How a Wine Economists Conference led us to wine from the Venice lagoon #ItalianFWT

Two summers ago, we fell in love with Venice at first sight. And by first sight we really mean it literally. The wow factor began as soon as we got on a boat to town from the airport terminal. That’s one of the many moments in the last few years when we felt grateful for being college professors. We were headed to a conference to present our work on Chinese wine and economic development. In many previous lectures we’d given on Chinese wine, we enjoyed talking about a big beautiful Italian Castle we visited in… Xi’an, China. It was a Chinese winery. “Dream of Italy,” their brochure promised. And we did, since we’d never actually been to Italy. Until the American Association of Wine Economists (yes, there is such a thing) held their 2017 conference in Padova, less than an hour train away from Venice. The AAWE committee can really throw a party! Best. Conferences. Ever. We’d presented every year since our China research began in 2013: Walla Walla Washington, Mendoza Argentina, Bordeaux France, and now we were going to Italy, at last!

The conference video preview was enticing.

And we weren’t disappointed! Padova alone was worth going.

Nice walk on the way to conference presentations in Padova.
Minutes from our hotel in Padova, this was our running track in the morning! We had to compensate for all the eating and drinking.

The first three days of an AAWE conference are devoted to serious academic presentations by wine economists from around the world.

Then, there’s the wine tour part. The 2017 edition being in Padova, one day was devoted to Prosecco (we felt for the serious cyclists in the rolling hills from the comfort of our bus), but then there was one mystery day spent in… Venice. Of course, the conference couldn’t NOT do that! But wine touring in Venice? Yes.

Off to a winery!

The wine part was only one stop (though there was wine at lunch and dinner, too, a lot of wine), on an island of the Venice lagoon called Sant’Erasmo. It’s called Orto di Venezia. The island, about the size of Venice but with a fraction of the people on it, was a haven of peace after the fun of getting lost in the crowded streets of Venice. Sant-Erasmo, a stop on the Vaporetto line (a boat every hour or so), is known as Venice’s vegetable garden. There’s even an artichoke festival. The island’s produce is widely sold in Venice’s markets.

The winery owner is Frenchman Michel Thoulouze, who was the host that day for our large group of academics. Check out where they set up the tasting. Stunning!

You wouldn’t necessarily call Mr. Thoulouze a celebrity wine owner, but he kind of is. That part took Pierre down the French TV childhood memory lane. You see, before retreating on Sant’Erasmo, Michel Thoulouze was better known as a journalist and producer for prominent French TV stations and shows, part of the early team developing Canal Plus. He produced the award-winning French cult satire group, Les Nuls, and founded the TV show 7 sur 7 with Anne Sinclair. She resigned in 1997 as her husband became France’s Minister for the Economy and Finance (you may not have heard of Anne Sinclair, but maybe you’ve heard of her ex-husband, French politician turned IMF managing director Dominique Strauss Kahn, until the infamous DSK scandals).

Anyway, off French memory lane and back to wine! When he moved to Sant’Erasmo, Michel Thoulouze heard there used to be a vineyard there in the seventeenth century. Despite not having any wine background at all, seduced by the terroir, he decided to revive this long-lost wine of Sant’Erasmo in 2002 with the help of a few friends, including winemaker Alain Graillot, a key figure in France’s Crozes Hermitage appellation, and world-renowned soil experts, power-couple Claude and Lydia Bourguignon. Orto di Venezia’s small production is very successful today.

Chickens behind the vineyard

The winery only makes one wine from its sustainably farmed 27-acre vineyard. It’s a still, dry white made from northern Italian varieties Malvasia Istriana, Vermentino, and Fiano di Avellino. Michel Thoulouze treated our group of wine economists to a vertical, with two distant vintages: 2008 and 2015. Orto di Venezia strives to make white wine that can age and they wanted to show this off.

We loved them from the first sniff. You could easily argue that in this stunning setting for a tasting, anyone would like anything. And sure, atmosphere matters, how could it not? But eavesdropping in conversations around us, we noticed that the wines were much more divisive than we thought! People were happy to finish their glasses and try all three vintages, of course, but there were a few skeptics. Walking through the crowd looking for more reactions, we ran into one attendee who we knew was natural wine enthusiast. He just looked happy, and we could read his mind when he nodded at us: “Now THAT’S wine!”

Beware of the wine economists at work!

Orto di Venezia doesn’t call itself “natural wine.” The term can be so weirdly divisive, sometimes it’s safer to just do your thing and let people decide. But the wines did have that lively, bright yummy fruitiness and almost crunch on the palate, that make us come back to specific wine shops whether we are in Toulouse, Seattle or Hong Kong (for you natural wine skeptics out there, no, there was nothing funky or dirty about Orto). The bottles of Orto di Venezia we bought at the winery were long gone. We’d shared one immediately upon return with Pierre’s dad, whose apartment is filled with travel memories and books about Venice.

We HAVE to go back to Venice.

We were so delighted when Jill Barth of L’Occasion announced the theme of the Italian Food Wine Travel #ItalianFWT Twitter chat of this month, wines from Italian Islands. We’d been to one! And thanks to Wine Searcher, we located a New York wine shop (Chambers Street Wines) that had Orto and shipped to Washington. Hooray! By the way, this was also the very first time we bought wine online. Luddites no more! Not surprisingly, Chambers Street Wines focuses on low-intervention, small production wines. Ours arrived just in time Thursday night. It was the 2016 vintage, with that wonderful feel we remembered, and a citrus, apricot and an almost almond paste quality on the palate. It was the perfect treat after an exhausting week of teaching and grading. No time or energy to do anything complicated. We bought fresh pasta, salmon, shallots, mushrooms and crème fraiche, and assembled fast. With one more work day ahead, using Coravin was essential, so we could enjoy the wine again over the weekend as fresh as ever.

Practice your French and admire the views with this interview of Michel Thoulouze:

We aren’t officially in the Italian Food Wine Travel #ItalianFWT group. But they gave us such a fantastic reason to reconnect with Orto di Venezia and our wonderful time in Venice and Padova, we couldn’t resist! Go check out their wonderful work here on the theme of Italian island wines:

7 thoughts on “How a Wine Economists Conference led us to wine from the Venice lagoon #ItalianFWT

Add yours

  1. So glad you joined us this month! Your photos and descriptions of Venice have me reminiscing about my honeymoon when we, too, were struck by the city’s beauty and charm. And thanks for the insider info on Orto – I’d never heard of it before. And, as luck would have it, I am in NYC for a few weeks – and a trip to Chambers Street is definitely on my agenda. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So great to have you join us! And thanks for sharing such great memories! You really took led us through a journy and now I’d so like to visit!

    Liked by 1 person

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