Orto di Venezia is a story that made me say WOW! In short, I have never drunk the wines of this winery (yet!). But I had a great desire to taste them: both! Or rather three, because this year the limited edition Cuvée Alain is being released (a special Cuvée for a special person which I will talk about in detail later). What wines are these? They could fall into many interesting philosophies. In fact they are unique. And that’s not an exaggeration.
Natural, from ungrafted vines and with underwater refinement
The three Orto di Venezia wines: the basic one, the magnum size and the limited edition Cuvée Alain are natural wines, from ungrafted vines, and with underwater refinemant (for the magnums), produced in the only cellar inside the Venetian lagoon. This alone should arouse a lot of curiosity. Except that the story that led to the creation of these wines is even more fascinating. The land on which the winery and vineyard stand had been abandoned for almost a hundred years. For many it was just a place with a beautiful location. But Michel Thoulouze saw something else…
The discovery of an old map from the 18th century indicated the presence of a vineyard on that very land
Also driven by the discovery of an old eighteenth-century map that defined that land as the “Vine of the Noble Man”, Monsieur Toulouze decided to embark on the task of redeveloping the vineyard, to recreate a great terroir for wine. 11 hectares of land that even local farmers described as the best not only in Sant’Erasmo, but in the entire lagoon. Helped by great advisors such as Lydia and Claude Bourguignon (agronomists of Romanée Conti), and Alain Graillot (he is the father of the famous Crozes Hermitage in Côte du Rhône), he began this process which required 5 years of work, before planting 4.5 hectares of vineyards. It is precisely in memory of Alain, who passed away in 2022, that Monsieur Toulouze wanted to create the Cuvée Alain, a limited edition of only 400 bottles.
Reason why the wines are called Orto di Venezia
Vineyard and the cellar are located on Sant’Erasmo, a small island which still has only 700 inhabitants and has always been the main supplier of vegetables and fruit for Venice, in particular with the “castraure”, the violet artichokes which are a Slowfood Presidium which have led to it being nicknamed “Orto di Venezia” or “the Garden of Venice” or “the Garden of the Doges”. The cellar has become a destination for tourists and it can be reached by boat or “vaporetto”.
The “terroir” of Monsieur Toulouze
Terroir is not the translation for territory. The first thing that comes to mind is the Gestalt concept: “The whole is more than the sum of its individual parts”. And one of these is the imprint of Monsieur Toulouze. The land was prepared according to the traditional “duro su duro” method (i.e. without ever plowing), sowing barley, sorghum, oats, radish and Chinese root in succession. Monsieur Toulouze has never used a plough, nor herbicides or chemical fertilizers to not compromise the delicate layer rich in precious elements and has chosen to produce his wine according to “nature and common sense” without relying on a winemaker. The ungrafted vines come to life between clay, limestone and precious dolomite rock. They were planted directly in the ground, without grafting the plants onto the American grape roots.
2008: the first harvest
Just over twenty years after the first harvest, that of 2008, today’s result is a great white wine for aging, recognized internationally. So much so that it crossed the borders of England, Japan, South Korea and France, bringing him to the tables of the Alajmo restaurant and to being the only Italian in Alain Ducasse’s Parisian restaurant at the Hotel Plaza Athénée.
But how was the Orto di Venezia blend born?
Alain and Michel organized a visit to Rauscedo, the largest plants nursery in the world. There you can find small bottles with all the grape varieties in the world, you can experiment and the magic of this great wine with Malvasia Istriana and Vermentino was born. An enlightening visit! So much so that the owners of the nursery themselves, after seeing Alain in action, asked Michel: “experts from all over the world come here but we have never seen anyone with a palate like that, can you lend us half a day? ”.
Grape varieties and vinification of Orto di Venezia wine
Orto di Venezia is a blend with the typical Istrian Malvasia, together with Vermentino to give even more flavor and a touch of Fiano to add structure. The grapes are harvested strictly by hand and the winemaking takes place in an extremely simple way, as suggested by the farmers and greengrocers of Sant’Erasmo, through spontaneous fermentation, 10 months in steel barrels and 2 years in the bottle. An exclusive procedure is instead dedicated to the magnums: they are sunk in a “sandolo” (traditional Venetian boat) in a secret point of the lagoon, so that they are without oxygen, without light, are not subject to vibrations and have a constant temperature.
A special Cuvée for a special person
Passed away in March 2022, Alain Graillot was first a friend and then also a consultant of Michel, since the beginning of the project. Maxime and Antoine (Alain’s sons) welcomed Michel’s idea of remembering Alain with this special bottle with immense pleasure. “For us it is an honor to remember our Father with this special bottle. Orto was a wine that he loved and that fully represents what he believed in the world of wine. The Cuvée is a wonderful expression of this.”
Only 400 bottles by reservation only
Cuvée Alain is a limited edition of only 400 bottles, divided between 0.75cl and magnum. It can be purchased only in cellars and only by reservation at a cost of 120 euros and 250 euros respectively. Cuvée Alain is the result of the assembly of the best steel barrels from Orto di Venezia. Then placed for 12 months in a used barrique, coming directly from the Domaine Alain Graillot. The result is an even more persistent white wine, with a more pronounced body, powerful but equally fresh, rich in minerality and with iodine scents. It is perfect to be aged in the bottle for years to give something unique.
Who is Alain Graillot
Alain Graillot was and is considered the father of Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph. He founded his namesake Domaine in the Rhone Valley in the 1980s, on the plain of La Roche-de-Gun, in the Rhone Valley. Pragmatic, visionary and with an exceptional palate, he began using a whole bunch winemaking approach to create recognizable wines, faithful to the territory and with a strong identity.