|Boutari enologist Ioanna Vamvakouri in a Santorini vineyard at sunset|
In fact, Santorini may have the most overqualified tasting room staffers in the world, as many times the person pouring your samples has an enology degree. There are just that many enologists to go around.
Women have made great strides in the wine industry in many places in the world, but in Greece, it's a very recent phenomenon, says Ioanna Vamvakouri, enologist for Boutari. "Five years ago there was only one girl that worked at Sigalas," she said. "After that I came, and after that three more came." On a relatively small island, that's a tidal wave.
|The winemaking team at Gaia. Owner Yiannis Paraskevopoulos (2nd from right) teaches enology and hires his best students.|
L-R: Iliana Sidiropoulou, Konstantina Sidiropoulou, Paraskevopoulos, Aris Sklavenitis
Vamvakouri says Santorini is still a better place for female graduates than the mainland.
|Gavalas enologist Margarita Karamolegou|
Vamvakouri studied in Montpellier and Toulouse and worked for a winery in Cahors. He husband got a job at Santo Wines, Santorini's giant co-op. When she applied to work at the Santorini winery owned by Boutari, one of the nation's best respected wine companies, she said "they saw my CV and told me to come right away. I don't think it has anything to do with women or men."
Greece has a history of male-dominated culture. Women couldn't vote until 1952, and dowries weren't eliminated until 1983. But Athanas says that, like in Japan, women hold the power of running the household and are more respected than their numbers in positions of responsibility might indicate.
However, Vamvakouri says, "As a woman, you have to work much more. You have to prove you are better than a man."
She also says the situation of overqualified enologists exists throughout Greece, where these days any job is a good job. "If we have 100 winemakers, 10 to 20 are making real wine work," she says. "The rest are in sales."
I will say by observation that on Santorini at least, deciding who makes the wine and who staffs the tasting room seems to be a meritocracy. I saw male enologists selling tastes while young women explained their barrel regimen.
Whatever they're doing, it's working: Santorini makes some of the best, most distinctive white wines in the world today. My column in Palate Press this month is about the native grape Assyrtiko, one of the most interesting grapes in the world: read it here.