Emily Laughton remembers living in a ‘hole in the ground’ when the family first arrived in Heathcote and were building the winery and their mudbrick residence at Jasper Hill. She and her sister Georgia went to primary school in Heathcote, then secondary school in Bendigo. She also remembers her father, Ron Laughton, calling to her during harvest, ‘come here, Em, and look at this, a classic shiraz bunch.’
“Dad just loves grapes and he loves making wine,” she says, “and it rubs off. Georgia and I never had any pressure to get involved in the family business. We saw how hard Mum and Dad worked. Mum worked night shift at an aged care facility in Bendigo for several years while also working in the vineyard and looking after us. She had been a milliner in Collins Street and had also owned a bridal boutique in Melbourne. Dad was often away at exhibitions and other wine industry events. Mum has always been in the background. Without her, the Jasper Hill success they built could not have happened. She and Dad worked as a team.”
Elva and Ron encouraged their daughters to learn about the world. Georgia went to France as an exchange student. She now runs her own photographic studio as well as being involved in the office activities at Jasper Hill, including the archiving of all its history. Emily, trained as a primary teacher, makes her own wine, Occam’s Razor, and works closely with her father and her husband, Nick McNally, at Jasper Hill.
“We had no expectations that they should work in the family wine business. In European families that often is an expectation. We built up Jasper Hill because that was our dream, and we are delighted that both daughters have chosen to share in our dream,” says Elva.
“I met many of our customers over the years as we grew up around the winery,” say Emily. “Georgia and I got to make some pocket money when we did any work in the vineyard and the winery. Although I enjoyed the field work associated with my teacher training, I started to realise that I was more excited about making wine than anything else.
“Mum suggested that if I was serious about making wine then I should learn by developing my own label. Andrew and Mellissa Conforti had planted vines in 1997, in Mia Mia, part of the Heathcote wine growing region. I decided to make a single vineyard wine called Occam’s Razor Shiraz from their fruit and it has worked out really well.
“I didn’t start my winemaking with the same degree of passion that Dad has. But I’ve developed that passion now. Wine production involves many different jobs, so the work I do is constantly changing. I really enjoy the vintage side of things and customer interaction activities. Dad and I meet a lot of people at restaurant and industry events. An added bonus in this business is that you get some free time in summer, when the workload is less.
“I love working with my family, and my husband Nick has just completed his second vintage with Jasper Hill. The most significant challenges are ones we share with all farmers, those elements you cannot control, like the weather and climate. “I made my first wine in 2001, which was released for sale two years later. I knew that my wine would be benchmarked against Jasper Hill wine and that created a lot of pressure for me in those two years. I got over that anxiety when people were buying Occam’s Razor and some good reviews came in.
“I’ve had a huge advantage in working alongside Dad. From him I’ve learned how important it is to have integrity in what you do. He has passed on his passion for wine and his principles of viticulture. He has taught me that you shouldn’t compromise, to leave things in better shape than you found them, and to leave a small footprint. We were the only kids in school, twenty five years ago, whose T-shirts said Reduce, reuse, recycle.”
Ron is “absolutely chuffed,” about Emily’s emergence as a wine producer. “Daily, we work closely together and I probably don’t thank Emily enough for all she does,” he says. “I still love being a vigneron and can’t see myself stepping back any time soon. The more I know about this business, the more I realise how much I still have to learn. It’s just as exciting now as it was at the beginning.”