Casanova's romantic adventures are the inspiration for a wine made from grapes grown at the Hotel Cipriani, launched a few years back as the first vintage produced in Venice for 200 years.
The vineyard is adjacent to the hotel’s Casanova Garden, one of the old “salted” vegetable gardens of Venice (similar to the “prés salés” of France) that supplied not only vegetables to the noble families of Venice, but also wine.
The tradition of “vin salso” production on Giudecca island goes back centuries. In 1753, when the great lover Giacomo Casanova lived in Venice, he visited the Giudecca in pursuit of one of his many amours. It was the discovery of a reference to this encounter in Casanova's writings that spurred Hotel Cipriani to revive Venice's winemaking tradition – on its own land.
Casanova had become friendly with a disreputable family, the Caprettas. The son of the house wanted Casanova's endorsement of a bill of exchange and decided to bribe the lothario with the promise of love. He gave him the key to a "pavilion" on the Giudecca with the suggestion that Casanova invite Caterina Capretta, the young man's sister, to taste the island’s famous wines.
At the time, the Giudecca was known as "Venice's garden of delights", a place of parks, orchards and wineries where citizens came to take the air. The wine—called vin salso—was known for its salty (salso) aftertaste, resulting from the vineyard's proximity to the lagoon.
In Casanova's record of his tryst with Caterina, he wrote: "It was Pentecost Monday and there were plenty of people about, a dozen groups seated at the tables!"
He went on to describe the presence on the Giudecca of open-air coffee shops and wine booths at which the vin salso was served. The reference was discovered, along with the story of Casanova's love for Caterina Capretta and his connection with the Giudecca wine, by food historian Massimo Alberini, who suggested reviving Venice’s winemaking tradition.
There used to be a vineyard at the back of the hotel, but it had long since been abandoned. In 1997, Hotel Cipriani began planting vines that, three years later, produced their first vintage. On a beautiful September day, professional grape-pickers joined 30 staff from the hotel, including chambermaids, cooks and bell boys, to harvest more than 3,000 kilos of black grapes.
"We decided to make a party out of the harvest by doing all the picking in a single day and inviting the hotel staff to join in," said Dr Natale Rusconi, the then managing director of the Cipriani. "In the event we had the most perfect day imaginable and celebrated with a banquet for everyone."
The grapes were transported by barge across the Venetian lagoon and then onto refrigerated trucks in a delicate transport operation that took them to the Capanelle vineyard in Gaiole in the Chianti region of Tuscany.
Under the guidance of expert winemaker Simone Monciatti, 1,500 bottles were produced for delivery to the Hotel Cipriani’s cellars in spring 2002. The new wine, which was called Casanova Salso, was aged in oak casks and made available for consumption right away.