Emma Clough is the founder and owner of Through The Grapevine (TTG) Wines, which supplies a selection of wines from family-run, sustainable and certified organic vineyards to hotels, bars, restaurants and private customers. Emma is well-experienced in the hospitality industry - having worked for Four Seasons Hotel and Resorts when she first moved to Singapore in 2001, and previously working for Marriott, The Ritz, and Hilton.
After her second child, Emma moved to a wine distribution company and learned a lot about wine from the vineyard owners she took around Singapore. Emma quickly developed a love for family producers, noticing how much better she felt after drinking organic wines made without the use of chemical fertilizers or additives. After obtaining her CSW, Certified Specialist in Wine, the mom to 3 lovely girls (15, 13, and 11) started TTG Wines to curate sustainable and organic wines produced by passionate and environmentally-conscious wine makers.
Emma shares with us how she always craved a challenge even after having three children. She shared her initial conflict returning to work - whether she would be a good colleague, and a good mother. Building up her confidence after her second child, Emma challenged herself in a brand new industry. Through her work, Emma discovered her passion to bring sustainable wine to her customers.
Early motherhood was an overwhelming mix of emotions, a combination of adoration, responsibility and a subtle yet very real pressure to get it right. I absolutely loved early motherhood and was extremely fortunate to be one of the later ones in my group of friends to give birth, only by a few months, but it made a huge difference to have good friends with babies just 3 months ahead of me.
About 4 months after giving birth to my child , there was a strong desire to return to the workplace - to dip my toe back into my old life, to ditch the nursing tops for the work wardrobe, yet I was by no means ready to hand over the reins of permanent day care to someone else. I encountered my first internal conflict, thinking ‘How could I do both?’. I recalled how I always enjoyed working, and I had a feeling that a happier, more fulfilled me would make for a better mother. With that, I eventually overcame my guilt and returned to work.
Back in 2008 after my second daughter was born, I found myself craving a different challenge. I switched industries and joined a wine distribution company. Although very new to this, I picked up a lot speaking with vineyard owners that I would take round Singapore showing their wines to potential companies. I absolutely loved the role and immediately changed my wine drinking habits! I’d been drinking the same wines from well known brands for years, but I quickly developed a love for family producers and noticed how much better I felt after drinking wines that were not mass produced. I also started enjoying many new varieties and was always keen to taste and try different wines from different regions.
In 2015, I decided to further challenge myself, and obtain my qualification in CSW, Certified Specialist in Wine. Having not done any studying since the 1990’s this came as a real shock, and it was extra tough especially just before the examination. I found it quite impossible to focus with the constant interruptions from my children, and I found it hard to explain why I was getting frustrated. When I could find the time, I found myself having to hide in order to get the studying done. To this day, I will go somewhere I can’t be interrupted when I need to focus on my work. While I was initially guilty, I found that it eventually makes life easier and enjoyable for all. When I am able to focus and complete my work, I am also able to fully focus on my children when I am with them. I don't have to feel guilty for not giving my children the attention they need.
Armed with the wine knowledge I gained, combined with my work experience, I decided to take a leap of faith and start Through The Grapevine (TTG). I was excited about introducing wines produced by passionate wine makers working in harmony with nature. With no retail overheads, I was confident that TTG will be able to help customers explore new wines and enjoy quality wines that support sustainable, organic, family-run businesses.
Although I knew it would not be easy, the key drivers for starting my own business were for fulfillment and flexibility. I loved being a mum but I knew I wanted to work too. Being my own boss meant I could manage my time in a way that allowed me to enjoy long summers with the children, and be able to go to their sports events and performances. I’d also have the flexibility to catch up on the daytime work hours missed once the children were in bed.
A huge misconception is the belief that working mothers are not as committed to their careers as people who aren’t parents. Or that we’d all choose to be stay at home moms if we could. I feel that that very much depends on your life’s motivation. I personally believe that working makes me a better mum, because I enjoy work for the independence and sense of achievement it gives me, while meeting a broader network gives me a broader perspective on life.
Another huge misconception is that working mothers are not as dedicated to our families as parents who stay home with their children. I believe that working not only gives my life a great balance, but with enough time management, I am able to be dedicated to multiple things at once.
I am very thankful for my husband who is very hands on and loves spending time with the girls so I’ve never felt alone or overwhelmed. One huge advantage for working moms living in Singapore is having help. Tess worked with us for almost 14 years and I will forever be grateful to her. She was the most reliable, responsible and fun helper you could ever wish for. Not to mention being super organized and an amazing cook and baker.
I currently find balance with a mixture of work, being a mum/part time taxi driver (to my children), and finding time to exercise. Monday and Wednesday mornings are spent at Bukit Timah nature reserve. I find that it is not only great exercise, but I also love the company and banter with the other working mums I walk with. We provide very good emotional and social support for one another. We always bounce around business ideas and parenting tips including the blunders! I always come away more enriched.
A fellow mum and friend once told me that her mother had said to her 'try to always be there for your children in the morning before they go to school and to spend time with them before they go to bed'. This advice really resonated with me even as my children get older and it became harder as they’d rather chat to their friends or had busy days. I cherish the valuable moments driving my children into school because I can check in with them each morning. It allows me to take action immediately once I notice something is off.
Don't ever think you can’t do a good job as a mom just because you don't have as much time. It is often those moments when you are alone in the car with one of your children that they’ll share important things with you. You won't always have the answers but I learnt that it only takes a matter of minutes to show them you care, that you love them and that you are there to help. Use your mum-time wisely, focus on what is important, be supportive and always have fun.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos c/o Sabrina Wee
This series is part of our International Women’s Month where we catch up with amazing women who live, as intended. With many amazing women in our community, As Intended will be celebrating an entire month to feature amazing women to #breakthebias of Working Mothers.
As part of this celebration, As Intended will be donating 10% of proceeds from purchases made in the month of March to Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT), to help raise funds for low-income working women in need of child minding support.
Daughters of Tomorrow is a registered charity organization with IPC status in Singapore whose mission is to facilitate livelihood opportunities for underprivileged women, and support them in achieving financial independence and social mobility for their families.
The lack of childminding support can be one of the biggest factors preventing a woman from being gainfully employed. Singapore Tote Board will match dollar for dollar for donations made and Tax Deduction Receipts (TDR) will also be issued for donations above $10. You may like to learn more, and choose to donate directly to: https://www.giving.sg/campaigns/as-intended