Jasper Hill vineyards (Victoria, Australia)
Robin Yapp first met Ron and Elva Laughton 32 years ago on a fact-finding mission Down Under in 1988, so it was great to see them catch up over lunch and a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in Mere last October. With their daughter Emily overseeing the wine-making at Jasper Hill, Ron and Elva now have more time to travel and indulge their shared love of sailing.
Ron is a former food scientist and renowned champion of 'non-interventionist' wine-making who gave up his day job in the late 1970s to 'live the dream' and cultivate an un-irrigated, organic vineyard in Heathcote, Victoria (125 kilometres north of Melbourne). He and Elva set about hand-building a house and winery from scratch and they named their two principal parcels of vines after their young daughters Emily and Georgia. Ron was drawn to the region by its geology - notably an iron-rich seam of Cambrian clay - which he believed might imbue wines with a depth of flavour and complexity lacking in many of Australia's more large-scale commercial vineyards. Well, the rest is history and today the Jasper Hill wines are rightly regarded as some of Australia's finest and enjoy an international following.
Although best known for its flavoursome reds, Jasper Hill also produces a critically-acclaimed Riesling from 3 hectares of dry-grown rootstock in the 'Georgia's Paddock' vineyard. It has classic kerosene and lime-leaf aromas and a nervy, mineral-edged palate with ripe citrus flavours. It makes a terrific partner to spicy Asiatic dishes such as prawn Pad Thai or Tom Yum soup.
The principal wine of Jasper Hill, in terms of volume, is the 'Georgia's Paddock' Shiraz which hails from 12 hectares of vines which yield at approximately 20 hectolitres per hectare. Characterised by a deep purple colour, intense blackcurrant and blueberry aromas and a sleek, rich, darkly-fruited palate with spicy undertones and fondant tannins, it drinks well from release (if decanted) and ages well for 10-20+ years.
The most complex and revered wine here is the 'Emily's Paddock' that comes from a 3 hectare parcel of low-yielding old-vine Shiraz along with about 5% of Cabernet Franc. It has much the same signature seductive dark fruit appeal as its sibling but with even more concentration, tannic grip and ageing potential.
A third Shiraz, called 'La Pleiade' is the result of a joint venture with Rhône royalty Michel Chapoutier utilising rootstock originating from Heathcote and Hermitage planted in 1998. It represents a magnificent fusion of Old and New World wine-making with a wealth of dark, briary fruit and a framework of robust tannins offset by a fresh acidity.
Since 1999 the Laughtons have produced a 'Georgia's Paddock' Nebbiolo that is packed with varietal character with rose and dried herb aromas and a pitchy black fruit palate supported by fine-grained tannins. It comes into its own after 3-5 years and will cellar well for (at least) a decade.
Not to be overlooked is Emily's 'Occam's Razor' Shiraz made from grapes grown on granitic soil south-west of Heathcote at Mia Mia. It has the family's signature of sleek black fruit with peppery undertones and represents great value for money.