Amy Cortese


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May 8, 2010

An Island of Venetian Culture Opens


As a 21st-generation winemaker whose family has made prosecco in the hills of Valddobiadene in Italy's Veneto region for centuries, Gianluca Bisol has a deep appreciation for the area's rich culture and history. So it is with great pride that Bisol this weekend unveils a new restaurant and hospitality center that reclaim a bit of Venice's forgotten past. 

The estate, called Tenuta Venissa, is located on the island of Mazzorbo and includes a restaurant (pictured above) helmed by a renowned chef, an inn and a restored walled vineyard where an ancient grape variety that was nearly extinct has been replanted and will soon be bottled. 

Mazzorbo, part of the archipelago of islands off of Venice, was once an important trading center. In recent times, it has languished quietly as a home to fishermen, abandoned vineyards and the occasional day-tripping tourist visiting Burano, an island famous for its lacework and colored houses (
Philippe Starck apparently owns three) that is connected to Mazzorbo by footbridge. (Murano, the island renowned for its glass, is a short boat ride away). 

Bisol hopes to transform the island into a tourist-worthy destination and research center dedicated to exploring the region's indigenous grapes and cuisine. "I have always been fascinated with the food and wine history of the lagoon," says Bisol, a genial Italian with a broad smile. 

The project began several years ago when Bisol discovered on the island an ancient grapevine that research identified as Dorona, a white grape that once grew abundantly in the region. After Bisol's proposal to restore the vineyard and create a hospitality center was chosen over twelve others by the Commune of Venice, he began work on the project, replanting vineyards and restoring old structures inside the island's ancient walls. The old vineyard, called ScarpaVolo, has been replanted with 14,000 meters of Dorona; the first bottles of wine made from the grape are expected to be released next year. In the center of the vineyard stands the bell tower of the medieval Chiesa di Santa Caterina, the island's defining landmark. 

"This represents the fruit of six years of work in which we have been researching the history of the local grape varieties in Venice, widespread until only a few centuries ago," says Bisol. 

Another 14,000 meters of garden have been planted with local varieties of vegetables, including artichokes and garlic, which will supply Ristorante Venissa, run by chef Paola Budel, who has trained with some of Italy's most famous Michelin-starred chefs. The menu will change daily and will feature local ingredients and specialties, including lagoon fish and Alpago lamb, a rare breed native to Veneto. The restaurant's glass walls overlook the vineyard and lagoon. 

The inn, or ostello, is simple but chic. The six rooms all have a private bath, air conditioning and heat, and -- like everything on the estate -- views of the vineyard, gardens and water. The ostello is furnished with Italian products such as Driade furniture, Fontana Arte lighting, and fabrics by Society. Rates are extremely reasonable, at just 55 Euros per person per night. There's a breakfast room downstairs and wifi. If there's no room at the inn, the Bisol family also operates the Certosa Hotel on the nearby island of Certosa. 

Mazzorbo is a 40 minute trip by "vaporetti," or motorboat, from Venice. For more information, see


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