Updated: Jul 21
Have you ever heard of a “wine door” or a “wine window?” I hadn’t until I was lucky enough to book a trip to Florence in Tuscany back in January. The second after I received my confirmation of purchase, I excitedly hopped off the couch and binged roughly 6 hours of podcasts explaining all about the historic city. Among one of those podcasts was “The Curious Case of the Wine Windows of Florence.” It’s on Spotify if you’d like to give it a listen.
Robbin Gheesling, the featured guest, is a sommelier and a photographer who has a Masters in Italian Studies. She discusses her time living in Italy, which is when she first learned about the wine doors while she was on a walking tour. She, as I did, became fascinated by these present-day glimpses into the past.
The beauty of these historic wine doors is that you can pass by one while exploring the streets of Firenze and never know it. It became a scavenger hunt and I was determined to find at least one. Some of the wine doors have been repurposed to be callboxes for apartment buildings. Others have become canvases for street artists or have been filled in with concrete. A handful were revived when select restaurants sold wines by the glass out of them during the pandemic, similar to how their ancestors utilized them.
These doors date back to the mid-16th century when it was decreed that wine could be sold directly from homes. This decree benefited noble winemaking families, including the Antinori family whom you may be familiar with, by allowing them to cut out middlemen and sell directly to the consumer. A common interaction would begin with an iron knocker at the bottle sized window. Many of these “doors” or windows opened directly into cellars where servants would then receive the consumer’s empty bottle, fill it directly from the barrels, and then hand it back out. Ironically, when the bubonic plague wreaked havoc decades later in the early 17th century, these doors especially came in handy. They were consistently utilized all the way up until when WWI erupted. It wasn’t until recently, as mentioned before, that the use of these doors has been resurrected.
Its humbling to discover something that may be so easily overlooked, but if you dig in, a piece of the present can lead you to a story of the past. This is just one example of why I love wine so much. It’s something that anyone, anywhere, throughout time, can enjoy. One could say that wine opens many doors.
Photos are credited to Robin Gheesling. Click on the images to check out more of her wine door photography.