September is considered summer in Venice with a bonus: It’s harvest time and the flowers and vegetables in the Lagoon enjoy a “second spring”. That means they are ripe and lush again after the hottest months of the year and the grape harvest, la vendemmia, is taking place.
Herbs and orchards are located in the north, fishing grounds to the south. The border between the northern and southern Lagoon isn’t drawn in a fictive manner, it runs along the former Brenta river bed. The Grand Canal in Venice actually is the old bed of the river Brenta !
Everything grows in the Lagoon that humans have ever needed to feed on. From fish to olive trees to erbe spontanee (wild herbs) like portulaca, spinacino selvatico (wild spinach) and salicornia. Spring and autumn is a favorite time for Venetian chefs to collect Lagoon herbs. If you would like to taste herb-flavored dishes, come to Venice March-May or September-October.
The northern islands are dedicated to growing vegetables and herbs, and there’s the Cavallino – Lio Piccolo land tongue penetrating into the Lagoon amidst le barene – muddy sandbanks, submerged by tides twice a day and overgrown with limonium. During the times of the Republic, honey was made from limonium, a Lagoon treat that you can buy at the Rialto Market again (I buy it at La Casa del Parmigiano’s). With limonium blossoming, it looks like the Lagoon is covered with lavender from late July to early September. You can see this violet – tinged Lagoon in the video below:
In September, you can see the trees full with purple fruit – le prugne (plums) are being harvested in the Lagoon orchards these days. On the islands of Torcello, Mazzorbo and on San Michele in Isola, grapes are harvested. There are also vineyards in the Lagoon’s secret paradise gardens, located off Torcello, on the island group of Santa Cristina. The name of Le Carline’s wine is Ammiana, recalling an ancient island that was once as important as Torcello.
The ancient archipelago of Torcello-Ammiana-Sant’Ariano-Santa Cristina represents the cuore antico (ancient heartland) of the Lagoon. The Romans were growing wine on this fertile yet slightly salty ground. The lagoonscape changed in the 16th century when the inhabitants left and the islands weren’t properly reinforced against the tides any longer. The Lagoon you can see today is an artificial landscape. Had the Lagoon not been taken care of meticulously for centuries by the Republic of Venice, it wouldn’t exist any more and would have turned into an arm of the sea by now.
The vineyards on Sant’Erasmo are called Orto di Venezia. 2,000 hectar are dedicated to growing a wine consisting of 60% Istrian grapes and 20% Malvasia. Venetians celebrate their La Festa del Mosto on Sant’Erasmo every year on the first Sunday of October, and it’s a very lively experience you should participate in !!
On Sant’Erasmo, you can recognize the Lagoon’s agricultural vocation. This is a rather sprawling island, as big in size as Venice (the Rivo Alto island group) is. There are wild meadows with blackberry hedges, sorrel, wild chamomile and portulaca, artichoke and other vegetable fields, hothouses and of course vineyards.
A bit further to the north from Sant’Erasmo, the golden Doge’s wine grows on the Venissa estate on the island of Marzzorbo. The first vendemmia (grape harvest) took place in 2010 after eight years of research and experimenting. The Bisol family, supported by the Regione Veneto, recovered ancient vines cultivated during the times of the Republic of Venice, La Vigna Dorogna, the golden doge’s wine. Here you can see it, in a glass served at Venissa’s, and it’s a great adventure tasting this wine after five hundred years.
Dorogna wine has got the color of honey and tastes like nectar and amber with a flowery – muscat bouquet. Great with risotto all’uva e salicornia – sweet-sour grapes and salicornia herb risotto my grandfather used to make in his youth. We’ll share the recipe in the Food Section of our Blog.
To cheer you up during winter, we’ll be back with more posts on the Venetian Lagoon, presenting the vocation and secrets of the islands. We’ll start with the forgotten garden islands located off Torcello and you’ll see how each part of the Lagoon fulfilled a purpose. These aren’t islands “orbiting around Venice”, on the contrary, Venice depends on them for her existence. For today, take a look at this short video and its VERY different perspective of the Lagoon.