Vail Wine Ink column: Wine of the Year is the Italian Venissa
December 27, 2016
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
2012 Venissa Dorona-Veneto — The experience of a bottle of Venissa is about more than just the liquid inside. Each of the bottles is a piece of art in and of itself; 3,911 bottles are individually numbered and hand-finished. A label of gold leaf is placed on the bottles that are then re-fired by craftsmen in the Giovanni Moretti glassworks on Murano. The bottles are a detail, but also a significant element of the total experience that make Gianluca Bisol’s monumental project so inspiring.
"I believe that what my father did was a very courageous thing," said Matteo Bisol, director of the Venissa Wine Resort of Gianluca Bisol, as we sat on a patio this past summer gazing at a vineyard on a stunning Venetian Island.
Normally courage is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of a winemaker. But if you consider the vision, the investment of time and money and the passion that was required to create the rare and amazing wine that is Venissa, then courage may be the perfect word to sum it up.
So it is for the courage that he has exhibited to achieve his dream that this column recognizes Gianluca Bisol and Venissa as the Wine Ink 2016 Wine of the Year.
You likely have never tasted Venissa. It is made from an obscure Italian grape called Dorona that flourished in vineyards in the Venetian Lagoons for more than 1,000 years but is now nearly gone. Fewer than 4,000 375-liter bottles are produced annually, and to date, none have been sold in America.
The grapes are hand harvested from an island vineyard and shipped to Roberto Cipresso's Wine Circus in Montalcino, where they are hand selected and then made using techniques generally considered more applicable to red wines. The wines macerate on the skin of the grapes, giving it a color reminiscent of the summer sun. They are then aged in-bottle for two years before release.
When poured, the golden color in the glass is stunning. On the nose, there are subtle but solid hints of the herbaceous qualities of the vineyard. And in the mouth, a certain taste of the sea is evident, an almost, but not quite, salty element is at play, along with a taste of the flinty stones of the vineyard. Venissa defies convention and provides a totally unique wine experience.
In January, Wilson Daniels, a St. Helena, California, import and distribution company, will begin to import Venissa to America. Seek it out.
I met Gianluca Bisol at this year's Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, where he was pouring Prosecco from his eponymous wine company in the prestigious Valdobbiadene region. He was a regal figure, dressed in an impeccably cut Italian summer suit and leather shoes and sporting a perfectly trimmed mustache. A consummate educator and host, he was explaining in vivid detail, gesturing with his hands for emphasis, the origins of the sparkling wines that I was falling in love with as I took each sip.
Behind him on a table, what appeared to be a hand-made glass bottle with a gold leaf label kept drawing my eye. Ginaluca knew that my attention had been stolen, and he smiled. "This is something very special," he said, and then, with obvious emotion, proceeded to explain his quest to make the wine in that exquisite bottle.
Once upon a time, he explained, the islands that make up the city of Venice were major producers of wine from a number of regional grapes. In the 1100s, Venetian historians maintain that what is now the fabled Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark's Square, was the site of gardens and a vineyard. It was from there that the residents satisfied their need for wine.
But as times changed and the commerce came to be about trade, craftsmanship and, eventually, tourism, the vineyards began to disappear from the islands. In 1966, following the devastating floods, grape production was almost totally abandoned. Dorona, one of the indigenous grapes, was forgotten and nearly disappeared.
One day, Gianluca stumbled upon some vines that hosted the few remaining Dorona grapes. He became obsessed. A plan, a vision, perhaps even a calling, was born and he set about attempting to replant and produce wines from this forgotten grape.
Gianluca's passion has evolved, and today he has created not just a wine, but a luxury brand around the grape and Venissa. On an island called Mazzorbo, in the same Venetian Lagoons where vineyards were once so prevalent, Gianluca has transformed ancient buildings into a luxury hotel and established a Michelin-starred restaurant, all set in a walled vineyard surrounded by the sea.
Gianluca's quest for the resurrection of the Dorona grape has become much more than simply a wine. It has evolved to become a place of passion, where history, wine and food all merge in a soulful destination that celebrates the region and the best things in life.
Venissa is a creation of a man with the courage of conviction.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.