Regional Discovery: Explore the Yarra Valley

Written by
Vintage Cellars
February 19, 2019
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In Melbourne’s backyard lies a gem of the wine tourism world, which not only honours its history, but looks to the future.

The Yarra Valley is a mercurial place: it’s cooler than Bordeaux, even though it was Bordeaux-style cabernet sauvignon that first reignited interest in the wine region’s modern revival in the 1960s. It’s warmer than Burgundy, yet time and time again, its strongest wines are none other than those Burgundy superstars, chardonnay and pinot noir.

Then there are shiraz and other Rhône Valley grape varieties that generally insist upon warmer climates to really hit the flavour zone. Yet, ever temperamental, the Yarra Valley delivers on all counts; few wine regions in the country are so versatile and capable of delivering such astoundingly high quality in both table wines and sparkling.

Just one hour’s drive north-east of Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is Victoria’s oldest vineyard area. The first vines were planted by the Ryrie brothers in 1838 at Yering Station in what is now the heart of the region.

Sadly, wine growing had died out by the 1920s. It wasn’t until the ’60s that a group of young enthusiasts, led by Dr John Middleton (Mount Mary), Dr Peter McMahon (Seville Estate), Guill de Pury (Yeringberg) and Dr Bailey Carrodus (Yarra Yering), arrived to resurrect and fulfil the valley’s incredible wine-producing potential.

Almost 70 cellar doors regularly are now open to the public, with another 11 opened by appointment. Production-wise, pinot noir is the biggest grape variety, followed by chardonnay, shiraz, then pinot gris or grigio and cabernet sauvignon.

Yarra Valley Pinot noir revels in a number of personalities, from lively, fruit-driven, cherry and strawberry styles to the darker fruit, plum and forest floor overtones.

Chardonnay table wines are distinctive and among the most highly prized in the country. Bright lemon, white peach, nectarine and melon are its signature flavours.

Yarra Valley shiraz is in the generously spicy, cool-climate camp, promoting the grape’s black-cherry, plum and red-berried fruit notes with a dash of cinnamon, clove and liquorice.

A new grape to the Valley is pinot gris (AKA grigio), and one whose future is looking bright, as consumers take to its easy-drinking style and approachability. Gris is more favoured here, promoting palate texture together with enticing spiced apple and citrus.

Cabernet sauvignon has tended to play second fiddle to pinot noir since the 1990s, but is now enjoying a moment, a reinvention of sorts, with Yarra Valley winemakers pursuing more elegance and less reliance on oak, championing the grape’s dark berries, dried herbs and gentle, textural qualities.

With more than its fair share of unique wines and craft gin, luxury accommodation and innovative dining options, the Yarra Valley is certainly one to put on the bucket list.

Where to stay

Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort & Spa
Balgownie Estate stands out as the area’s largest vineyard-based resort. Balgownie’s diversification into the Valley in the 1990s has opened up huge opportunities with pinot noir and chardonnay. Enjoy a spa treatment and tasting before a meal at Rae’s Restaurant, where a perennial favourite is its charcuterie.

RACV Country Club
Those who choose to stay at RACV come for a food and wine immersion. This is the perfect headquarters for excursions, located within walking distance of Healesville, and for easy access to neighbouring wineries. An impressive, multi-million renovation now has the Country Club looking its very best.

Healesville Hotel
A regular award-winner for its extensive Yarra Valley-centric wine list, this lovely Edwardian hotel with 21st century refurbishments boasts hearty country food in a modern Australian style. With the hotel’s diverse food and drink offerings, it is quite possible to never leave the premises — you’ll want for nothing else!

Where to eat

Giant Steps
Giant Steps is best known for its single-vineyard expressions of chardonnay and pinot noir. Since its inception, the company has also made huge strides in merging its Healesville-based winery into a restaurant/bakery/coffee roasting/ cheesemaking complex that fully explores its home region’s food and wine offerings.

Oakridge Estate
Sleek and modern, this renovated cellar-door complex is home to a restaurant that a leading Australian critic has called “one of the country’s great winery restaurants”. Co-executive chef Matt Stone and Jo Barrett’s creative menu perfectly suits the winemaking style of chief winemaker, David Bicknell, whose wines are fiercely individual.

Tarrawarra Estate
An award-winning winery and home to one of the largest private art collections in Australia,
TarraWarra prides itself on a stunning restaurant showcasing food sourced from the kitchen garden. From rare kangaroo on buckwheat shortcrust to Tuscan kale risotto, these bold dishes are the perfect complement to the wines.

Places to visit

Coldstream Hills
Associated with noted Australian wine writer James Halliday, who founded Coldstream Hills in 1985, the producer is now a quality headliner under the Treasury Wine Estates banner. Among some of its finest work are single-vineyard expressions of chardonnay and pinot noir, which can be explored in the tasting room situated below the winery.

Four Pillars gin
Meteoric is the only word to describe the incredible rise of global-award-winning Four Pillars Gin, which has been leading the Australian craft gin wave for six years. It started with Rare Dry Gin, before pushing the envelope to include gins based on seasonal produce and venturing into shiraz-based and chardonnay barrel-based styles.

Yering Station
The site of the first vineyard planted in the Valley back in 1838 is also an exciting wine venture now owned by the Rathbone family, who excel in producing quality wines. A joint venture with Champagne house Devaux reveals the excellence of the region’s sparkling wines, while the restaurant’s stunning views make a fine backdrop for lunch or dinner.