Wine and Spirits

Argentina’s First Female Winemaker

How Susana Balbo built an empire and earned the title “the Queen of Torrontés.”


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FORTY-TWO YEARS have ticked by since Susana Balbo became the first Argentine woman to earn a degree in enology. In the ensuing years, Balbo has not only established one of the country’s most successful wineries, but she’s also transformed expectations of what a majority export market could achieve. Her winemaking innovations revolutionized torrontés, Argentina’s only native grape, which — thanks to her technical creativity — became a delicate, softer wine and expanded notions of what the Uco Valley (most prominently home to malbec grapes) could produce.

Along the way, she endured betrayal — like early on, when she discovered her brother sabotaging her wines — and heartbreak: She became a solo parent after losing her husband, watched half her net worth walk out the door when her second marriage ended in divorce, overcame overt sexism, and weathered stretches of hyperinflation and devaluation. All the lessons weren’t hard, however. In 2015, she was elected to Argentina’s National Congress, advising the coalition of President Mauricio Macri. In that role she became the first woman and Latin American to lead a W20 Summit (part of the G20 Summit, focused on worldwide gender equity). The company she founded in 1999, which once relied on rented bottling time in other people’s facilities, today makes and distributes three million liters of wine annually to more than 30 countries.

Based in Agrelo, Mendoza, Balboa’s eponymous winery is the centerpiece of her expanding family business, which includes her now-adult children Ana Lovaglio Balbo and José Lovaglio Balbo. The estate features the latest wine-making technology, a light-filled tasting room, and Osadía de Crear, a spacious fine-dining restaurant that overlooks vineyards and buzzes with visitors who erupt with joy at the sight of Balbo, the “Queen of Torrontés.”


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It’s surprising, then, to hear that Balboa’s beginnings in wine were a matter of fate. “I never planned to be the first,” she states. By chance, a university biology course introduced her to the underworld of living things, and through that she discovered enology. Her first job after graduating (“summa cum laude,” she notes) was at Michel Torino Estate in Cafayate, Salta. There, a culture of machismo ruled, where women (especially those in their early 20s) did not lead the physically demanding and nuanced chemistry environment of wine production. The staff reacted, in part due to loyalty to prior ownership, by destroying her wine or creating safety hazards. But Balbo was determined: This was the only winemaking job she could get in the country. She slowly overcame their resistance with her boss’ support.

In this environment, the white wine revolution Balbo created was born of crisis. Her boss mandated she tap the export market. But Balbo knew success abroad would require a modernization of process and style, as the wine in Salta at that time didn’t translate well overseas. “I knew I had the creativity to figure something out,” Balbo says. She decided to change the extraction process of torrontés, which typically resulted in sharp, tannic wines. She realized that by using the same enzymes employed to make apple juice, she could extract a fresher juice, resulting in a delicate white wine. Her approach led to a sea change in the export of Argentinian white wine and remains a pillar of Susana Balbo Wines today: new expressions that feel familiar, like the barrel-fermented torrontés — fresh and bright, yet smooth.


The reputation Balbo built as a winemaker is someone who understands and respects long-standing tastes and traditional methods but who thrives in innovating — characteristics that also define her family’s new ventures. In April 2022, the company launched a luxury wellness hotel, Susana Balbo Winemaker’s House & Spa Suites (run by Ana) in nearby Chacras de Coria, and a vineyard-meets-eco-resort (helmed by José) planned for the Balbo’s San Pablo plot is three years in development.

As board president, Balbo is involved in every project but she always keeps her eyes on the horizon. “When things are inside my control, I push myself to try to achieve the goal,” she explains. “But when I realize things are out of my control, I don’t insist. It’s wasted energy, good humor, health. For me, it doesn’t exist — failure. It’s just a point of limits, so I go do something else.”

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Our Contributors

Osayi Endolyn Writer

Osayi Endolyn is a writer, producer, and consultant whose storytelling centers on food, culture, and identity, and merges themes of music, art, and design. A two-time recipient of the James Beard Award, Endolyn’s writing is featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time, Eater, Food & Wine, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, and The Oxford American. Her book on American restaurants and dining culture is forthcoming.

Laura Macías Photographer

Laura Macías is a Colombian photographer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, specializing in commercial and editorial food photography. She is passionate about telling stories of food, drinks, people, and culture through her photos.


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