Women in Wine: Ioanna Vamvakouri and Venetsanos Winery

Perhaps it was in her blood and being a winemaker was meant to be. Ioanna Vamvakouri did not grow up in the wine world but, growing up in Athens, she remembers filling the wine jugs at the local shop for her parents and falling in love with the aromas. She remembers being mesmerized listening to the old man at the shop talk about the wines. When she was in high school, chemistry was so easy for her she decided to study it, but with a focus on wine.

Vamvakouri spent two years in Athens and three years in France studying enology. She knew Greece had old vineyards and old traditions but saw that there were new techniques and technologies to incorporate. One week after receiving her diploma in June 2004, on her teacher’s recommendation, she went to Santorini for 20 days of lab work at Santo Winery. It has been 11 years and she has not left the island.

Ioanna Vamvakouri

After two years (2004-2005) analyzing wine in the lab and assisting the enologists at Santo Winery (2004-2005), Vamvakouri moved to Boutari Winery where she spent nine years as head enologist at the Santorini property. But, at the end of 2014, at the age of 36, Ioanna felt that it was time to do something on her own. With 11 harvests under her belt, she knew that she still has things to learn but had her own ideas.

For example, while there are currently no vineyard classifications in Santorini, Vamvakouri recognizes that there are different terroirs on the island. “With the diversity of the terroir on the island, I believe the vineyards are totally different,” she said. “With the explosion of the volcano, the ash covered the island in different ways. Altitudes vary and rain is different on the other side of the mountain.” To explore this concept, she wants to vinify each vineyard separately. And she now has the winery where she can try this — at Venetsanos Winery.

Venetsanos was the first industrial winery in Santorini and the Cycladic Islands. The Venetsanos family, who were originally from Santorini, moved to Egypt where they had a pharmacy but also sold wine. They returned to Santorini in the late 1920s, and son George Venetsanos became the first enologist on Santorini. While George had studied chemistry, with a focus on enology, he had wanted to be an architect and used that passion to design the winery between 1947-1949. He built the winery inside a cliff above the port to enable direct access for shipping, as well as to utilize gravity flow. The winery was in production until 1979. Santo Wines used the space until 2000, but the winery was generally vacant.

In 2014, as Vamvakouri began thinking about her next steps……

Read the complete story in the Napa Valley Register.