Roadside Bubbly, Anyone?

Prosecco, on the road
Prosecco on the road (Photo © Gambero Rosso)

A producer of Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene in the Veneto region of Italy recently launched an innovative project—a roadside Prosecco vending machine. The machine works like any other of its kind: insert money, press a code, retrieve your selection. The apertures and holding racks have been designed to accommodate bottles of .75 and 1.5 liters. To protect the precious contents, the machine’s internal temperature is regulated and an exterior curtain keeps out sunlight. Prices range from €13 for a bottle of Cartizze, a specific Prosecco produced on the Cartizze hills of Valdobbiadene, and from €7 to €10 for other Prosecco.

To prevent sales to minors, the machine only works upon insertion of a tessera sanitaria, an Italian I.D. card that demonstrates membership in the public health system (and houses stats like date of birth). Any sly Italian minor could circumvent this, yet in truth a young Italian who wishes to try Prosecco doesn’t really need to resort to furtive acts (and thus I imagine that access to the wines by minors is not a huge concern). The machine does not distribute between the hours of midnight and 7am. And it also vends wine glasses—real glass, not plastic!

The man behind this idea is Cesare De Stefani, producer at the Vigna Sancòl vineyard in Guia di Valdobbiadene in the heart of this DOCG Prosecco zone. De Stefani is no stranger to enterprise. In addition to Sancòl, he runs the nearby Salumificio De Stefani, and a few years ago opened an altogether unique kind of eating establishment. The Osteria Senza l’Oste (a name that sacrifices its linguistic cleverness in translation, becoming something like ‘tavern without a host’), is a converted farmhouse open to all, but sans host or wait staff. Patrons enter, partake of the salumi, cheese, and Prosecco on hand, and leave a contribution in a small, locked wooden box when finished. No prices are indicated, and there is no menu of any kind. Customers are asked only to practice common sense when participating in this entirely ‘good faith’-based arrangement.

No ingenious idea goes unpunished, however. Or unnoticed by the taxman. The Agenzia dell’Entrate, the Italian equivalent of the I.R.S., recently fined De Stefani over €60,000 for tax evasion (for the Osteria’s first year of activity alone; the fines are expected to increase considerably when subsequent years are adjusted for). The pay setup at the Osteria, by which visitors would place their monetary donations in a box but leave the establishment without a receipt, was deemed in practice to be a true commercial enterprise, and as such in violation of Italian fiscal regulations (as profits cannot be accurately gauged). De Stefani has since replaced the wooden box with a self-service cash register that will be able to provide a receipt. With this concession, however, he has indicated that he intends only to show that ‘profit’ is not a factor in his activity. Speaking about the Osteria operation, De Stefani said, ‘The real problem is that bureaucracy, when it encounters something not provided for within a rigid system, does not try to understand it, but rather forbids it.’

Bureaucratic limitations also prevent De Stefani from taking his Prosecco vending machine project to other wine producers or estates outside his own, for now. Yet in the Italian press he has said that his dream is to spread the idea around, to generate more touristic interest in the area and in Prosecco. ‘Think how great it would be for tourists exploring these vineyards to find themselves in front of this surprise. A surprise complete with nearby tables and stools where they can rest and enjoy a view of the hills.’

Tourists would be pleased by such a surprise, I think. But how will they, those not in possession of the tessera sanitaria, be able to use the machine? Will it accept forms of identification from other countries? Recognize data from driver’s licenses from the fifty U.S. states? I’ve no doubt Cesare De Stefani, a man seemingly as gifted with sprezzatura as any of his Italian ancestors, will come up with a solution.