In the quiet of San Francesco della Vigna, the heart of the Castello district, an ancient Venetian wine tradition is handed down from the distant thirteenth century

26 September 2022

Venice, 22 September 2022 – For eight hundred years an area north of Venice, hidden between
the streets and squares of the Castello district, has been the guardian of a centuries-old
treasure. Surrounded by silence and quiet, the urban vineyards of the convent of the Franciscan
Friars Minor of San Frencesco della Vigna boast the primacy of being the oldest in the lagoon
city and, today as then, continue their wine production. Since 2019, moreover, the work of the
friars is personally followed by the agronomists of the Santa Margherita winery and, by mutual
agreement, it was decided to replace the old vines of Teroldego and Refosco with Glera and
Malvasia, in an attempt to recover the historic Venetian vines.
The history of the vineyards of San Francesco dates back to the 13 th century, when they
belonged to the Venetian patrician Marco Ziani, son of the illustrious Doge Pietro Ziani. It was in
his will, dated 25 June 1253, that the noble established that the land, the church and some
shops were left to the Friers Minor, who settled there permanently. Therefore, the parish of
San Francesco della Vigna owes its name to the fact that the place where it stands, originally,
was cultivated with vineyards, the most extensive and fertile in all of Venice.
The vineyards are therefore part of unique architectural complex, which also houses the
convent of the Friars Minor and the Church, one of the most impressive in Venice, the work of
Sansovino and Palladio, in addition to the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, which each year
offers first-level university masters on interreligious dialogue, and the library, a reference point
for theological scholars with over 200 thousand volumes, including 45 thousand ancient, from
11 funds of various convents suppressed in the Veneto, among which San Michele in Isola
stands out, where the last remaining copy of the first Quran printed in Arabic was found in
It is in the cloisters of the convent that the treasure is among the treasure: one of them has
been used to collect rainwater for irrigation, while the other two are dedicated to the
cultivation of aromatic herbs and vineyards. In particular, the vines today occupy 1600 square
meters of land, of which 400 are Malvasia, and the remaining Glera prosecco. However, until
2018 Teroldego was cultivated, a pretty rustic grape typical of Trentino, and Reforso dal
peduncolo rosso, originally from Friuli, because they are plants that resist well the heat and
drought of the Lagoon.
“In a cloister we have the classic Glera, because we want to try to make a Venetian prosecco,
but we are still in the testing phase”, said Friar Antonio Pedron, who for years has been
following the production of wine in San Francesco, “whereas the choice of Malvasia is because
the Zians had possessions in Istria and Candia, and consequently the grape that may have been
in Venice is a grape that they took home from these territories and that they transplanted
The one cultivated in the convent is still a young grape, with an undefined identity, and only
next year, that is third one from the change of type of vineyard, can be considered a real
harvest. The premises, however, are promising, and already this summer the vineyards of San
Francesco have produced well.

There have been many measures taken for the cultivation of vineyards in the spaces of the
convent, starting from the choice to conduct the production in an organic way, made out of
respect for the place. This entails a ban on the use of pesticides: only natural treatments such
as copper and sulfur are allowed.
As for Glera, moreover, the technicians and oenologists of Santa Margherita winery decided to
adopt a breeding system that would recall the tradition of the cultivation of vineyards, focusing
on a simple guyot with a pole each vine and setting the plants about a meter away. And the
type of branch that was created is curiously reminiscent of the pastoral, the curved end stick
used by priests. Malvasia, on the other hand, has an espalier guyot, and even here the vines are
closer, with a distance of about 80cm between one and the other, because we chose to focus
on quality.
The brackish air blowing from the Venetian lagoon as never been a problem. Indeed, when
combined with the properties of the cultivated space, it can help to give the grapes a unique
“The characteristic of the soil is what determines the taste of grapes, and here we are subject
to have a soil with the influence of the salty water, which comes from below”, explains the
Franciscan friar, specifying that the area where Glera is cultivated, for example, it tends to be
sandy and therefore easier not only to water, but also to dry. Although this year has suffered a
lot from drought, it is nevertheless a very generous soil, also because over time the friars have
committed themselves to regenerate it biologically.
On the contrary, Malvasia is produced in a cloister with different peculiarities. “Here the
advantage of grapes is that it is also sheltered from the sea winds and is less subject to
brackish”, says Don Antonio, “even the soil is slightly different from the other cloister: it is more
land, it takes more time to absorb water and more time to dry”.
Until al 2012 the production of vines was for the friars’ convent, and what little was produced
was drunk. But for ten years it has been decided, also to revalue the territory and open it to the
outside world, to put even more attention, more work and more commitment to maintenance.
Hence, the partnership with the winery Santa Margherita.
“It’s a way to reclaim out territory and make it known to people. Once the convents were
cloistered, and no one could enter; now we require openness, the times have changed, the
friars also, so the mentality and the modalities also changed”, concludes the Franciscan friar.

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