In the water world of Venice, it’s easy to forget that terra firma lies not far away, just across the Lagoon. After landing at Marco Polo airport on Monday and taking a water bus straight to San Stae and my hotel, I hadn’t been on a road or seen a car for over 48 hours by the time I met up with Isabella Bellio at Piazzale Roma. Piazzale Roma is where the buses come to if you travel that way from the airport, crossing the sea along a causeway – a narrow strip of land with a road and railway lines. Once at Piazzale Roma you will have to continue your journey by boat. Not even bicycles are allowed in Venice – travel is by foot or boat.
I was introduced to Isabella by Zomato and it was agreed we’d meet on Wednesday for me to visit the Castello Carboncine vineyard that has been in her family for over 50 years. It is a little strange waiting to meet up with someone you not only don’t know, but don’t know what they look like, but fortunately Isabella recognised me from the blog. I knew immediately I would like her and enjoy her company for the afternoon and she proved so kind and friendly. As we began the 20-minute journey by car, she started telling me about the history of the area and then kindly offered to make a detour to Altino where there is an archaeological site that is an important part of Venice’s history.
The National Archaeological Museum of Altino was opened in 1960. Lack of funding has meant that little excavation work has been done but it’s known that the most important Roman city in the area at the time – Altino – once lay there, as well as a large amphitheatre. Recently, proof of early glasswork that predates that on Murano has been found. The little museum had a few lovely pieces we were able to see. The people of Altino fled the city in AD 639 to escape Lombardic invaders. They went into the Lagoon and settled on the island of Torcello – the first large settlement in Venice. The cathedral of Torcello, built in 639, is the oldest surviving building in Venice and there are some wonderful mosaics inside you can still see.
Also important to the area is the River Sile which rises in springs in the town of Treviso and flows into the Venetian Lagoon at the port of Piave Vecchia. Isabella drove along its edge at times and explained its importance to the land where the Castello vines grow. The vineyards lay in land that is rich in clay, minerals and caranto – a compact limestone strata that dates back to the prehistoric Pleistocenic era. The result of this rich soil is that grapes are wonderfully aromatic and rich in textures.
Castello Carboncine is situated at Silea, near Treviso. Many different wines are grown and produced at the farm including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbech (Italian spelling with an ‘h’ at end), Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. I was delighted to see some vines with the prosecco grape – and I would later taste some. Their Prosecco Spumante Brut Doc Treviso is made from the glera grape through the Charmat method and has a uniquely floral and fruity nose.
I was given a tour of the cellars by Isabella. The reds are seasoned in oak barrels but the whites in acacia barrels and the wood’s delicacy brings a special honey and flowery aroma to the wines. The barrels are built by local craftsmen on the farm.
The Castello has developed a technique to enhance the flavour and aromas of their red wines. Specially designed tanks allow the red grapes to maintain softened contact between skin and juice for 8 days right after harvest and this results in a much deeper flavour than otherwise.
In the cellar they combine traditional techniques with modern ones; not totally organic but as much as possible; and following a slow process of careful seasoning in the casks. The wines are structured for longevity and maturing well to achieve greater refinement.
Another thriving part of the Castello’s farm is breeding water buffalo. Mediterranean buffalo date back to AD 500. Isabella explained that her father – from whom she and her sister Susanna inherited the Castello a few years ago – chose to breed buffalo 30 years ago for three main reasons: they are Italian; they are easy to breed; and buffalo meat is healthier than beef. The buffalos’ main diet is grass, clover and straw. The Castello use no bone meals, fish meals or any genetically modified feeds. Buffalo meat is very lean which, combined with their grass diet, makes the meat very healthy and it’s also rich in iron. There is a small butcher shop in the main building.
Cheese is also made: mozzarella of course but other harder buffalo cheeses, some left to mature for a few months. As my tour came to an end, many people were turning up at the Castello to buy wine, meat or cheese.
In the wine shop there were all kinds of temptations: all their range of wines, prosecco, sweet wines and grappa.
Then we went into the house where there is a huge and beautiful entrance with a very large dining table in the centre. The house dates from the 16th century.
I was lucky enough to be given a tasting of some wine with some of their cheese and homemade bread.
Isabella opened a bottle of their prosecco to drink first. It had a wonderful nose – so aromatic and fruity and tasted fabulous too.
Susanna had come down from the office by this time and I was delighted to learn she painted the wonderful birds on some of the labels and designed other labels using the miniatures of old Venetian printers as her inspiration.
Both women have a background in art and design and this is a way of bringing part of themselves into the family business. The cheese and prosecco was delicious and then Isabella brought a plate of buffalo salami and opened some of their Merlot to go with it. She explained that some pork fat has to go into the salami as buffalo is so lean.
It was very very delicious, as was the Merlot.
What a wonderful aperitivo. And a wonderful visit. Isabella explained that anyone can come to the Castello to buy the products and have a tasting. But exciting future plans include offering B&B with the option of different trips to Venice or nearby. It would be a great place to stay. But now it was time to move on.
We stepped out into the lovely covered terrace at the front of the house. Isabella had offered to come back into Venice with me and take me to a little trattoria she knew in Cannaregio, quite close to the Rialto, which sells her wine. Ai Promessi Sposi – which mean ‘to the betrothed’ – osteria is in a tiny calle: Calle dell’Oca (tel: 0412412747). Isabella explained that the owners had changed the name from the original ‘widows’ when they first bought it for a happier name for their restaurant!
It was busy outside and inside too but a table had been saved for us.
It’s a very simple osteria but great atmosphere and very much the kind of place I like to eat. An excellent basket of bread came straight away and our orders taken.
I decided to have Fegato alla Veneziana. This classic dish of calves’ liver with onions is one of my favourite things and it was very good too, served with polenta as is traditional.
I drank some Carbernet Riserva that came from the Castello. It was a great way to end a very special and lovely day. It had been really great meeting Isabella and Susanna, to have the tour of the vineyard and have their methods of growing and wine production explained to me. The tasting was great, of course, and I joked that I wished I’d driven from London so I could take some cases home! Then it was a brilliant ending to the day to eat in the little osteria and chat on with Isabella.
To find out more about Castello Carboncine visit: www.carboncine.it
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