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Lovers of wine and history, today we’re heading back to Florence to talk about something you may not even notice when you first visit the Renaissance city. But, once you know about them, you’ll be on the lookout for them on each and every street. Wine windows or doors were historically used by Florentines to fill their bottles with local wine from the country estates of noble families – paying what they owed through the window, without direct contact with the seller.
Our guest is Robbin Gheesling, an American sommelier and photographer who chanced upon this uniquely Florentine curiosity several years ago and has since made it her passion. Robbin photographs the wine doors and works with the Bucchette del Vino association in Florence and their historians to help uncover the history of the windows. She has recently produced a beautiful photographic book documenting the wine windows and runs tours to help you discover them for yourself.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- A wine window/door is a door that opens usually from the cellar of a noble family’s house to outside to sell people wine directly. After Medici came back to power and was convinced by the wealthy families to let them sell direct, cutting out the guilds
- The size will fit a Chianti Fiasco, the famous straw-covered Italian bottles
- The most famous wine door can be found on Via delle Belle Donne and you can even read the hours of operation carved into the marble above
- There were 180 of them in the historic center at their peak, but the only one that was in use was Babae, until covid hit, when other’s like the gelateria Vivoli began using their wine door as a way to sell without contact
- An urban myth, floating around since Covid began is that the wine doors were created for the plague. This is not actually the case, but during the plague of 1634 they were used as a way of avoiding contact
- Some wine windows had been lost in time by being built over and some, like the one at Vivoli, were undiscovered until the flood of ’66 when the water damaged the walls and they had to re-do their exterior. They found it, dug it out, and restored it.
- There are varying ways the wine windows are called – wine doors make sense because historically you knock on the door to get the wine (though Babe they have a bell!), though they are more commonly called wine windows – in Italian, often finestrini and buchetta del vino
About our guest – Robbin Gheesling
She has produced a beautiful photographic book documenting the wine windows and runs tours to help you discover them for yourself. She also works with the Bucchette del Vino association in Florence and their historians, seeking out information and looking at various archives to help uncover the history of the windows. She is currently working on a guidebook detailing where the wine doors can be found and the nearby artisanal producers that can be found nearby. You can support this project and pre-order your copy on her website.
You can find Robbin on these channels:
- Instagram: @robbin_g & @winedoorsflorence
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/winedoorsflorence
Places mentioned in the show
- Via delle Belle Donne – where you will find the most ost famous Wine Window
- Babae – restaurant on via di Santo Spirito that was first to re-open their wine window. Ring the bell!
- Vivoli – gelateria a couple of blocks north-west of Piazza Santa Croce at 7r Via dell’isola delle Stinche and is on our list of the Best Gelato in Florence
- Buca Lapi – believed to be the oldest restaurant in Florence, it was founded in 1880 in the Palazzo Antinori cellars
- Oblate library – located in the former Convent of the Oblate, in the heart of Florence. Its cafe is great little aperativo spot
- Santo Spirito – a church in Florence located in the Oltrarno quarter, facing the square with the same name
- wset – qualifications in wine
- Bucchette del Vino association – the association in Florence researching the history of the wine windows
- albergatore – Italian for hotelier
- Chianti Fiasco – a typical Italian style bottle, usually with a round body and bottom, partially or completely covered with a close-fitting straw basket
- Carro Matto – literally translated as ‘crazy cart’, it is the cart pulled by oxen, full of Chianti during festivals
- Chianti Classico – the most famous and original of the Chianti wines
- archivo del estado – the state archives
- Palazzo architecture – a building style of the 19th and 20th centuries based upon the palazzi (palaces) built by wealthy families of the Italian Renaissance
- Giovanni Boccaccio – writer at the time of the 1300s plague
- Bettino Ricasoli – was an iron baron and twice Prime Minister of Italy and is known as the father/creator of the Chianti Classico recipe
Resources from Untold Italy
- Find out some wonderful options of hotels base yourself in Florence in Best Boutique Hotels in Florence and Top Florence hotels with pools and location-wise – Where to Stay in Florence: Districts and Neighborhood guide and learn about the city’s Hidden Gems and our suggested 3 day Florence itinerary
- Discover the different ways to get from Rome to Florence, from a high-speed train to a leisurely drive through Tuscany
- Listen: Episode #049: Exploring Florence with Corinna Cooke, Episode #028: Best Neighborhoods to stay in Florence and Episode #006: Florence highlights
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.