A year has now passed since we got the first Covid-19 cases in Italy. Lockdown followed at the beginning of March and the rest is Corona-history. As waves of outbreaks continue their devastation around the world, we and many other businesses that used to rely on tourism are trying to adapt to the new circumstances.
This is how the Grape Tours' office space in Florence became a new hope for us. We've always wanted to focus more on the wines and cheeses that we love, and one could say that Covid kicked that door open for us!
Now, I have to start by mentioning that our space in Via dei Renai is inside a Unesco World Heritage Site, the historical center of Florence. Most buildings are protected because of their history that more often than not can be backtracked to the time of the Renaissance. Therefore, history prevails, as it should. Everything, down to the single stone in a building, is protected as if it were inside a guarded museum.
Being inside a 500-year-old (or so) building makes it challenging for a new activity that has nonetheless to comply with a series of modern laws, in order to open its doors to the modern-day customer. So we're talking about everything from ceiling heights to bathroom dimensions and accessibility, security, signing, and so forth... It's a never-ending measuring, filing of paperwork, and crossing of fingers, withholding one's breath, intermingled with a whole lot of Italian hand-gesturing!
Surely, with all the Covid-business going on, this has been a challenging distraction! And we're not at the end yet... (so still holding my breath!)
We moved to Via dei Renai after having tried out a few other locations, starting in 2012 with a large space in Via de' Bardi, a stone's throw from the Ponte Vecchio. We could host large groups for our wine tasting classes, but in 2016 a water-pipe broke in the street and inundated all the buildings, and even caused the Lungarno street parallel to us to collapse! The water was eventually pumped out, but the old walls had gotten damp and the stink of mold got in the way of wine tasting!
Via dei Renai was a drastic down-size but still in the residential part in the historical center of Florence, so "within the walls" so to say. San Niccolò is the name of the neighborhood, a vibrant area with cool street artists and small cafes. It's tranquil and quiet, and still just a few minutes' walk from the Ponte Vecchio. This felt like the final move.
Even though small, we loved our cozy little wine space where we started our wine tours from these past few years, and where we have packed many a Tuscany in a Bottle wine shipment especially during 2020 when tours came to what felt like a super-natural halt thanks to Covid-19.
The 2020 season started with a prolonged lock-down during which all our tours got canceled for pretty much the whole year, and even though we sent out hundreds of fabulous Mystery Boxes, we soon realized we should cater to our local neighborhood, too. We would create a super-specialized French & Italian cheese & wine shop with tastings.
So to comply with local laws, we started the renovation in December with an awesome team of builders. We've opened a doorway in a wall, demolished a bathroom and another half wall, and almost had the upstairs ceiling fall down on us (don't tell the neighbor please, she would freak out!). All this to build a new bathroom with disability access, and redo the spacing to make room for cheese, wine, and tasting.
Our space is really small, so we've been breaking our heads, together with the architects whom we've certainly driven mad, to fit in everything we'll need, including the masterpiece, a cheese-fridge that will hold enough cheeses to have a wide variety at all times. When we open, people will be able to come to purchase some great cheeses, high-quality wines, fresh bread, and other accessories. Either take away or dine in our tasting room with one of the wines by the glass.
The name will be Formaggioteca Terroir, to signify a cheese shop (fromagerie or formaggeria in Italian) a wine shop (enoteca), and their specific origins (Terroir). We hope to open Formaggioteca Terroir in mid-March 2021, at which point I'll be sure to post the finished pictures. In the meanwhile, I can show you a collage that puts together different elements we've selected along the way. We can't wait to see them all finally in their right places!
There is nothing as powerful as our own resilience. We need to hang in there and encourage endurance. There will be no reward, yet we will perhaps savor some of our freedom again, and that must be our goal, so we can revisit the places and people that we love.