Q&A: Susana Balbo

Susana-Balbo-Malbec-Label-Malbec-Grapes-10001762-1355882115Susana Balbo is one of the most influential winemakers in Argentina. She produces wine under her own label, Dominio del Plata, and is also a consultant to a number of wineries in other New World countries. Amanda Barnes interviews her.

What was your first memory in wine?

My first memory is not actually mine, it’s told by my parents. In my family, wine is in our roots and in our culture. In my childhood, the beverage for kids was water with a drop of wine to taint the color. So my parents gave me a full glass of water with a few drops of wine, and it seems I liked it as a 3-year-old. They say they looked to the side and I was taking the bottle to pour a full glass of wine!

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

I feel comfortable with myself, so I am seeing a woman in her 50s who has crossed a very long way and works a lot – many hours a day. To be an entrepreneur, you have to work hard. But I am very pleased, I am happy.

Some critics have said you make wine for women. Is it possible to make wine for a particular gender?

When you are a woman, you have a feminine side, and you are not trying to fight with men and their personalities. I think my wine shows elegance. And women care a lot about details, and to make a good wine requires details. I think my female touch is elegance, but there are an equal number of men drinking my wines!

Is wine still a man’s world?

I think there’s still a sort of male domination because women leave them to do it. There are lots of women winemakers, however. When you are in the youngest part of your life, you need to decide what you are going to do: if you are going to be a full-time wife and mum, or a full-time winemaker. If you are a full-time winemaker, you need to fight the guilt about your family.

What has the greater effect – grape variety or soil?

You pick the soil according to the grape you want to grow, so soil is very important, and the grape variety as well. But in Mendoza, water and human beings are important. To make wine in Mendoza is about how you manage the vineyard.

In wine terms, who are your heroes?

I love cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot… All of [the grapes] are my heroes, because all of them make my army! All of them have their own personalities. It’s such a nice job to see how they talk to you and how they show if they are happy or not.

What is it you most dislike in a wine?

Wines have their own personality, as I just said, and sometimes you do your best and the wine is not doing as expected. It’s like they make their own decisions!

Dominio del Plata's "Susanna Balbo" signature wines

What has been your greatest winemaking achievement, and failure?

My greatest achievement is still to come! And failures? A lot. I think the greatest was my first harvest. I was studying at university and I was making wine in my friend’s winery. When I was pressing the wines, I put the pressed white wine in one vat, and suddenly I pressed red wine and I mixed them. I thought red and white wine were the same!

When I realized what I did, I thought: ‘What were you thinking about?’ So I made a pressed rosé. It was awful. Absolutely undrinkable. I was so embarrassed in front of my friend and their father. I screwed up. I was 20.

If you are not drinking wine, what are you drinking?

Beer. Or water.

You’ve championed Argentine torrontes in many ways; what do you think is special about this unique variety?

It’s a variety of contradictions. Maybe it shows the Argentine personality. Your first thought is, ‘This is going to be sweet,’ because the aromas are fresh fruits, fresh grapes. But when you put it in your mouth, it is crisp and elegant, and you realize it is interesting. It is a wine that in some way hides its real personality until you finish tasting it. That is good for people – you like to be surprised in your life.

The winery at Dominio del Plata, located in the foothills of the Andes

In the end, what really matters?

To realize that when you are living something that is painful, it is going to pass. Darkness is not forever in your life. It really matters to make every moment the best. It really matters to be kind with people. And it really matters to write your epitaph, because when you realize you are a person who is going to die, you realize you don’t have much time to waste.

Read the full interview at Wine-Searcher.com


For more info on Dominio del Plata visit their website here


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