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In Limelight | Exploring the Charm of South America

China: 2022.12.23

Amanda Barnes is an award-winning wine journalist and expert in South American wines and regions.

Amanda Barnes is an award-winning wine journalist and expert in South American wines and regions. Based in Mendoza, Argentina, since 2009 she is a regular correspondent, critic and writer for international wine publications including Decanter, The Drinks Business, The Tasting Panel, SevenFifty and Vivino, and is the South American contributing author of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book.

A multi-media journalist, Amanda works in print and digital communication and is experienced in writing, editing and video broadcasts. She has led master classes and hosted tastings internationally that range from wine dinners for private collectors through to a series of master classes at VINEXPO, Bordeaux. Amanda has been a critic and panel taster for international wine competitions in England, South Africa, Austria, Chile and Argentina, and is a taster for the Decanter World Wine Awards and International Wine and Spirits Challenge.

Amanda Barnes, through her recent interview with WINWSA, talks about the wine region that has been her passion for decades and her thoughts on the future trend of South America.

Q: How many years have you been in the wine & spirits business?

AB: My professional journey into wine started in 2009 when I moved to South America to focus on writing about the regions there. It’s been a fantastic journey of discovery ever since!

Q: What makes you devote yourself to the wine and spirits sector?

AB: I was a journalist by trade before, and loved travel and food writing. When I started learning about wine, it was in order to become a better food writer but I found that wine had everyone I loved… food and travel, but also history, geology, culture, and, of course, meeting interesting people. What I love about working in the wine industry as a writer and communicator is how interdisciplinary it is.

Q: What are the main transformations & changes in the industry you have experienced so far?

AB: My focus is largely on the wine regions of South America, and we’ve really seen some quite radical changes here in the last decade. There’s a much greater search for expressing the identity of a place, which often comes with a lighter hand in the winery and cultivating greater biodiversity in the vineyard. I think it is a really exciting time here in terms of this leap of quality, based on the individual personality of South America’s wine regions and grape varieties.

Q: What have you enjoyed most in your career? The biggest challenge you have encountered as a woman in the industry? What drives you to keep going?

AB: I enjoy spending time with people and in nature, that’s what I love most about wine writing. You are always surrounded by fascinating people and stunning landscapes.

As a woman there are of course many challenges you face on a daily basis, but women certainly aren’t alone — I think almost everyone faces different challenges no matter what gender, age, race or background. I think it is all of our responsibility to challenge preconceptions and encourage greater diversity and inclusion in our daily actions and attitudes.

In my own experience here in South America, I think the most challenging preconception to break is that women aren’t valid professionals who deserve the same respect as men in the industry. I work here in a largely male-dominated industry in combination with quite a conservative culture, and I often face outdated prejudices. It is frustrating when people don’t take your ambition seriously, underestimate your intelligence or fail to treat you with the same professional attitude as they would give a male writer. I have received countless comments from peers asking whether I am in the industry looking for a husband, enquiring why I don’t settle down and have children, and assuming my experience and knowledge base is lesser than male counterparts. Sadly, it isn’t only men who can hold this attitude, but women can be just as narrow-minded.

That said, for the large part I don’t feel limited by being a woman in the industry. Perhaps I am more driven and defiant because of these preconceptions. My father always taught me it is always better to lead by example. So I’ve focused on overcoming discrimination and underestimation through positive action over discourse.

I’ve always been keen to empower other female professionals through creating opportunities wherever possible. For my book, The South America Wine Guide, I predominantly hired South American women for the design, cartography and edition. I have also mentored many younger women and aspiring female writers over the years. With all that in mind, however, I also don’t believe in positive discrimination either; and I openly welcome professionals of any gender to collaborate and work together. It just so happens that my main photographers for the book were all fantastic male professionals. I would also like to add that some of my greatest mentors in my career, and most supportive in the industry, are men.

Q: What are the main distinguishing merits/qualities in women attributing to career success?

AB: I don’t necessarily believe that women have certain merits or qualities above, or below, men. I think every person has their own merits and qualities, regardless of their gender. 

One thing, though, that is interesting in wine, is how a pregnant woman’s olfactory senses are heightened. Many of the female winemakers I know say that their best wines were made during pregnancy. That fact puts a whole new spin on employment policies about hiring women who are ready to have children!

Q: Any advice to your peers?

AB: Don’t see anything as a limitation — not your gender, not your background, nor any prejudice. It is only a ‘limit’ until that record or ceiling is broken, and you could be the person to do that or change those opinions.

Fight valiantly to achieve what you want in life, and always treat yourself and others with upmost respect.

Q: What prompts you to write a book on South American wines? What is so special about it?

AB: When I arrived here in 2009, there wasn’t much literature in the English-language to guide me through the wines of South America. There was some literature about the main regions of Argentina and Chile, but little beyond. After over a decade visiting the different wine regions — from the highlands of Bolivia to the tropics of Brazil — I decided to write a book on it and create a resource that gave every region the same weight and detail.

I wanted to create something which would offer a platform for the lesser-known wine regions to grow in their international acknowledgement, and to offer a deeper look into those which are well known but often misunderstood. I am proud to say that since publishing my book, several wine critics have now travelled to Bolivia and Peru for the first time to taste their wines, for example. That’s the impact I hoped it would achieve — draw attention to wine regions that deserve to be taken into consideration.

Q: Have you encountered any difficulties when compiling the book? How did you solve them?

AB: The main difficulty was that many of these regions hadn’t been written about in any detail before. So I was starting from scratch with maps of the regions and collecting primary information on the ground. The way I overcame this was relying on wonderful experts and friends all around the continent — who shared and gathered information with me, as well as showing me their regions and connecting me to local producers. This is why the book is written by ‘Amanda Barnes & Amigos’. I couldn’t have finished it without the help of many generous friends.

Q: Since you are also very experienced at travel writing, do you believe wine hospitality is a great way for people to learn about South American wines? What are your suggestions on developing this industry?

AB: I think travelling to wine regions is the very best way to learn about them. There’s nothing that connects you better to the wine than experiencing the aromas and landscape of the vineyard, meeting the people that look after these vines, and tasting the wines paired with the local cuisine.

South America is not only an incredible destination for wine tourism, but tourism in general. You have striking and diverse landscapes, rich cultures and fascinating intercultural experiences, and distinctive cuisine.

There is also a huge range of experiences in the wine regions… There are the well-trodden routes of Mendoza, Maldonado and Maipo, for example, which are already really well organised and accessible with experiences ranging from shoestring to high-end luxury. But there are also more off-the-beaten track destinations like Cinti, Chubut and Coelemu, which require a sense of adventure but are rewarding in their intimate and unexpected experience.

South America can really fit any sort of wine tourist, and that’s what makes it fun to keep exploring.

Q: What are the latest trends that South American wines have been experiencing in the last decade?

AB: As I mentioned before, I think the greatest trend is the focus towards expressing your individual site and own biodiversity through wine. Whether that is a Malbec from the calcareous soils of Paraje Altamira in the Uco Valley or an Albariño from the granite soils of Maldonado in Uruguay.

Another trend I’m particularly focused on, and thrilled to see picking up pace, is the return to South America’s very old vines. Chile, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia are treasure troves of old vines and many of which are native ‘Criolla’ vines. I’m a huge fan of these native varieties — I love a chilled bottle of red Criolla Chica or País more than anything in the summer! And there’s no other expression quite like them. But I’m also very excited about the work being done with centenarian ‘international’ varieties like Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Carignan and field blends.

Q: In the future, will you continue to focus on South American winesWill you explore other emerging wine regions as well?

AB: I’ll always have one foot in South America, as it is very much my home today. But I am also an avid traveller and will always have one foot wandering to other wine regions… I actually have another project I started in 2016 called ‘Around the World in 80 Harvests’, visiting 80 wine regions in 42 countries. I’m just over half way through that, so still have a few more countries and regions to tick off the list! China is definitely one of them!

Q: Can you list the top ten South American wines that you would recommend to Chinese consumers?

AB: That’s a tough question, and in my book I recommend a few hundred wines! But if you want me to just give you 10, here are some wine varieties from regions you can’t miss… Classics that give you an idea of the South America’s diversity:

País from Maule, Chile

Semillon from Rio Negro, Argentina

Vischoqueña from Cinti, Bolivia

Torontel from Ica, Peru

Malbec from Uco, Argentina

Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo, Chile

Chardonnay from Limari, Chile

Syrah from Serra da Mantiqueira, Brazil

Albariño from Maldonado, Uruguay

Cinsault from Itata, Chile

Q: Who will you recommend us for interview as the next WWS figure?

AB: Some of the great female winemakers of South America — Susana Balbo, Maria Luz Marin, Andrea Leon, Emily Faulconer, Fabiana Bracco, Mariana Onofri… the list goes on!


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Photo Credit: Traci Giles,Matt Wilson