Susana Balbo is one of Argentina’s leading winemakers and she is internationally celebrated for her contributions to the wine industry, notably developing Torrontés, the indigenous Argentinian wine variety, into the household name it is today.
Susana, over your 30+ years in the wine industry, you’ve earned plenty of accolades, the respect of winemakers and wine drinkers the world over, and you’ve been a trailblazer, especially for women, in many fields of the wine industry. You were famously the first female oenologist in Argentina (1981), the first female president of Wines of Argentina (re-elected twice), the "Woman of the Year" by renowned British magazine The Drinks Business (2015), and you have been nicknamed “Queen of Torrontés”, as you are largely credited for having stylized Argentina’s sole indigenous grape into its distinctive style. Not to mention that you built and run your own winery, and that your name will forever be associated to extraordinary wines. You have, without a doubt, forged an immensely rewarding career. When you look back now, what do you consider your biggest achievement to be?
S.B.: It is quite difficult -with such a long, hard-working life- to determine what the greatest achievement is, because I believe that everything is a sum of small achievements that make this story, my story, a success story. If I had to talk about the greatest achievement of my life, then that would be my family, my children: they are what I love the most and what I always dreamed of. Professionally, there have been many small successes over the years that have built my reputation and my name, but I do not have a particular one that I consider “the” milestone of my career. I could probably say that Torrontés in itself is a landmark, as it is a variety that we put on the world map of wine varieties, and today, it is recognized as a wine of international projection…
Indeed, family seems to be present throughout in your wines and winery: both your son and daughter work with you (José as Winemaker & Commercial Director and Ana as Marketing Director), one of your lines is called “Crios”* and has an evocative label (three connected and overlapping hands, representing you and your children), and as far as labels go, most of your wines feature representations of the Huarpes culture, specifically, of women’s reproductive role in society. Can we say that Susana Balbo Wines are a “family affair”?
*(N.B: slang for “children” in Argentina; literally “offspring”)
S.B.: Of course, Susana Balbo Wines is a family business, it is related to family because wine making is intrinsically linked to your daily routine and life and so, it is impossible to make a distinction between the two. When you make wine, you spend your day in the wine cellar, then, you go back home and you are still connected with the wine because you drink it at night, at the family dinner or with friends… You are always talking about wines. So indeed, it's a family affair: it is through the story of my life that the story of my winery can be told, the history of my family… I am very proud that, today, my children continue this story and are willing to take it further, further away.
Susana Balbo, her son José and her daughter Ana
This might be a difficult one to answer but, of all the wines that you have made throughout the years, which one is your favorite one? Why?
S.B.: It is indeed difficult to answer because wines are, in a way, much like children: you have no favorites, each has its own personality, its own beauty. But there is one in particular, actually two, which are very dear to my heart: one has been with me since my beginnings, and the other one is much more recent.
The first one is called Susana Balbo Brioso, and it was born from the idea of trying to express my personality as a winemaker in a wine - I think there is a lot of my life in it. If you have the opportunity to do a vertical tasting starting with the Brioso from the year 1999, when I started, up to a Brioso from 2015 or 2016, of the latest harvests, you can clearly “see” the evolution of my personality along with the evolving style of the wine. At first, being younger and insecure, I felt I needed to add more wood to the wine, give it a stronger personality to ensure its presence wouldn’t go unnoticed. But over the years, as I matured and gained confidence and was self-assured standing on my own two feet, I realized I didn’t need so much make-up in real life because what is important is that the wrinkles on our faces and the brightness of our eyes convey the confidence of what we have been able to achieve in our lifetime. The same is true for wine, I don’t need to add so much wood to it, so much “make-up” for it to be seen for what it truly is: the exact expression of the variety that it is made of, of the terroir from where it comes. The result is a more natural wine but with a deep personality, and I feel that in many ways it reflects how I feel today as a woman and as a professional.
Susana Balbo and her Brioso wine
The second wine reflects my youthful spirit, which is always with me: no matter how old I am, I'm always thinking about what new things I can do. I don’t make my second favorite wine myself: it is made by my family team, it is a “family affair”. The Susana Balbo Rosé is made by my son, José, the label and the packaging are designed by my daughter, Ana. I named it and gave it the brand, so for me it is also one of my favorite wines because it is the fulfillment of one of my dreams: to work as a team with my two children.
During your career, you’ve travel to different wine regions of the world. Which one, if any, have you enjoyed the most and why? Do you have a favorite one (other than Mendoza, of course!)?
S.B.: Yes, there is a region that is not very well-known but it is wonderful for its beauty and the quality of its wines: the Douro Valley in Portugal, with fantastic wines and tremendous potential. If I had to choose a wine region to live, in addition to Argentina, I would certainly choose the Douro.
Your winery in Mendoza offers an array of activities to ensure everyone has a good time when visiting -even if they don’t like wine. There are wine tours & tastings, blending workshops, and plenty of gourmet events: food & wine pairing ateliers, cooking classes, the quintessential Argentinian experience of eating an “asado” (BBQ), among others… Undoubtedly, fine food & wine go hand in hand and are better enjoyed together. Is this what led you to open Osadía de Crear*, your winery’s restaurant? And where does the name come from?
*(N.B: “Dare to Create” in Spanish)
I’m afraid I cannot answer this question, as Osadía is an initiative of my daughter Ana. I will let her explain...
[Ana Lovaglio Balbo]: Osadía de Crear was born precisely from this premise, when I started working with my mother in 2012: I thought it was a shame that we weren’t sharing our incredible garden and its unparalleled views of the Cordón del Plata with our visitors. This was how the idea of opening our doors to tourism began (before, we only received private visits of importers or their guests, with an average of 30 to 80 people per year; in 2016, after only 4 years of launching our wine-tourism experiences, the winery received around 12,000 visitors).
My vision is to make wine more accessible, so we can enjoy it all the time, in laid-back, casual day-to-day situations, not constraining it only to celebrations or special events: that is the reason why our entire offer of wine-tourism, especially our gastronomy, is based on flexibility!
On the one hand, we have Osadía de Crear with an a la carte menu where guests choose the 3 or 5-course menu that is paired with wines. On the other, we have Espacio Crios where we make cocktails with our CRIOS wines, picnics in the garden, and simpler finger food suggestions like sandwiches, salads and platters. We offer experiences for all types of visitors -older, younger, sophisticated and casual.
As for the name, when I was looking for names for my first restaurant, I checked a list of brands that my mother had registered simply because she liked them, and it was there that I found “Osadía de Crear”, and it was perfect! The name literally expresses the concept of the restaurant: the challenge of creating, daring and going beyond...