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Women of Argentina: Valeria Gamper, sommelier

This year’s International Women’s Day might have passed, but Wines of Argentina is continuing its commitment to raising women’s voices throughout all of March.

Last year Wines of Argentina signed up to the UN’s Women Empowerment Principles (the first wine trade body to do so), and it has also launched a new platform to support women working in wine. It wants every organisation in Argentina’s wine industry to be actively pursuing gender balance, offering support and guidance where needed to ensure women, and men, are given equal opportunities to succeed.

This month Wines of Argentina is continuing to work towards an egalitarian, sustainable and inclusive culture in the world of wine via its ongoing Women’s Day Campaign, working to create equal opportunities for men and women in wine by making visible the achievements of women across the board.

For Marina Gayan, Argentina’s first and only Master of Wine, real sustainability is not feasible without gender equality. “More and more companies are including equality in their business plans. But it is not enough, it needs to be followed through with actions in areas that affect change such as hiring, training schemes, gender pay gap and inclusion of women in leadership positions. It is the responsibility of all of us in the wine industry to lift barriers that prevent anyone from fulfilling their potential and to eradicate gender bias.”

As part of this mission, we have been talking to some of Argentina’s most prolific female figures, highlighting their achievements, experiences and the work that still needs to be done.

This month we speak to Valeria Gamper, the Argentine sommelier who was recently named the Best Sommelier in the Americas at the 2022 championships, held in Santiago, Chile. She’ll soon compete in the world finals in Paris.

Gamper currently lives in Pamplona, Spain, where she works as a sommelier at the 2-Michelin-starred restaurant, El Molino de Urdániz. She is also a member of the board of the Argentina Sommeliers Association.

We caught up with Gamper to find out more about her experiences working as a sommelier, how perceptions of women in the industry have changed and her hopes for the future of Argentine wine.

To read our previous Women of Argentina interviews, click here on the following: Magdalena Pesce, Laura Catena and Patricia Ortiz. Or for more information on Wines of Argentina’s Women’s Day Campaign, click here. 

What was your path to becoming a sommelier?

I was studying hotel management when I fell in love with wine, beverages and service. After I have completed those studies I enrolled in Centro Argentino de vinos y Espirituosas (CAVE), one of the best institutes for sommelier studying and training in Argentina. By then I was already working on the floor at the restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel in Buenos Aires.

One year after I got my sommelier diploma (in 2009) I took the levels 1 and 2 of the Court of Master Sommeliers, achieving the best score in both levels that year. With the intention of moving forward and test myself I put myself forward as a candidate for the 2012 Best Sommelier of Argentina competition, finishing as the first runner up in the finals. A few years later I took the WSET Level 3 award in wines and spirits and started teaching in the CAVE and IAG (Instituto Argentino de Gastronomia). In 2017 I was again a candidate in the Best Sommelier of Argentina competition, ranking second place again. One year later I took my first international competition, placing 4th at the ASI Best Sommelier of the Americas 2018, held in Montreal.

This year you were named Best Sommelier of the Americas 2022 and will compete in the world finals in Paris next year. How do you prepare for a competition as gruelling as the sommelier championships?

I felt very happy and honoured to win. I prepare with enough time, trying to cover as many topics as I can. I follow a study calendar dedicated mostly to the theory part but also with tasting and training sessions. I listened to other sommelier’s advice and to be inspired by them was really helpful.

You were competing as the only woman in an all male final. Why are women still a minority in the sommelier trade, and what could be done to encourage more women into the profession?

Traditionally, the sommelier profession was seen as masculine, but this is changing, especially in countries like Argentina where there are more women practising it than men. But in order to encourage more women into the wine industry the industry itself has to change. We need to stop reinforcing stereotypes, target communication campaigns towards women, hire women for leadership positions and ensure that companies have a clear policy of inclusion and opportunities for all.

What changes have you seen over the course of your career in terms of gender equality and opportunity for women in wine?

When I was starting I remember several times approaching tables that had requested the sommelier and when they looked at me they said, ‘no no I’m waiting for the sommelier’. Which meant that they were expecting a male sommelier. This is very rare today, especially in Argentina. Although the role of women is becoming more and more visible, from production areas to communication and wine consumption, there is still much left to do.

Wines of Argentina recently set up a Women’s Platform and subscribed to the (UN) Women’s Empowerment principles. What do you think this will achieve for Argentina’s wine industry and why is it important?

The more platforms, the more awareness campaigns, the more education regarding gender equality in the industry, the better opportunities we will have for ourselves and the women to come. There are brilliant women working in the wine industry in Argentina. Making their work and path visible, in addition to being fair and correct, inspires other women in the industry and gives them strength.

Who is your biggest inspiration in the world of wine?

I have many role models that I am inspired by such as Maria Barrutia, Flavia Rizutto, Paz Levinson, for their passion, humility and generosity in sharing their knowledge.

What trends in Argentine wine are you most excited about right now, areas where producers are really pushing forward in terms of quality and innovation?

I am excited about the production of amazing, innovative, cool climate white wines. They are so diverse and just stunning.

Finally, what’s your greatest hope/ambition for the future of Argentine wine?

What is already happening in Argentina in terms of wine is really exciting. Now that I live abroad I would love for this to be recognised worldwide, and of course for the wines to be easily available.

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