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A drink with… Susana Balbo

The first female oenologist in Argentina, Susana Balbo is a pioneer of quality Argentinian winemaking and a champion for female empowerment. The Queen of Torrontes talks to Julie Sheppard about why Argentina is more than Malbec and her new wine tourism project in Mendoza.

Argentina’s first female oenologist and owner of her own eponymous winery in Mendoza, Susana Balbo has been a passionate advocate for the country’s wines, heading up Wines of Argentina three times and earning the nickname ‘Queen of Torrontes’. She launched her first wine tourism project ‘Susana Balbo Unique Stays’ in February.

Mendoza is one of the first places people have in mind when they think about Argentina and wine tourism is becoming very important for Mendoza. Before the pandemic we had more than one million people visiting the wineries here. In our winery we jumped from 800 people visiting our winery 10 years ago to 30,000 people visiting the winery in 2019.’

‘I wanted to pour into the new hotel my experiences of travelling all over the world. Every suite is absolutely different – different colours and different textures – and stays include a visit to the winery and a tasting menu with wine pairing.’

‘I bought an amphibious plane – it’s the first one in Argentina – to do air safaris. Guests at the hotel can book the plane as far as they want to go. They can book a fishing experience in southern Argentina. Or we can go to Cafayate. Or go to Chile – fly over the mountains taking beautiful pictures.’

‘It’s important to me to keep travelling. You are able to taste wines from all over the world, find out what is happening, what is going on in the market…’

‘From this year we have organic wines from our own vineyard in Agrello and from next year Gualtallary. I believe in taking care of the environment. We need to work to look after the future for our kids and grandkids and organic farming is mandatory for that.’

‘We have low-alcohol and non-alcohol wines in development. Our first low-alcohol variety was Chenin Blanc; we want to do Torrontes and also Chardonnay. We need technology to do that – and I believe in technology. Anyone who tells you that non-alcoholic wines can be made without technology isn’t telling the truth.’

‘We are exploring a new region called San Pablo. It’s a very special place because it’s very high altitude – between 1,300m and 1,400m. Very extreme. Very interesting soil… and we are going to plant only white grapes: Torrontes, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay.’

‘Unfortunately Argentina is almost not perceived in the wine world – though I hope we can change that. We had a perception several years ago for the Malbec coming into the global market. But many wineries are becoming boring for consumers. We need to have more people researching and doing more innovative things.’

‘Sometimes winemakers don’t take the risk. And I don’t blame winemakers. I blame winery owners because the risk shouldn’t be on winemakers’ shoulders. It’s an economic decision and winemakers’ shoulders cannot support the investment decision. That is my advantage as a winemaker and owner, because I make my own decisions. I am at my own risk.’

‘I hope people will discover Cabernet from Argentina because it’s a hidden treasure. When you see the quality of Cabernet from Argentina against other countries, you need to pay at least  twice to achieve the same quality. Consumers always go for the easy part of Argentina: Malbec. But Argentina is more than Malbec.’

‘My winery exports almost 40% of other wines besides Malbec; we export a lot of rosé, a lot of white. Nobody else in Argentina is doing  that. Argentina is exporting 19% white wine, 81% red and I would want it to maybe export 65% red and 35% white and rosé. Some wineries are losing a business opportunity, not doing more things.’

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