Updated: Aug 28, 2020
During Italy's plague years, restaurants carved small hatches into their shop walls from which they served wine, at a safe distance. During our modern pandemic, these hatches are once again being used… to great success.
In the 1600s, Italy was besieged by the plague, which ultimately killed a third of Europe’s population. To keep from touching those who might have been infected yet maintain their business, wineries, restaurants, and liquor stores in Florence and elsewhere in the Tuscan region of Italy, carved out small niches in their shop walls, from which they served beverages at a safe distance.
A person would just knock on the window’s wooden shutters and leave their empty wine bottle. The store owner would then open the shutters, fill the bottle from their casks via a tube, after which the person would drop a few coins into a glass filled with vinegar, as payment. The vinegar killed any remaining bacteria or virus on the coins, thereby keeping the shopkeepers safe from infection.
These windows, called buchette del vino, have since been relegated to history, especially after Florence’s 1966 floods, which destroyed many of the wooden shutters… until recently.
When the COVID19 pandemic ravaged Italy and the public was asked to remain at home for a few months, some enterprising Florentine wine merchants and tavern owners re-opened their wine windows so they could serve the public once again, without coming into close contact with buyers who may have been infected with CV19 but were asymptomatic. Today they sell everything from wine to coffee, sandwiches, and even ice cream through the windows to passersby.
With a growing appreciation for this ancient tradition, Matteo Faglia, president of the Wine Window Association, is now marking each existing wine window with a plaque explaining its function. He believes there may be as many as 100 wine windows scattered about Tuscany and 150 in Florence that survive to this day. Only one window was active before our current pandemic; at least three more have since re-opened to serve the modern public and more are opening each day.
If a workable vaccine is not found soon, perhaps the Renaissance tradition of the wine window may once again take root, both in Italy and abroad.
Read more about Italy's wine windows at the Wine Window Association.