Wine doors, also known as ‘buchette del vino’ in Italian, are a uniquely Tuscan invention which are scattered through the ancient city of Florence. These lovely hole-the-wall style windows serve wine to their customers directly, just like a regular bar would! The wine doors serve their customers outside who are passing on the streets providing a quick, convenient, no fuss service which has stood the test of time.
The wine door itself is just large enough to be able to fit a carafe, or flask, of wine through the opening, averaging about 1 foot in height and 6-8 inches wide that is usually placed at about shoulder height in the wall. Traditionally, these windows have arches and are fairly simple in their design since they were primarily functional innovations rather than aesthetic additions to the buildings.
Nonetheless, they are charming vestiges of a bygone era which have been receiving more attention in recent years and seeing new popularity as they come back into use!
How Many Wine Doors Are There In Florence?
The exact number of wine doors in the city was recently counted, in 2015, and it was found that there were more than 150 in the old town of Florence alone with another 135 dotted around other parts of the city. This means that there are a total of about 285 of these lovely wine doors in Florence, many of which are still in regular use.
The wine doors are generally placed on walls which face out towards the streets of large residences, buildings and even in some of the buildings in parks. These unusual commercial ventures are a special feature of Florence and have a fascinating history that dates back to the Renaissance era.
The Origins of Florence’s Wine Doors.
Wine doors were invented in the 1500s in Florence at the time when Cosimo de Medici came to power as the Grand Duke of Tuscany. His rise to power was extremely unpopular and so as a concession to the people of Florence a new law was passed which would enable its wealthy inhabitants to create a new source of tax free income.
During February of 1559, a new law was passed which allowed the noble families of Florence, many of whom were political enemies of the Duke, to sell wine from their own homes without having to pay any taxes. This was, of course, extremely popular at the time and began the tradition of the famous wine doors.
Many of the noble families of Florence owned vineyards in rural Tuscany and the wine they produced could now be sold from their often palatial homes in Florence through wine doors. Selling the wine directly from their homes, through the wine doors, allowed the families to cut out the merchant middlemen and keep the entire profits of their venture while avoiding taxation.
The law also stated that the wine could only be sold from the noblemen’s homes, which is why the windows are scattered around the city in such a seemingly haphazard way without any real forward planning.
The new laws were also extremely popular among the regular people of Florence who could now easily access cheaper wine from the many wine doors that began springing up around the city! Overall, this plan was a great success and the Duke’s political enemies were content with the new laws and the financial opportunities that it provided for them.
Later, between 1629 and 1631 Europe was hit with a series of outbreaks of the deadly Bubonic plague which killed almost 15% of the Florentine population, totaling over 9000 deaths! Medical knowledge and the treatments for the dangerous disease were very limited and so people avoided contact whenever possible in an attempt to stop the spread of the plague.
Wine doors were a clever way for the commercial sale of wine to continue while avoiding gatherings in bars or taverns. Wine doors were a much safer way for both the customer and the staff to transact while minimizing the risk of contracting the disease.
Customers would bring their own empty bottles and knock on the wine door. The empty bottle would be passed through the window and returned full of wine after payment was made. Thus, the wine doors took on a new significance in the life of Florentines, allowing them to continue buying their wine without contracting the deadly Bubonic plague!
A New Revival That Mirrors The Past!
The wine doors of Florence have once again found themselves playing a crucial part in the life of Florence after the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world in 2020, hitting Italy particularly hard! Once again, the wine doors are a great way to buy wine while avoiding unnecessary contact with other customers or the staff that serve the wine.
One of the first places to realize the potential benefits of re-establishing the use of the wine doors of Florence during the Covid-19 pandemic was the famous ice cream parlor, ‘Gelateria Vivoli’. They recently reopened their wine door and began serving their customers ice cream through the hatch!
Other restaurants and bistros soon followed suit, including the Osteria delle Brache, which boasts one of the city’s oldest wine doors, showing that some of Tuscany’s great traditions never go out of fashion!
The wine doors were hugely successful until the early 20th Century when many of them fell into disuse, with some even being vandalized. This was largely because many wine taverns were opening around the city and the people were opting to drink their wine in these social hubs instead of buying it from the wine doors.
However, in 2015, the Wine Windows Association was founded in Florence with the aim of restoring this lost tradition and once more returning the classic wine door to the people of Florence. Unfortunately though, for modern vendors that operate the wine windows, taxes must be paid on the wine they sell, unlike in the 16th Century when they first emerged! In modern Florence some restaurants also have wine windows where customers can have their glass or bottle filled up without taking a seat inside with the other customers.
New Trends In The Tradition Of Wine Doors.
In recent times, as wine doors have made a serious comeback, the vendors and operators are expanding their services and selling much more than just wine. They often sell cocktails, spritzes and other beverages alongside the usual offerings of wine. Some of the most entrepreneurial wine doors have even taken to selling ice cream which has been great news to the city’s residents as well as tourists visiting during the hot summer months!
Ways To Experience The Wine Doors Of Florence.
Exploring the wine doors in Florence is a lovely way to experience one of the city’s most unique cultural artifacts while having the chance to savor the region’s favorite agricultural product, wine!
The only way to really experience the wine doors of Florence is to take a few day trips to the city and track them down as you go! There is no official municipal listing of the wine doors however the Wine Windows Association of Florence has compiled the most up to date and exhaustive list out there!
You can get a fully comprehensive map of their locations from the Buchette del Vino’s official website. You can either view the map on your phone while you are on the streets or, alternatively, you can print out a handy Pdf version.
The Magical Florentine Tradition That Stood The Test Of Time.
This wonderful regional tradition is unique to Tuscany and has been a favorite feature of the city for both the natives Florentines and visiting tourists alike. When you’re visiting Florence these convenient facilities are a wonderful way to get some refreshment during the day as well as to taste some of the region’s best wines!
All in all, no trip to Florence would be complete without dropping by one of the wine doors and so next time you’re in the city make sure to put a quick stop at a wine door on your day’s itinerary.