Mendoza is a destination on the rise and it’s the passion and vision of these inspiring women that’s helped cultivate the city’s international appeal.
From a celebrated hotelier to a renowned restaurateur, tea guru, and mother and daughter entrepreneurial team, these inspirational women are trailblazing their way to worldwide acclaim. While interviewing each woman, I received a colourful array of insider travel tips. However, there were several recommendations echoed by all: Mendoza’s majestic mountains are the ultimate place to unplug, dining at Francis Mallmann’s 1884 is a must, and autumn is the most idyllic season to visit the Land of Sunshine and Good Wine.
Inspired by the dream of creating a wine hotel and spa, six years ago Switzerland native Cecile Adam and two friends scoured the world over before choosing a vineyard in Mendoza to build a modern, 16-room luxury boutique hotel with its own wine label, Marantal, and Latin America’s first traditional six-stage circuit hamam spa. With sweeping views of the Andes, European-inspired service and award-winning amenities, Entre Cielos (which translates to ‘between skies’) has become one of the most distinguished hotels in Argentina.
What are some places travellers shouldn’t miss in Mendoza?
There are a few things I would recommend: horseback riding to La Quebrada del Condor or an art tour with Rosell and Soler to meet a host of talented Mendocenean artists. The view from the terrace at Monteviejo, a winery at Clos de Los Siete, is exceptional. I personally love the charming town of Chacras de Coria or a drive up to the base of Aconcagua. Of course our Hamam+Spa is on that list.
How has Vistalba changed since you first opened Entre Cielos?
Vistalba has developed both commercially and residentially since we first built the hotel. It’s become a popular gastronomic route (try restaurants Katharina, Brindillas and Vistalba) and a new bike lane is being constructed to foster biking in the area.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs in hospitality?
None of us had any experience in hospitality before embarking on this project. We just had a dream. My advice is to take your time to define a goal and measure your success holistically, not just by the bottom line. Stay true to your vision and don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Seek advice from others to get a 360-degree perspective, but then decide which way you want to move forward. It may succeed or fail, but you won’t know until you’ve done it. Then you can keep moving forward or correct your course.
Born and bred in the Basque Country, Nadia Haron moved to Argentina with her husband Jose Manuel Ortega to open the award-winning O. Fournier Winery. Trained as a chemist and having worked in her family’s pharmacy before moving to Mendoza, Nadia always had a passion for cooking and began hosting lunches at the winery. Her success led her to open the restaurant Urban at O. Fournier, and then Nadia O.F., which was selected as the best restaurant in the country by Argentina’s Academy of Gastronomy. Her new downtown location in a historic landmark mansion offers innovative six-course tasting menus that revive forgotten traditional dishes.
What inspired you to become a chef and what’s your signature dish?
I always loved the magical transformation of food in the kitchen and sharing it with others. Mendoza has very high-quality vegetables and I love preparing (and eating them) in all different ways. My signature dishes include oxtail, osso buco and slow-cooked concoctions with an abundance of vegetables.
What would you recommend travellers do in Mendoza?
Experience an authentic Argentine asado (barbecue) and horseback riding in the foothills of the Andes.
What advice would you pass along to a young chef and restaurateur?
Absolute success does not exist. I try to find satisfaction in life’s small joys, in every area of my life. Hard work, perseverance, dedication and imagination always pay off. It’s important to start everyday from scratch, surround yourself with a great team and never lose sight of the customer’s perspective.
Argentina’s super-zen tea guru Ines Berton may not reside in Mendoza full-time, but her ubiquitous teas most certainly do. Her passion for tea blossomed while working at the Guggenheim in New York City. On her breaks she would mix tea at the museum’s Tea Emporium. This caught the attention of the teahouse’s Japanese owner who trained her for eight years in the art of tea. Ines went on to design custom teas for numerous luxury brands, celebrities and esteemed luminaries including the Dalai Lama and the King of Spain. Her three highly successful premium tea brands Tealosophy, Chamana and Inti Zen can be enjoyed at many of Mendoza’s notable restaurants.
What are some of your favorite places to visit in Mendoza?
Cristo Orante Monastery is a very special refuge in the mountains. Other favourites include lunch at Tupungato Divino and Andeluna, tea time at Bodega Zuccardi’s Casa del Visitante and a visit to Lagarde Winery.
Do you use any ingredients from Mendoza in your teas?
Grapes of course, and lately I’ve been buying pistachios from Mendoza for a blend I’m working on. Tealosophy’s Soul Sister blend combines Mendocenean plums and hazelnuts. Also, Indian Delight, one of our most popular blends (and a personal favourite) is a spicy mixture of black tea leaves from northeast India, autumn pears from Mendoza and cinnamon from Sri Lanka.
How do you think travel changes people?
Travelling is tasting life. I don’t believe in boundaries, I believe in adventure and being open-minded. Having the capacity to be inspired by other cultures is as rewarding as it is enriching.
Susana Balbo & Ana Lovaglio
Susana Balbo has been a trailblazer from the get-go. She was Argentina’s first female winemaker and the first woman president of Wines of Argentina. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of owning and operating her own winery, Susana opened Dominio de Plata, where she produces four major wine labels that reach 36 countries around the world. Recently, she was awarded ‘Woman of the Year’ by the prestigious British magazine The Drinks Business for her leadership, commitment and contribution to the wine industry. Susana is not only one of Argentina’s most revered winemakers, she’s also the proud mother of Jose and Ana Lovaglio, who have grown to become invaluable business partners.
What do you think travellers should do in Mendoza when they’re not drinking wine?
La Rural’s Winery Museum and General San Martin Park are both worth a visit. Trout fishing in Mendoza’s glacial rivers is a unique experience. I personally love horseback riding in the Andes to enjoy a picnic and hiking in the mountains. Canopying and rafting the Mendoza River are also a lot of fun.
What are your top selling wines and which ones best represent you?
Crios Malbec, Crios Torrontes, Susana Balbo Malbec y Benmarco Expresivo are our top sellers globally. The two wines that best represent me are Susana Balbo Torrontes because it’s sharp and I would like to consider myself a savvy person, and Susana Balbo Brioso because it’s a classic, elegant wine without being too aggressive. I think aging has mellowed my character. I’m a much softer person than I used to be.
What do you think makes a great winemaker?
It is imperative that they love the profession because making wine is a lifelong, arduous journey that requires a lot of persistence. A great winemaker is one who has the courage to express their personality and techniques in their wines without fear of breaking rules and stereotypes. I also think an outstanding winemaker has to be very thorough because high-quality wines are the sum of countless small details.
Graduating with a degree in Business Administration, Ana Lovaglio, brought her marketing expertise to her mother’s business. Shortly after, she added restauranter to her resume, creating and managing Dominio del Plata’s winery restaurant, Osadia de Crear, which translates to ‘dare to create’: A family motto it would seem. Combining innovation, quality ingredients and a lot of heart, the restaurant offers a fusion of Argentine and Mediterranean seasonal cuisine with references to Mendoza’s most prominent cultural influences: Spain, Italy and France.
What would you recommend travellers do in Mendoza that’s off the beaten path?
Trekking Cerro Arco is an adventure and it’s only 20 minutes outside the city. If you’re bold enough you can even paraglide from its peak. Flying in a helicopter over the Andes is an unparalleled experience.
What’s your favourite meal and wine pairing at Osadia de Crear?
I love our steak with a glass of Benmarco Expresivo. It’s a really big, complex Malbec blend with notes of blackcurrant and black cherry and subtle hints of vanilla, cocoa, nutmeg, bitter chocolate and sandalwood.
What have you learned from your mother versus your own experience?
I am inspired by my mother’s entrepreneurialism. She has an extremely low aversion to risk and isn’t thwarted by mistakes or failure. She always moves forward filled with optimism in the face of challenges. For her there is no project that can’t be done. I’ve learned that asking others for help or advice is an invaluable shortcut, as well as the importance of building a great team and giving them the resources, freedom and confidence they need to succeed.