. And it forces the agronomist to put into practice peculiar techniques.
The first harvest dates back to 2010. The production is limited. Due to the small area, and the low quantity produced per hectare.
The bottle of Dorona
About the bottle, is a small masterpiece. In Murano glass, made and engraved by master glazier Carlo Moretti, embellished by a gold leaf melted in the glass. The gold leaf is handmade by Berta, the famous battiloro (gold beater). Once, battilori in Venice were about 300. They produced golden leaves to cover Venice landmarks, for example the angel on top of Saint Mark’s campanile. Now Mauro Berta is the only one left. Therefore, three excellencies of the area united to create this unique product. A 500ml bottle is worth about €300.
And I tasted it! I’m no expert and you know it, you know that I basically don’t drink, but I had to try this. I perceived the lagoon, a note of salt, and citrus. It was a pleasant experience. An evocative wine. And the color is indeed golden.
I not only tasted the wine, but I could also walk along the vineyard, guarded by the bell tower of the San Michele Arcangelo church and facing the Michelin starred Venissa restaurant, where I also had the opportunity to experience a tasting menu for lunch.
The property in fact includes the starred restaurant (Venissa), a second restaurant where you can find traditional local dishes reinterpreted (Osteria Contemporanea) and a boutique hotel, with 5 rooms.
Venissa restaurant cuisine
Bisol wanted his restaurant to be a place of experimentation and free expression for young emerging chefs free to interpret and enhance local ingredients. The kitchen brigade is now led by chef Francesco Brutto, awarded in 2017 as the most promising young Italian chef by L’Espresso Guide. Together with Chiara Pavan, he presents his original cuisine, where local herbs (about 22), veggies, fruits, fish have a huge deal of importance. Flavors of the “native Venice” combined to create avant-garde cuisine.
Most of the raw material here used come from the Lagoon, from the close island of Santa Cristina, for example, and from the very garden of Venissa, cultivated by the retired people of Burano.
For example, I ate a fresh catch of the day as a second course, garnished by vegetables and herbs from the garden just outside the restaurant.
I was so thrilled and honored of being there. The young members of the staff made me feel at ease. And I spent a pleasant, slow lunchtime, taking pictures of my menu to share it with you.
It was a unique experience indeed. I’m not used to such a refined food. Some tastes and textures were surprising, in a sequence of courses that to me were not a meal, but a taste experience, a travel into the chef’s way to interpret local products, his philosophy of food.
Plus the presentation was very creative and refined. The dishes looked almost like artworks, I dare say.
Experiencing the native Venice
To me, having lunch at Venissa restaueant was a precious part of the experience of that part of the Lagoon. During my day and a half in Mazzorbo and Burano I immersed myself in the native Venice atmosphere. In a place suspended in time. I saw the land, I saw the lagoon, I tasted the food, I got in touch with a local fisherman, Domenico, who accompanied me in his Samuele boat around and about Burano to show me where he fishes, where Venissa staff grows vegetables and fruits, where Venice’s history was born.
I had the opportunity to sleep at Casa Burano (I will write a separate post), in a lovely, yellow house right next to the ancient pescheria (fish market). To visit some lace shops, and to see ladies embroidering. Basically, I lived a full immersion that allowed me to experience a side of tourism I wish I could live more often.
Thanks to Venissa Tenuta for this amazing opportunity.
“Because we want to distinguish ourselves from the tourist offer also of quality in the lagoon. Venissa must be the place to go for a special experience, in a special context”.
My short video:
F.ta S. Caterina, 3 – Mazzorbo, Venezia
You can reach Venissa Tenuta by vaporetto from Venice (Fondamenta Nove or San Marco) or from Cavallino-Treporti. And of course, by water taxi or private boat too.