Like many people, Emma Shipley and her husband had dreamed for years of starting their own wine label. Unlike most people, they actually had the courage to turn their dream into reality.

Emma, the 385th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, had spent more than two decades working as an accountant and CFO, mainly in the construction industry. As wine lovers, she and her husband were enamoured of the idea of making their own wine and then ordering it in restaurants. So, in 2018, they bought a vineyard in the Hunter Valley, which they planned to operate as a hobby farm while retaining their full-time Sydney jobs. What could go wrong?

Plenty. In 2019, their once-a-year harvest was ruined by drought; in 2020, by bushfire smoke; in 2021, by hail.

While they expected running a vineyard would be challenging, they hadn’t realised it would be so excruciatingly hard. They thought of abandoning their wine dream, only to decide that they weren’t quitters and would persevere.

Emma left her job, so she would have more time and bandwidth to devote to the wine business. The couple also bought a nearby vineyard, for the sake of diversification; if something happened to the harvest on one property, they would be able to call on another.

In 2021, they launched Latitude 32 Wines, which produces the kind of high-quality wine they prefer to drink, and is sold in outlets in Sydney and Newcastle. Earlier this year, Latitude 32 opened a cellar door. Now, the wine operation is run as a serious business that needs to turn a profit rather than a passion project that only needs to break even. Thankfully, their last three harvests have been successful. 

Emma hasn’t abandoned corporate life – she serves as a non-executive director on several corporate boards, which gives her the chance to use her considerable finance experience and exercise a different part of her brain.

I was really excited to hear Emma recount her wine adventure – partly, I realised, because while all of us talk about pursuing a life-changing goal at some point in the future, most of us keep procrastinating until, one day, we conclude it’s too late. The first step is always the hardest, because that’s the point at which the uncertainty and fear of ridicule is the greatest.

To the Emmas of this world who are prepared to chase their dreams – I raise a glass of Latitude 32 wine and salute you.