Susana Balbo is legendary in the world of winemaking. She was the first female winemaker in Argentina and has built one of the country's most successful wineries. Now she has expanded into wellness and hospitality, and she's not doing it on her own, she's joined forces with her daughter, Ana Lovaglio Balbo. Together, they've launched Susana Balbo Unique Stays and the collection's first property, SB Winemaker’s House & Spa Suites, a luxury boutique hotel where they also offer an innovative proposal of "air safaris" that allows guests to visit some of Argentina’s most emblematic places (such as Cafayate, Patagonia, or the Ibera wetlands) on board of the first amphibious plane of Latin America. Susana shares stories from her trailblazing career, and her daughter Ana offers lessons she's learned from her mother.
You were the first woman to be a winemaker in Argentina, how did you overcome the challenges of being the only woman?
In the beginning, being Argentina's first female winemaker demanded quite a lot of inner strength to face all the challenges of building trust among my colleagues in my talent in the field as a professional. Therefore, I had to constantly pitch and prove how much I knew and how talented I was. Since I graduated with honors and had a solid foundation in science, all the hard work paid off when I started to work in the winery, where I could finally show my knowledge and skills, accomplishing high-end results in winemaking. Those outstanding results made me finally earn the respect of my colleagues and enjoy the position where I am today, but definitely took a lot of perseverance and hard work.
What lessons did you learn along the way that you would like to share with other women?
The main lesson I learned along my journey was that somehow as women, we always have to prove that we are talented and strong. We need to show that being vulnerable is not a disadvantage, but a strength that makes us resilient. Standing up and moving on after making a mistake is a way to show that we are self-confident and assertive.
We need to show that being vulnerable is not a disadvantage, but a strength that makes us resilient. Standing up and moving on after making a mistake is a way to show that we are self-confident and assertive.
There are still very few female winemakers, why do you think that is?
There are more female winemakers today than one would imagine, at least in Argentina. The challenge is that only a few are in internationally known wineries. Most work in mid-size or small wineries though occupying important positions. But these wineries don’t get a lot of international press as the wineries are primarily oriented to the local market which by the way, is large.
What needs to change in the industry to get more women involved?
There's no need to change anything in the industry to get more women involved. There are plenty of us. Following my last response, it's also a matter of priorities. Not being in the public eye is also a choice. Being a female winemaker demands a lot of time, mindset, and effort. It’s a real full-time job, with no holidays, weekends, or normal resting time that is usually invested in giving interviews and welcoming visitors, colleagues, and stakeholders, to name a few. And some of the female winemakers have other life priorities, especially when they are young and thinking of having a family. Raising a family and having this job is really difficult, therefore many professionals in the field choose to have a less starring role in their career in order to spend more time with their partner and kids. In my case, when I founded my own company, my children were already grown up, and they were about to start their college years, so I had the opportunity to do both: raise my family and start my company right after they were ready to leave the nest. What I'm trying to say is that it's difficult but not impossible to do both, as long as you have the calling and willingness to fulfill your dreams.
Now you have opened a property in Mendoza that combines wine tasting and education, wellness, and unique cultural experiences for guests, with your daughter. What inspired your expansion into the hotel business?
My inspiration to embark into the hospitality business and high-end tourism with the Air Safari company Vision Air VIP was specifically based on the fact that the wine industry, beyond having great wines and cellars to visit, needs a hotel infrastructure at a comparable level to that of its wines in order to satisfy traveler expectations. SB Winemaker's House & Spa Suites has been a wise decision because even being a start-up––we opened just a few months ago––it already has had a great impact. Our colleagues are following our lead by making a similar investment in the field, which will put Mendoza in an even more competitive position to attract high-end wine tourism from all over the world.
How is it working with your daughter?
I have a wonderful relationship with my daughter Ana, and working with her is a mother's dream. I'm very proud and fulfilled for having the chance to share this special project with her.
What tips would you give to other parents that want to work with their children?
First of all, it shouldn't be a mandate for your children to work with you or in the family business. But when they freely choose that, things flow.
The second tip––not less important than the first one––is that there should be a team of professionals that work closely with the family members, because that helps to balance the parent-children relationship in that context, preserving the family and making business development more efficient.
What is next for your businesses, do you think you will open more hotels?
Yes, in our forecast is opening a Mountain Lodge in Uco Valley, because we think there's a lot of opportunity in hospitality in that area too, and we have a wonderful place to make that happen.
Finally, wine can be intimidating for women that maybe haven’t had much exposure to it, are there any basic tips that you can suggest for people with no or limited knowledge?
Wine can be intimidating for women or even for men especially when they try to define it or taste it like they were experts on the matter. But if they taste the wine and immerse themselves into this world like a child, willing to learn, play, and explore, it becomes a fascinating journey.
Turning to Ana now, what do you love about working with your Mom?
I like her pioneering spirit. She has a very open mind and believes everything is possible. Also, she is constantly moving her plans forward and is very decisive. She has no––or very little––aversion to risk, and even when she is wrong, she recovers quickly when a decision hasn’t worked out. She has no regrets.
What are the best lessons you have learned from your Mom that other women would benefit from?
Things are done well or not done at all. Despite that, perfect is a synonym for impossible so we cannot focus on things being perfect while making decisions and must always move forward.
If it's in your vision as a woman to keep on working while being a mom, even if you spend part of your earnings on childcare, you have already won because you did something for yourself.
That the limit is on our mind, the crystal ceiling women believe we have doesn’t exist.
She also taught me that "cheap," sometimes or most of the time, ends up being more expensive.
That our vision is sometimes more holistic and more sensible than that of men.
SB Winemaker’s House & Spa Suites, the newest luxury hotel in Mendoza features a sense of place as well as the hostesses’ authentic wine roots in everything from design, décor, and setting to culinary experiences, art, wellness, and nature. Seven spa suites feature fully integrated in-room spa features and services, including a steam room, sensations shower, and massage table. Four of the seven suites are also equipped with a dry sauna. La VidA restaurant features Argentinian cuisine that exudes bold flavors with high quality, sustainable and organic ingredients, Chef’s Table with open-flame cooking, and signature wine cocktails. Inspired by Susana Balbo’s long history with wine, art in the form of sculptures, woodwork, and mixed media can be found from twenty local artists around the property and in the rooms. A lounge bar, wine cellar with top Argentine and global wines, heated swimming pool, shop with local artisanal products, and tasting room complete the SB Winemaker’s House & Spa Suites.