Argentina: women in wine

Susana Balbo

9Susana Balbo is unquestionably one of the most remarkable women in wine, not only in Argentina. Head winemaker and owner of Dominio del Plata, Balbo is at the top of her game, but reaching these heights as a woman was not easy.

Hardships began early for young Balbo, who had wanted to study physics, but due to the military dictatorship had to pick a degree closer to home, which in Mendoza means winemaking.

Even the early ‘80s, Balbo wasn’t the only female in the class – out of 33 classmates, 17 were women. She was, however, the only woman to graduate, making her the first female winemaker in South America. She puts the low completion rate down to having to take a late night bus (past the 10pm curfew), creating more vulnerability for women during the tyrannical military regime. Life wasn’t easy as the first female in the profession. “I couldn’t get a job in Mendoza; I was rejected from many applications because I was a woman,” she confesses. It wasn’t until an opportunity arose in Salta that she got her first job in a winery, partly because some of the hiring process was made by a headhunting firm in Paris, France.

Her move to Salta was indeed fateful, and Balbo is now coined “the Queen of Torrontés” for her work with Argentina’s native white variety there. Having proved her deserving place in a “man’s industry”, she returned to Mendoza as a reputable winemaker and eventually started her own company, aged 38.

Many women have joined her in the realms of winemaking but few own a winery. “Today it is much easier for women to have their place in the industry,” she analyses. “But the current political environment makes it difficult for young women to have their own company. They should keep dreaming though, I have great hopes that the politics of the country will change soon.” So adamant is Balbo to see a change of wind for women and politics that she is now running as a parliamentary candidate in Mendoza. With the presidency of Wines of Argentina already under her belt – and a proven track record of succeeding in the face of adversity – her ambitions may well be realised.

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