A Few Words on History
by Yerassimos Antzoulatos*
Viticulture on Cephalonia has deep roots going far back in time, which are steeped in myth. Cephalos, the first settler, was from Athens. As soon as he landed on Cephalonia, he planted the vine that he had brought with him to remind him of his native land. As timed passed, the Athenian land he had established became known as Thenian land, or Thenia.
However, from classical times to the end of the Byzantine era there was decline in viticulture. It would be centuries before the region acquired the relative peace required to grow high-maintenance noble crops. After 1264 the wine made on the island became well known, and demand spread as far as Constantinople and the Black Sea. However, it was not until the Ionian Islands became part of the Venetian Empire in 1500 that conditions improved significantly, with Venice becoming the exclusive buyer of Cephalonia Muscat and Mavrodaphne wines.
The history of modern Cephalonian winemaking starts with The Wine Company of Dr. Nicholas Pignattoro and his French winemaker. When the company went bankrupt, it was bought by the British merchant Ernest Toole, who modernized the facilities and regained foreign markets. Toole's company reached its peak at the beginning of World War I. However, the inter-war years were marked by instability in the wine markets, local crises and severe internal political upheavals. By the end of World War II, wine-making on the island was in decline again, and it was not until the mid-60s that interest was rekindled with the establishment of modern winery by Calliga and by the Komitopoulo brothers. Then the excellent local wines, particularly Robola, became well known internationally.
*Reference: "Guide to the Vineyards and Wineries of Cephalonia & Ithaca", Perfecture of Kefalonia and Ithaka, Argostoli, Cephalonia 2002