Friday, October 13, 2017

Winemaking in the Venetian Lagoon: Orto di Venezia, with Owner/ Winemaker Michel Thoulouze, Italy

Picture: Annette Schiller, Orto di Venezia Owner/ Winemaker Michel Thoulouze and Christian Schiller

As part of the 2017 Annual Meetings of the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) I toured for a day the Venetian Lagoon, with Annette Schiller.

Venice is among the world's most urban cities: a crowded aggregate of houses, palazzi, churches, squares, and other manmade structures, with few public green spaces to relieve a landscape dominated by stone, brick, and stuccoed walls. What most visitors don't realize is that Venice is surrounded by one of the most ecologically rich bodies of water in the Mediterranean: the Laguna Veneta, or Venetian Lagoon.

At the center of the tour of the Venetian Lagoon was a visit of and wine tasting at Orto di Venezia, the only winery in Venice, located in a shabby-chic farm house on the quiet San Erasmo Island.

Pictures: Venetian Lagoon

Touring the Venetian Lagoon

We started the boat trip at the Tronchetto terminal. Our boat took us first to San Erasmo Island, where we visited and had a wine tasting at Orto di Venezia. From there, the boat took us to Torcello (30 min.),a small island in the northern area of the Venice Lagoon. We had lunch at Restaurant “Trono di Attila” on Torcello island and visited the vineyards of “Consorzio Vini Venezia” on Torcello island. The boat trip back to Piazza San Marco took an hour. Annette and I spent the evening in Venice and took a train back to Padua.

Pictures: Touring the Venetian Lagoon

At Orto di Venezia with Owner/ Winemaker Michel Thoulouze  

Orto di Venezia, the only winery in Venice, is located in a shabby-chic farm house on the quiet island of Sant’Erasmo, where the vineyards are naturally grown thanks to the favourable Lagoon’s climate and rich terroir. Orto, a unique 5-year-aged white wine, has been created by Michel Thoulouze, a French businessman who, after getting into the international limelight with the foundation of various television channels, including famous Canal Plus, fell in love with Venice and decide to settle down there.

Pictures: Orto di Venezia

Here is more information on Orto di Venezia by  Owner/ Winemaker Michel Thoulouze (Website):

The island of San Erasmo in the lagoon has been supplying fresh vegetables to the market in Venice for centuries. The San Erasmo artichokes are renowned throughout Italy. In the 16th Century the island was covered with vineyards.

Michel Thoulouze decided to relaunch wine production on the island using the traditional methods of the local farmers and the expertise of Claude Bourguignon and Alain Graillot whose Crozes Ermitage wines have a worldwide reputation. The resulting wine, ORTO, has all the character of this special island and it is the only wine cultivated within the territorial boundaries of Venice.

The earth:
  • the ancestral drainage system on the island was renovated. Rainwater collects in canals that cross the vineyard and the water is evacuated by opening sluice gates at low tide.
  • before planting the first vines, the ground was prepared only with plants (barley, radish).
  • the vines were planted by direct seeding without any ploughing following the principles of Claude Bourguignon.
  • and of course, never any weedkiller.
The wine :
  • an assembly of antique Italian grape varieties with a dominance of the Istrien Malvoisie.
  • in order to revive the flavour of wines in the past, before the philoxera epidemic, the vines were not grafted onto roots imported from America but planted directly. This is one of the reasons for ORTO's exceptional quality.
  • the wine is not aged in barrels which would give it a "woody" taste: ORTO is a wine to quench your thirst.
  • ORTO is a white wine with a high mineral content and a flavour which reflects its terroir. It can be drunk on all occasions but it is especially suited to the produce of the Venice lagoon: fish, seafood, artichokes and asparagus.
Pictures: Tasting at Orto di Venezia with Owner/ Winemaker Michel Thoulouze

Financial Times on Orto di Venezia (June 6 2014)

First stop on our journey by boat through Venice's lagoon was to Sant'Erasmo, famous for the castraure artichokes, whose brief season our visit coincided with, and also increasingly for French ex-pat Michel Thoulouze's 4.5-hectare Orto vineyard, the first viticultural endeavour in the region since the floods of 1966.

Planting vines in the heavily saline soils of a flood-prone island is no less barmy than building a city-state on a network of marshy sand banks – so where better than Venice to blaze a trail. Through the auspices of his winemaker friend Alain Graillot of Crozes Hermitage, Thoulouze was able to get oenologists Claude and Lydia Bourguignon to examine his land. With clay and limestone-rich subsoil plus sedimentary rock washed down from the snow-capped Dolomites to the north, as well as salty breezes that act as a natural pest repellent, it appeared that the island was more suited to wine production than imagined.

However, it then took a lot of work: wall-building, drainage-channel dredging, and planting ungrafted Malvasia Istriana and Vermentino, two Italian varieties that traditionally perform well in coastal regions. In combination, the grapes give a wine of body, firm acidity and aromatic freshness and – with the addition of Fiano, seen more often in the volcanic soils of Avellino in Campania – structure and an intense minerality.

Pictures: In Venice

The wines are allowed to ferment out their sugars naturally (2010 was 12.5%, the hotter 2011 was 13.9%), see no oak of any kind and, using the resources to hand, magnums are aged in boats sunk in the lagoon – an excellent cellar.

We tried 2010 and 2008, the latter with a broader, oilier mouth-feel, the former showing a vitality and refreshing bitterness on the finish. Thoulouze is justifiably proud of his pioneering endeavours, but a 17th-century map of the region describing his land as "Il Vitigno Nobiluomo" (the nobleman's vineyard), suggests he was building on firmer foundations than La Serenissima itself.

Continuing our journey, we passed Isola San Francesco del Deserto, whose sole denizens were the seven monks who lived in the monastery, apparently all with characters much like the dwarves of the same number (one was even called Padre Felice - Happy) and perhaps a spritz to match (see the seven Venetian spritzes I wrote about in post one).  Anchoring at Torcello, where one of Venice's oldest religious edifices, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, was sacked by marauding Goths and rebuilt in the 11th and 12th centuries, we got our first glimpse of ancient Dorana vines in the courtyard – less than a third of a hectare, tended by Venissa's team, and the inspiration for their remarkable project.

Pictures: Founder and Owner of Martin Brown, Annette Schiller and Orto di Venezia by  Owner/ Winemaker Michel Thoulouze


The AAWE is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to encouraging and communicating economic research and analyses and exchanging ideas in wine economics. The Association’s principal activities include publishing a refereed journal — The Journal of Wine Economics — and staging scholarly conferences that are forums for current wine related economic research. Members of AAWE are economists from around the world — in academia, business, government, and research.

I have published 4 book reviews in the Journal of Wine Economics in the past few years:

Book Review by Christian Schiller in Journal of Wine Economics (Vol 11, No 3): MARK E. RICARDO: Simply Burgundy: A Practical Guide to Understanding the Wines of Burgundy. Mark E. Ricardo Book, 2014, 56 pp., ISBN 978-0990513704 Q4 (paperback), $12.99

Book Review by Christian Schiller in Journal of Wine Economics (Vol 11, No 2): JOHN WINTHROP HAEGER: Riesling Rediscovered: Bold, Bright and Dry. University of California Press, Oakland, 2016, 369 pp., ISBN 978-0-520-27545-4, $39.95

Book Review of "Wine Atlas of Germany" in Vol 10, No 1, 2015 of Journal of Wine Economics (Cambridge University Press)

Christian G.E. Schiller's Review of the Book: Ralf Frenzel (ed.) - Riesling, Robert Weil. Tre Torri, Wiesbaden, Germany, 2013, in: Journal of Wine Economics, Volume 9, 2014, No. 1, Cambridge University Press

This year's Annual Meetings took place in Padua, half an hour by train from Venice, in the Veneto Wine Region. The program focussed on the presentation of research papers by participants and also included a tour of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Region and a tour of the Venetian Lagoo.

Pictures: At the Annual Meetings of the American Association of Wine Economists in Padua, Italy (2017)

I am preparing 4 postings:

Venice, Padua and the Wines of Veneto: Annual Conference of the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) in Italy, 2017
Visiting the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Region, Italy
Winemaking in the Venetian Lagoon: Orto di Venezia, with Owner/ Winemaker Michel Thoulouze
Schiller's Favorite Wine Bars in Venice

schiller-wine: Related Postings

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