Our soils are derived from Cambrian period basaltic rock of 500/600 million years age.
They are quite rare in the world because of their great age, particularly in Australia. Here in Heathcote they are unusually deep (up to 4 metres), rusty red coloured, well drained, gravelly loams on undulating hillsides, with good moisture retention capabilities.
Occurring in a narrow, non-contiguous strip between two North/South running faults, they are typically only a few hundred metres wide. The faults give rise to a complex mineralogy within the soils.
Soil organic matter is high, allowing great bio-diversity in micro flora and fauna, supporting large earthworm populations – highly beneficial for natural soil fertility.
No synthetic chemicals have ever been applied to the soil or vines; the vineyards are totally organic; no insecticides, no herbicides, no synthetic fungicides and no artificial fertilisers.
We produce our own organic compost for vineyard dressing.
The soil surface is either covered in mulch derived from vine prunings, leguminous cover crops and native grasses, or is lightly cultivated occasionally, with aeration, using lightweight 4WD tractors to minimise soil compaction.
Ron and Elva Laughton established the Jasper Hill winery in Heathcote, Victoria in 1975. They built their own house and named the two vineyards Georgia’s Paddock and Emily’s Paddock, after the Laughton’s two daughters. Emily’s Paddock was already planted, with ungrafted Shiraz and a little Cabernet Franc and within the first year Ron Laughton planted Georgia’s Paddock, using a single clone of Shiraz from Penfolds, again planting ungrafted material. A small proportion of Georgia’s Paddock, about seven acres, is planted with Riesling, and there is even a little Nebbiolo.
Ron’s interest in the land was spurred on by the strip of deep red soil which turned out to be Cambrian soil. The very deep soil is the key to growing grapes without irrigation as the great depth holds moisture and the roots have volume to explore.
Growing wine grapes in Heathcote without irrigation is challenging with an annual rainfall of just under 600mm, but there are benefits as well. Ron feels the best wines in the world come from vineyards that are low yielding; low-yielding vineyards have small berries, all full of flavour.
Viticulture and winemaking is quite simple, although Ron Laughton has no desire to be ‘organic’. “The least work I do on the wine the better,” he said. “I stand less chance of destroying the flavour by doing as little as possible in the wine…It’s basically a resolve to hark back to old fashioned agriculture where we know we could grow produce that had lots of flavour without the use of harsh chemicals.”
But this kind of hands-off approach doesn’t mean the winemaker is not keeping a careful eye on every stage of production. “I have a very good knowledge of what’s happening in the wine at every stage of its life, but I don’t interfere if it’s not necessary,” he explains.
In the vineyard he uses sulphur and Bordeaux mixture, both entirely compatible with organic winemaking, although Laughton will use other sprays as deemed necessary. Indigenous yeast found on the grapes is used for fermentation, in preference to the broader industry approach of buying in commercial yeast cultures. Following harvest the fruit is destemmed and fermented using these cultured yeasts. The fruit is macerated for up to two weeks for extraction.
Both red wines are oaked, although the more fruity Georgia’s Paddock sees American oak, whilst Emily’s Paddock sees French (Nevers) oak. Production is very small, a maximum of 3000 cases. Of these only 400 are Emily’s Paddock, so naturally it carries an appropriate price tag, and it is difficult to source this wine outside of Australia. Up to 2000 are Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz, the remainder are Riesling.
The vineyard is part of a joint-venture with Chapoutier, one of the most prominent and respected wine makers in France’s Rhone Valley.
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