Women of Argentina: Dr Laura Catena, Catena Zapata
This year Wines of Argentina has embarked on a new mission of embedding a commitment to diversity and gender equality in all aspects of its work. She has already adhered to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles and has also launched a new platform to support women working in wine. But his ambition does not stop there.
He wants all organizations in the Argentinean wine industry to actively seek gender balance, offering support and advice where necessary to ensure that women and men have equal opportunities to succeed.
As part of Wines of Argentina’s mission, we chat with some of the most prolific female figures in Argentine wine about how they are affecting change within their organizations.
In this latest installment of our Argentinian Women series, we talk to Dr Laura Catena, fourth generation winemaker, general manager of the Catena Zapata winery and founder of the Catena Wine Institute.
Catena joined her father, Nicolás Catena Zapata, in the family business in 1995, the same year she founded the Catena Wine Institute with the vision of producing Argentinian wines that could “join the best in the world”. In 2013, Catena played a pivotal role in founding Argentina’s Sustainability Protocol – established by Bodegas de Argentina – an organization that works to reduce the environmental impact of Argentina’s wine industry.
Beyond the family winery, she also runs her own operation, Luca Winery in Mendoza, is a mother of three and a part-time emergency medicine doctor in San Francisco.
We caught up with her to learn more about how she works to tackle gender inequality, the importance of recruiting women to top positions, and her hopes for the future of Argentinian wine.
To read our first episode of the Women of Argentina series with Wines of Argentina CEO Magdalena Pesce, Click here.
Wines of Argentina recently set up a women’s platform and adhered to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (UN) (the first wine trade body to do so). What do you think this will bring to the Argentinian wine industry and why is it important?
I strongly support this initiative because it is about taking action! I find there is a lot of talk about climate change, sustainability, social justice, and women’s empowerment, but talking is cheap, and what we need is action. This is a very good first step for Wines of Argentina on behalf of the Argentinian wine community.
What changes have you noticed during your career in terms of gender equality and opportunities in wine?
Certainly the world of wine is better for women today than it was 25 years ago when I started working with my father. There are so many more talented female winemakers, winemakers, vineyard owners and industry leaders. Despite what one might think because of the stereotype of “Latin macho”, I have seen women’s careers advance quite rapidly in Argentina. Our country faces constant upheaval and diverse teams of men and women are better at creative work, which is necessary in the face of adversity.
Why is it important to make successful women visible and to recognize gender?
When I started my professional career in medicine and wine in the 1990s, I didn’t want to be treated any differently because of my gender. I didn’t want to be invited to a conference to be “the only speaker”. I changed my mind about it. I think young men and women today need to see and learn from women in top positions. Women need to show the world that diverse teams and women in power are important to a sustainable future. I am part of a leading women’s wine group called the “Magnum Club” which includes Maggie Henriquez, Marilisa Allegrini and Stevie Kim. I learn so much from them and understand why men have historically spent so much time in all-male groups. I believe there is a future for gay and mixed work groups – each plays an important role.
How did you work to address gender diversity within your own institutions?
The most effective policy I have found is to put women in the top positions. When men and women in an organization see that a woman can be promoted to a high-level position because of her good work, it follows that highly skilled women are motivated to work hard; they see opportunities ahead. What’s interesting is that men also prefer to work in diverse teams. So having a diverse staff is one of the best recruiting tools a winery can have. I suspect that organizations that lack diversity struggle to recruit the best people.
Can you tell us a bit about your involvement in the Bodegas de Argentina Sustainable development protocol and its objective?
Two decades ago, I started to take a keen interest in the topic of sustainability. How do we leave our planet in the same or better condition than we had it? This is a question that despairs me and so many people. I wanted to certify all of our wines as sustainable and infuse a sustainability approach into everything we do at Catena. I realized that there was no sustainability code in Argentina, so with our team at the Catena Institute, we developed a protocol. Then we teamed up with Bodegas de Argentina to create a protocol that could be used by anyone. Today, the sustainability protocol is used by many wineries and I hope that in the near future every winery in Argentina will be certified as sustainable.
How does the sustainability protocol work to mainstream gender inclusion in sustainable certification?
The sustainability protocol requires wineries to measure their diversity and formulate a plan to improve it. This simple exercise of counting the percentage of women we have in each area helps us see where we need to improve diversity.
What advice would you give to other organizations seeking to support gender equality and diversity?
If every man and woman in your organization believes they have a chance for advancement based on skills, not gender, gender diversity is bound to improve. The most important action is to actually put women in the top positions, but to do that you need to invest in women as soon as they enter your organization. Skills education and mentoring are the most important tools for improving diversity, but also for hiring and retaining the best people.
What can men working in the wine industry do to support gender equality in the workplace?
The most important thing that men and women can do is take the time to get to know their employees and colleagues. You need to be attentive enough to listen and give your opinion. Sometimes men are intimidated by a powerful young woman and maybe they are hesitant to establish a professional relationship. We need to find a system for men and women to get to know each other as people in the workplace so that everyone has the opportunity to shine and contribute.
Who are your greatest role models and why?
My father, Nicolás Catena Zapata. He has been through so much, losing his mother in a car accident when he was 18, going to school in New York (Colombia) for his graduate studies in economics when he barely spoke English, running a business while there was 1000% inflation in Argentina, and during a military government, then the start of a wine revolution in Argentina that brought good Argentine wine and Malbec to the world. My dad did all of this while managing to mentor a whole generation of young people, including me and my siblings, to help us do our best. My dad helps others shine and never acts with his ego in mind. This is the best model I could have asked for.
Jancis Robinson: I met Jancis a long time ago when I was starting out in wine. Jancis has managed to put together a team of highly motivated people to report on wine and push wine in a better direction. Jancis defended so many causes: new regions, sustainability, old vines, small and large producers, wines in all price ranges. What I admire most about Jancis is that she always follows her principles and despite being such an important figure in the world, she takes the time to be kind to everyone. I’ll tell you a personal story about me and Jancis. When I wrote my first book, Vino Argentino, I asked him to write the intro. She responded with a very kind email explaining that she hadn’t done any book intros, not even for her dear friend Hugh Johnson. Jancis didn’t need to justify herself, but she did, because that’s the kind of person she is – she doesn’t want anyone to feel unnecessarily bad.
You have accomplished so much throughout your career. What are you most proud of?
I think it’s still to come. I have not done it yet. After all, I’m only 53!
What advice would you give to anyone new to the wine business?
It might be a bit of a cliché, but make sure you’re working with people who are as passionate about the job as you are. And while money is important because we have to pay the wages and feed / educate our children, be sure to work with people whose main purpose is other than making money.
Finally, what is your greatest hope / ambition for the future of Argentine wine?
That every wine collector in the world has a bottle of Argentinian wine in their cellar and that wine has still been made from the Adrianna vineyard for 200 years.