Q+A with Susana Balbo, Argentina's First Woman of Wine
Susana Balbo has been making a name for herself in the wine industry for over 30 years. She was Argentina's first female winemaker and the first woman president of Wines of Argentina, an organization that promotes the country's wine industry to a global market. Blending is Balbo's specialty and her talents have served her well. In 1999, she began building Dominio del Plata Wineryin her hometown, Mendoza, Argentina. Today, the 75,000-square-foot winery is surrounded by 47 acres of vines that produce two million liters of wine per year.
Balbo exports 97% of Dominio del Plata's harvest under four major labels to 36 countries around the world including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Brazil. With the help of her two children, Jose and Ana Lovaglio, Balbo continues to expand the company's footprint at home and abroad.
With oenophiles flocking to the mecca of Malbec for wine-drenched vacations, the trio decided to open a restaurant at Dominio del Plata to offer their visitors a multifaceted sensory experience. Osadia de Crear, which translates to "dare to create," offers a fusion of Argentinian and Mediterranean seasonal cuisine with elements from Spain, Italy and France.
T+L had the chance to meet with Balbo to discuss her new restaurant, her latest travels and Dominio del Plata's expansion plans.
Q: What are Osadia de Crear's signature dishes?
A: Osadia de Crear's Executive Chef Jose Cacciavillani prepares local ingredients like Mendocinian tomatoes, domestic goat meat and herbs from our garden, using a combination of international techniques. The Caprese Salad, the Roll of Suckling Goat, and the Cheese and Sweets dessert are menu highlights. The restaurant also has a deli, so we can offer meat and cheese platters, fresh salads and gourmet sandwiches made with homemade bread. Picnic baskets are available for guests who want to dine al fresco among the vines.
Q: What wines do you recommend to try at Dominio Del Plata winery?
A: Definitely our flagship Nosotros label because it is a tribute to the entire team who works together every harvest to make the very best wine. It is a serious and complex Malbec. The Susana Balbo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon in my personal favorite and the Susana Balbo Signature Brioso blend is great for people who love French wines. The Crios Malbec and the Torrontes Malbec are our top sellers around the world and are worthy of a taste.
Q: What sets Mendoza apart from other wine regions around the world?
A: Mendoza is one of the best regions in the world to grow wine due to its dry desert climate. Little rainfall provides a longer growing season and allows the grapes to mature fully on the vine, which produces a smoother, more balanced wine. The clean air also creates purer flavors and aromas. A major competitive advantage of Argentine wines is the unbeatable value for money. For the same quality, customers pay a third or fourth of the price compared to many American and French wines.
Q: You travel one month every year to another wine region in the world to learn from local growers. Where have you been lately?
A: Recently, I have been spending a lot of time in China. We are scouting the Shandong, Ningxia and Gansu provinces to build our new winery, which we would like to open by 2016. The Chinese government is working to create an infrastructure that will attract winemakers and investors. The sanctioned wine varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Syrah, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. We hope to get Malbec added to that list. Our biggest challenges will be extremely cold winter temperatures and typhoons, but it is a strategic opportunity for us, so we will do our best and pray to the weather gods.
Q: What does your ideal day off look like?
A: I'm lucky if I get a day off, but when I do, I love curling up with my four toy poodles (and my significant other), a great book, a glass of wine, and good music. At the moment, however, I've been dedicating my free time to building a nursing home in Mendoza called AWKI, which translates to grandfather in Quechua, a native language spoken by ethnic Andean tribes in South America. My goal is to create a sanctuary of positivity for those in the winter of their lives.
Mendoza-based writer Nora Walsh is a contributor to TravelandLeisure.com, and author of Patchwork Compass, a photo travel blog.