Crete, the birthplace of the ancient Minoan civilization, was known for its women-centric culture and its deep connection to wine. Historians believe the Minoans may have been among the few societies with an elevated matriarchy. The presence of powerful women in Minoan art and the absence of seated men in their representations point to a society where women held authority and participated actively in social life. However, as time passed, patriarchal systems became prevalent in subsequent societies, including the Mycenaeans, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans, and modern Greece. Now, thousands of years later, Cretan women are reclaiming their ancient heritage and playing a significant role in shaping the island’s wine industry.

Emmanuela Paterianakis, an oenologist for Domaine Paterianakis, acknowledges the sophistication and prominence of Minoan culture and sees herself as following in the footsteps of her powerful ancestors. Together with her sister Niki, they manage their family winery, which specializes in organic farming and produces indigenous Cretan varieties such as Moschato Spinas, Plytó, Kotsifali, and Vidiano.

Traditionally, wineries were passed down to sons, but attitudes have evolved, and families now recognize the capability of daughters to lead and manage the business. Alexandra Manousakis, co-owner of Manousakis Winery, faced skepticism and gender biases when she entered the industry. However, as generational thinking shifted, more women like Alexandra and Maria Titakis of Titakis Winery took over their family wineries.

The wine industry in Crete has undergone a remarkable transformation, with significant advancements in winemaking techniques and marketing strategies. Alexandra Manousakis rebranded her winery, focused on vibrant and abstract designs, and upgraded the tasting room and restaurant facilities. This innovative approach helped establish Manousakis Winery as a prime example of the island’s tourism potential.

Women like Iliana Malihin, a winemaker based in Rethymnon, are not from traditional winemaking backgrounds but are driven by their passion for wine and ancestral roots. Iliana sources grapes from 100-year-old vineyards nearly lost to devastating fires in a bid to revive their historical and cultural significance while capitalizing on remarkable ungrafted, pre-phylloxera, old vine fruit. Malihin employs organic and biodynamic practices, experimenting with vinification techniques highlighting the mountainous regions’ unique terroirs.

Unfortunately, Malihin’s project suffered a significant setback last year when fires, once again, razed vineyards in the village of Melambes. An international crowd-funding campaign garnered nearly 53,000 Euros towards restoration. Malihin remains hopeful about the future, citing the deep roots of ungrafted vines as a strong likelihood of their survival. Much of Malihin’s work focuses on Vidiano, a native white grape variety gaining attention for its transparency and versatility akin to Chardonnay. Winemakers like Malihin prefer a minimal intervention approach, allowing the grapes and ambient yeast to guide the fermentation process. By embracing the natural characteristics of the grape and the land, they produce wines with distinct expressions of the terroir.

The resurgence of the Cretan wine industry is not solely attributed to women but also to young, educated winemakers who are passionate about Cretan varieties. These individuals have played a crucial role in elevating the reputation of Cretan wine from cheap bulk wine to high-quality, sought-after products. The efforts of these dedicated individuals have helped dispel the stigma surrounding Cretan wine and establish the island as a prominent wine region once again.

However, it is undeniable that women have played a significant role in driving this transformation. Women winemakers such as Malihin, as well as Myriam Ambouzer of Lyrarakis Winery, and Irini Daskalaki of Silva Daskalaki have made remarkable contributions to the industry. They have revived ancient grape varieties, introduced minimalist practices, and even incorporated amphorae in winemaking, connecting to Minoan traditions.

The spirit of the past lives on in the wines crafted by modern Cretan women. Their passion, dedication, and innovative approaches have revitalized the island’s wine industry and brought international recognition and acclaim to Cretan wines. As Cretan women continue to make strides in the wine industry, the island stands on the cusp of a female-driven renaissance, honoring its past while embracing the possibilities of the future.