The re-emergence of charming ‘little wine holes’ in Florence

With everything wrong that’s been happening in the world, it’s nice to hear something fun and lighthearted every now and then. This piece of comeback news from Italy might not be life-changing, but it can definitely bring a smile to your face.

The coronavirus pandemic has completely changed the way we live our lives, and that includes how we do business. Food and beverage establishments worldwide are coming up with safer ways to interact with their customers during these unprecedented times. And these merchants in Florence, Italy, didn’t have to look far for a socially-distanced means of selling to their clients – they need only look to the past.

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Tiny openings called “buchette del vino” (little wine holes), located just above the ground, are making a comeback in the European country. Businesses hand over a customer’s purchase through these ancient windows while reducing physical contact, which is a perfect business model during a pandemic.

In the Renaissance, these holes were used to sell wine “to-go” as a cheaper alternative to taverns and other drinking dens. It was also a discreet way for retailers to avoid paying taxes on the alcoholic drinks they were selling.

As Italy eased its two-month lockdown in May, several establishments in Florence that had a buchetta decided to use them again to take advantage of the minimal contact it allows. Aside from wine, ice creams and sandwiches have since been served through these tiny openings.

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Gelateria Vivoli, one of Florence’s widely-known ice cream parlors, was one of the first businesses to reuse the buchetta during the start of the pandemic.

In an email interview with CNN, Giulia Vivoli, a fourth-generation owner of the gelato shop, wrote:

“We chose to use our buchetta during Covid-19 both as a protective measure and to bring a smile to passersby. We’ve had it open in the past, but to reuse it at this particular moment in time has felt especially apt.”

Naghy Kamal, the owner of restaurant Osteria delle Brache, adopted the revived business model shortly after.

“We have one of the oldest wine windows in Florence,” he explained in a phone interview with CNN. “Reopening it at this difficult time has proved incredibly helpful and has really shown that some traditions never die.”

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While people can now enter the restaurant to settle their bills, Kamal says many still prefer to pay through the wine hole. This ‘little’ comeback is serving a ‘bigger’ purpose.

“With the need for social distancing still, we appreciate that,” he said.

According to a line from the 1634 document “Relazione del Contagio Stato in Firenze l’anno 1630 e 1633,” the use of the buchetta was widely rampant during the Italian Plague, which attacked northern and central Italy between 1629 and 1631.

There are an estimated 180 buchetta in Florence, though hundreds more are believed to have existed in the 1500s and 1600s. More of them can be found in other towns such as Tuscany. However, only a few are still functioning as wine holes.

Robbin Gheesling

As the 20th century began, laws on wine-selling changed, and many mansions were transformed into residential and apartment buildings. Wine windows were then bricked up and turned into mailboxes and doorbells.

What makes the comeback of these charming windows even more interesting is that each one is unlike the other. Most share an arched shape, but little details such as the color of the stone frames or its material, separate them from the other.

This variety caught the attention of American photographer Robbin Gheesling. She documented 140 of them in her book “Wine Doors of Florence.”

Buchette del Vino

“Although the wine doors typically have the same dimensions, the differences in the frames that were created for them became quite interesting (to me),” she wrote in an email to CNN. “Many matched the larger portone (the main door of the palazzos) or had different decorations altogether.”

We don’t know about you, but we’re adding “getting a glass of wine from a buschetta in Italy” to our bucket list!