MASTER OF THE VINES: SUSANA BALBO

MASTER OF THE VINES: SUSANA BALBO "THE QUEEN OF TORRONTÉS" SHATTERING THE GLASS CEILING

Red Apron Fine Wines And Spirits
Th 2 19/02/2024 5 minutes of reading
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In the world of winemaking, Susana Balbo stands as a trailblazer, a visionary force that has not only transformed Argentine wine but has shattered the glass ceiling in an industry traditionally dominated by men. Owner and chief enologist of Susana Balbo Wines, she has earned countless awards and accolades for her exceptional wines, cementing her legacy as one of Argentina's most influential winemakers. 

Journey into winemaking

Balbo's connection with the vineyards began early in life. She was born into a family of viticulturists (with Italian heritage) in Mendoza, Argentina, the 3rd largest province and the undisputed heart of the Argentine wine industry.

Despite having a family who owned a small winery in Mendoza, winemaking wasn’t Susana’s first love. In fact, if it wasn’t for her parents not allowing her to move away from home to study, Susana would have pursued a career as a nuclear physicist. In 1981 Susana Balbo was the first woman in Argentina to complete an enology degree. Entering the wine industry as a woman in the 80’s was not an easy path and guided her career as an innovator and risk taker.  

Susana Balbo is nicknamed "Queen of Torrontés"

Susana recalls her first major breakthrough in the wine industry when she applied for a position at Michel Torino, despite not meeting the job requirements. The role demanded an assistant winemaker with over four years of experience and fluency in English, neither of which Susana possessed at the time as a recent graduate. However, despite the odds stacked against her, Susana stood out among 80 applicants, thanks in part to a compelling cover letter expressing her desire to do something different.

Susana’s career in winemaking has seen her make wine all over the world including Australia, Spain, Chile, Italy, France, South Africa, Brazil & the USA. Susana’s experience overseas allowed her to learn new techniques and become familiar with new technologies. She also adapted to international tastes which resulted in Susana becoming a much sought-after consultant helping modernise the Argentinian wine industry.

In 1999, after several years as a consultant, Balbo decided to found her own company with her personal savings, but with lessons from the past in mind. Today her son, José, graduate of UC Davis, and daughter, Ana, graduate of University San Andrés (Buenos Aires), have joined her in the family venture.

Susana Balbo with her daughter and son, keeping her winery a family business.

The Queen of Torrontés

Balbo played a pivotal role in elevating Torrontés, Argentina's signature white grape variety, to international acclaim.

When Susana Balbo started her career at Michel Torino the Torrontes varieties were used to produce cheap table wine. They were grown with high yields and had no distinguishing characteristics. Balbo was challenged to be different and create a premium wine to showcase Torrontes to the world. Her innovative approach of making wines with no skin contact & later adding barrel fermentation is a key turning point for the grape variety in the early 80’s. The varieties signature sweet aromatics are stark contrast to the texture and palate of a dry white wine brought about by barrel fermentation. Her method of productions created a deceptive experience and a wine of intrigue. 

Balbo’s endeavor made Torrontes the region’s most notable white variety. She inspiried the ‘White Wine Revolution’ that not only reshaped how consumers view Argentine wine but also inspired other winemakers from the region to discover the country’s potential for world-class whites. Hence, the endearing nickname "The Queen of Torrontés". 


Susana Balbo’s Revolutionary Barrel Fermented Torrontés

Innovation and Experimentation 

Susana Balbo is known for her innovative approach to winemaking, constantly experimenting with new techniques and technologies to push the boundaries of flavor and quality. Whether it's exploring different fermentation methods, barrel aging regimes, or vineyard practices, Balbo's willingness to innovate has led to the creation of distinctive wines that stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Balbo has been at the forefront of experimenting with different fermentation methods to enhance the flavor profiles of her wines. She may utilize traditional methods such as stainless steel tanks for preserving freshness and fruitiness, while also exploring techniques like concrete eggs or clay amphorae for added complexity and texture. Each fermentation vessel imparts its own unique characteristics to the wine, allowing Balbo to create diverse and distinctive expressions.

Concrete egg fermenters where the Sémillon is made that will become part of the Susana Balbo 'Signature' White Blend

Sustainable Practices

Balbo is a staunch advocate for sustainable winemaking practices, prioritizing environmental stewardship and conservation in her vineyard management and production processes. From implementing organic and biodynamic farming methods to minimizing water usage and energy consumption, Balbo's commitment to sustainability reflects her dedication to preserving Argentina's natural resources for future generations.

Mentorship and Leadership 

As a successful female entrepreneur and winemaker, Balbo serves as a mentor and role model for aspiring professionals in the wine industry, particularly women.

Breaking the glass ceiling in the wine industry was not only about achieving personal success for Susana Balbo but also about paving the way for future generations of female winemakers. Her journey serves as an inspiration, challenging the status quo and proving that passion, expertise, and determination are the true markers of success in any field. Through her leadership and accomplishments, she has shattered stereotypes and demonstrated that talent knows no gender.

Today, as we savor a glass of Susana Balbo wine, we not only taste the richness of the Argentine terroir but also the fruits of a woman's perseverance and dedication. Susana Balbo's impact on Argentine wine is not just measured in awards and accolades but in the transformation of an entire industry and the empowerment of women who aspire to follow in her footsteps. She is more than a winemaker; she is a symbol of breaking barriers and achieving greatness against all odds.

  • First Woman to graduate in Enology in Argentina – Masters degree with gold medal for highest GPA. Universidad Juan Agustín Maza (Mendoza);
  • 1997 – Awarded by the Argentine Organization of Businesswomen as Women Entrepreneur of the Year;
  • 2001 – Susana Balbo Torrontes selected by British Airways in a blind tasting to be served to Business Class passengers;
  • 2006 – Elected as the President of Wines of Argentina (WofA);
  • 2015 – Awarded the “Woman of the Year” by The Drinks Business. Balbo made the top 10 in 2012 & 2018;
  • 2020 – Awarded “Wine Making Legend of the Year” – Tim Atkin MW;
  • Chairwomen of W20 Argentina – A group focused on closing the gender gap in Argentina; 

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