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their place
It seems surprising, but as recently as a generation ago, women in Argentina werekept at arm’s length by the wine industry. But today, as
 Amanda Barnes
writes, thecountry is nurturing some of the brightest female winemaking talent in the world
ago, one was hard-pressed to find a female working in thewine industry in Argentina, let alone afemale winemaker. But today women aretaking their place in the sector and thisyear’s Argentina Wine Awards boasted anall-female tasting panel, bringing to lightthe role that many of the so-called “fairersex” now play in the industry. This list looks at some of the femaletrailblazers in the industry, in particularsome of the up-and-coming young femalewinemakers who are making their markin Argentina.
Susana Balbo is unquestionably one of themost remarkable women in wine, notonly in Argentina. Head winemaker andowner of Dominio del Plata, Balbo is atthe top of her game, but reaching theseheights as a woman was not easy.
Susana Balbo
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Hardships began early for young Balbo,who had wanted to study physics, butdue to the military dictatorship had topick a degree closer to home, which inMendoza means winemaking. Even the early ‘80s, Balbo wasn’t theonly female in the class –out of 33classmates, 17 were women. She was,however, the only woman to graduate,making her the first female winemaker inSouth America. She puts the lowcompletion rate down to having to take alate night bus (past the 10pm curfew),creating more vulnerability for womenduring the tyrannical military regime.Life wasn’t easy as the first female in theprofession. “I couldn’t get a job inMendoza; I was rejected from manyapplications because I was a woman,” sheconfesses. It wasn’t until an opportunityarose in Salta that she got her first job in awinery, partly because some of the hiringprocess was made by a headhunting firmin Paris, France. Her move to Salta was indeed fateful,and Balbo is now coined “the Queen ofTorrontés” for her work with Argentina’snative white variety there. Having provedher deserving place in a “man’sindustry”, she returned to Mendoza as areputable winemaker and eventuallystarted her own company, aged 38. Many women have joined her in therealms of winemaking but few own awinery. “Today it is much easier forwomen to have their place in theindustry,” she analyses. “But the currentpolitical environment makes it difficultfor young women to have their owncompany. They should keep dreamingthough, I have great hopes that thepolitics of the country will change soon.”So adamant is Balbo to see a change ofwind for women and politics that she isnow running as a parliamentarycandidate in Mendoza. With thepresidency of Wines of Argentina alreadyunder her belt –and a proven track recordof succeeding in the face of adversity –her ambitions may well be realised.
One of the greatest spokespersons andambassadors for Argentine wine abroad,Laura Catena splits her time between SanFrancisco where she is a doctor, andMendoza where she works in her familywinery, Catena Zapata. Author of
Vino Argentino
, 2014 president of the IWSC,international guest speaker –Catena’sachievements are endless.Although she might already beconsidered as reaching a par with herindustrious father Nicolas Catena interms of promoting Argentine wine, it isher work as a scientist that is mostremarkable. When she started working atthe winery in 1995, there were fewwomen and convincing a largely maleteam that she, a young female graduate,knew better when it came to vineyardresearch was a challenge. “Onetime I asked our viticulturist toshow me all the places where wewere doing research. At everyplace he showed me a differenttrial, different altitudes, plantdensities, pruning methods,varieties. Every time I asked him“Where are the controls?” but Isoon realised that there weren'tany. To me, one couldn’t call thisresearch, and I said that to ourviticulturalist. He turned back tome with a big smile and said,“Laura, you should really dedicateyourself to marketing because that iswhere we need the most help.”Instead, she founded the CatenaInstitute of Wine with the first Malbecplant selection in 1995. “Today ourinstitute does world-class research whichis published in prominent international journals like
The American Journal of Viticulture and Enology
The Journal of FoodChemistry
and the
 Journal of Phytochemistry
among others. And if any winemaker orviticulturalist asks me about marketingthey know that the answer will be ‘thebest marketing is to make the best wine’.”Catena’s defiance and attention to detailnot only makes her a standout woman inthe company, but a great migrator ofinternational knowledge into Argentinaand a considerable communicator ofArgentina to the outside world.
argentina: women in wine
‘Today it is much easier forwomen to have their place in the industry’
Laura Catena
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explain and make a masculine worldunderstand. Interpersonal relationshipsare important and taking assertivedecisions can be confused withthe authoritarianism of awoman.”It takes a strong woman toconvince an industry that shewears the trousers. But Celestedoes it with grace.
While female winemakers are growing innumber, female wine consultants are stilla very rare breed. After meeting theFrench consultant winemaker MichelRolland while working in Trapiche in1996, Celeste began her internationaleducation in wine and is now the righthand of Rolland as his partner at theirconsultancy firm, EnoRolland. Thoughshe works under the Rolland brand as aconsultant, Celeste has made a name forherself in her own right. Consulting for over 15 wineries acrossArgentina, her well-respected reputationis synonymous with her tireless energyand she is even working on the launch ofher own wine label –Escarlata. “To workin the wine industry, considered theactivity of men, is a challenge,” admitsCeleste. While she sees the advantages ofmen not viewing her as competition andbeing polite enough to let her speak, thereare particular disadvantages as a femalewine consultant. “You are more exposedto criticism, which demands a certainemotional intelligence,” she remarks.“When it comes to the moment whereyou have to take decisions, it is difficult to
‘You are more exposed tocriticism, which demands acertain emotional intelligence’
argentina: women in wine
The appearance of more women on the winemaking scene might lead one to therather simplistic conclusion: that women are responsible for making Argentine Malbecmore feminine. This would be doing a great disservice to all the male winemakers inArgentina, and also generalising about the winemaking style of female oenologists. Nevertheless, as Argentina becomes more worldly in taste and experience, itsMalbec has seen a great diversity of expressions in recent years: from more“masculine”, meaty Malbecs, to more “feminine”, ethereal and elegant Malbecs. Instead of gender, the different styles of Malbec are representative of different soilsand microclimates, changing winemaking tendencies, and the different personaltastes and experience of each maker. Often female winemakers make big and boldwines, and undoubtedly many male winemakers are the source of some of the mostelegant Malbecs being produced in Argentina right now. “I think there is a Malbec for different occasions, I don’t believe in a Malbec fordifferent genders,”
Daniel Pi, Trapiche
“The style of Malbec depends a lot on the personality and sensitivity of thewinemaker, not on their gender,”
Matias Riccitelli, Matias Riccitelli Wines
“I know of many female winemakers who make very masculine Malbecs! And thereare also male winemakers (perhaps few) who have a lighter hand,”
AntonioMorescalchi, Altos las Hormigas
“Malbec has found an elegance thanks to the respect given to the terroir more thanbecause of gender… Although without a doubt women have added a bit ofsensitivity,”
Mariana Onofri, sommelier, The Vines of Mendoza
Have women “feminised” Malbec?
Gabriela Celeste
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