Kefalonia is a small and ancient island that has a number of traditional industries that have been going for hundreds of years. Most of them have struggled in recent years however and tourism has become the dominant industry on the island in the last couple of decades. Nevertheless, local industries do survive.
Fishing was once the largest industry on the island thanks to the local waters being packed with fish. Alas, over-fishing has led to a massive drop in the number of available fish around Kefalonia (and other Greek islands) and though there is still a small local fishing industry it is smaller than in its heyday. Nowadays the harbors of Lixouri and Argostoli are the important fishing centers and it is worth heading down to their harbors early in the morning to watch the local fishermen and taverna owners haggling and trading fish. Additionally there are a number of large fish farms floating on the outskirts of Argostoli and Lixouri.
Over the last twenty years wine making has grown into one of the larger industries on the island. There has been a tradition of wine making on Keflaonia for hundreds and even thousands of years, with Homer having referenced the Kefalonian wines, but it is only in the last twenty years that local producers have finessed their wine to make it more palatable to western style tastes. This was started by Nicholas Cosmetatos, who set up the Gentilini label and who fused classical Kefalonian wine flavors with a new method of making wine. He was soon followed by the Metaxas label and three or four other local producers. Nowadays Kefalonia has three appellations – Mavrodaphne, Muscat and Robola.
Another major part of the Kefalonia economy is the production of olive oil. Up until the late 18th century Kefalonia simply produced enough olive oil for the people who lived on the island. This soon changed when their Venetian conquerors urgently required more olive plantations after losing Crete and the Peloponnese. Consequently the island started exporting olive oil to Venice. Up until 1953 Kefalonia had somewhere in excess of two hundred different oil presses producing oil. After the earthquake however there remained only thirteen. Kefalonia has more than a million olive trees that cover more than fifty per cent of the island. These thirteen presses are crucial to the island’s rural and local economy, producing two main varieties of olive oil, ‘theiako oil’ and ‘koroneiki oil’. There are a couple of other smaller varieties known as ‘matolia’ and ‘ntopia.’
Finally of course there is tourism, the main industry now on Kefalonia. Thanks in part to its stunning beauty and also in recent years thanks to that movie, people come to Kefalonia from all over Europe and the wider world. As a holiday destination it is extremely popular with Italians, but also Greeks themselves, Germans, French and the English. Most people stay in the resort of Lassi or else in Skala or Katelios. Consequently English is virtually a second language and Italian is very common too.
The most surprising thing about Kefalonia is that a large percentage of the locals leave the island at the end of the season and don’t return during the winter period. The island is so dependent on tourism that there is very little work available at the end of the tourism season and it is therefore not possible for most of the locals to make a living there.