Wine Safety & Sanitization: Then and Now

We all know that wine consumption was on the rise over the last few months. Everyone cooped up, struggling with the challenges of working and schooling from home, the mental and emotional weight of a pandemic, etc. For many, a glass (or two) of wine at the end of the workday was the only way to mark time during a year where time seems to no longer exist.

At the intersection of the necessity of wine, safety and the fickleness of time, there are the “wine windows” in Italy. As Italy slowly reopened its economy, bars and restaurants grappled with how they could serve customers without jeopardizing the health and safety of their employees. One solution, they realized, is already built into their architecture and woven into their history: centuries-old portals in the walls of their buildings.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, these small “wine windows” were introduced “as a way for sellers to sell surplus wine to working-class buyers.” They are part of the architecture and just big enough to pass a wine glass through. In an article by Atlas Obscura, writer Lisa Harvey reports that these windows date back to 1559 when it was made legal to sell wine directly out of your home. Wealthy families with wine cellars took advantage of the new law and had these windows added to their homes.

In a parallel to their re-emergence today, it is said that the wine windows played a role in preventing the spread of the bubonic plague in Florence Italy. The passage allowed wine sellers to serve customers while avoiding contact. As the plague raced across the continent and outbreaks became increasingly common in Italy, cities adopted serious public health measures, but, it seems, still found a way to enjoy their wine.

When it comes to sanitation and wine, we, of course, like to boast the merits of stainless steel wine barrels, which are food-safe and easy to sterilize and re-use in wine production. But, as we continue to see a proliferation of stainless steel in the future of wine making and enjoyment, we can’t ignore the value of wine innovation throughout history. Florentine wine windows have protected status, and we’re so glad that they have been preserved and put to use again today. After all, what is time without a little wine.