The Yarra Valley is arguably Victoria’s premiere wine and food region and is the birthplace of Victorian wine. We recently spent a day there sipping its highly regarded cool climate wines.
Just one hour from Melbourne’s city center, a day trip is a great way to experience Victoria’s scenic countryside while sampling some fine wines from some of Australia’s most highly regarded producers and taste some fresh regional produce in the region’s restaurants. Here is a guide to wine tasting in Australia’s Yarra Valley.
Meeting the locals
While some visitors like to get to know the region on an early morning hot air balloon ride (finishing with a drop of local sparkling wine), others like to meet the locals at Healesville Sanctuary.
A popular destination for Melbourne families, here you can see Australia’s unique wildlife, including kangaroos, wombats, dingoes, and the intriguing platypus. Short on time, we made a beeline for the cellar doors.
Visit Healesville and go wine tasting on the Puffing Billy Steam Train, Yarra Valley and Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary Day Tour
DIY or tour?
When it comes to wines, visitors are spoiled for choice here, as this immense valley is home to more than 70 vineyards and some 50 cellar doors.
If you can find a ‘designated driver’ – a person foolish enough to not want to try these great wines – it’s best to do the region at your own pace. But if you can’t, a wine tasting tour is a great way to experience the region, as no one misses out on sipping.
Opting for a tour? Try our Yarra Valley Wine and Winery Tour from Melbourne
Begin at the beginning
Grapes had been grown in the Yarra Valley since the mid 1800s through to the 1920s and wine was one of Australia’s main exports, however, production stopped during the 1920s depression when there was a shift in focus to wool. One of our favorite wineries in the Yarra, Yarra Yering, is where in 1973 Dr Bailey Carrodus released the first commercial vintage of Yarra Valley wines in fifty years.
An Oxford-educated botanist, passionate about food and wine, Dr Carrodus planted 12 hectares of vines in 1969 to produce his first vintages of the dryly-named Dry Red Wine No 1 and No 2. For the next 35 years Dr Carrodus made fabulous wines from everything from Nebbiolo and Barbera to Carmeniere and Mouvedre. The cellar door list changes with availability, but if you can see their Chardonnay – made from their 1969 plantings – just buy it!
Get a sense of history
To get a sense of history, you should visit Coldstream Hills, the winery that put the Yarra on the map for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This cool climate winery – the climate is cooler than Bordeaux and a little warmer than Burgundy – only started in 1985 with an initial vintage of 450 cases, and remains a relatively small winery with a huge reputation.
On a much grander scale is De Bortoli Wines, who also helped establish the reputation of the region. They have extensive vineyards in New South Wales and Victoria, but their Yarra Valley wines are particularly notable – as is their restaurant serving Italian-based fare (the family are third-generation Italian-Australians), and their cellar door and cheese room. No matter what time of day you visit, don’t miss trying their dessert wine, fondly known in Australia, as a ‘sticky’. Their iconic Noble One Botrytis Semillon may not be from the Yarra but it’s Australia’s best-known dessert wine.
If you’re feeling hungry by now, Yering Station makes a great next stop. The winery features a Modern Australian restaurant with perfectly matched, limited release wines by the glass and views across the valley. If you’re after a lighter, quicker snack to head off the headiness from the tastings, Matt’s Bar, dating to 1859, is ideal for more casual dining above the din of the tasting room.
Also of note here is that there is a self-guided tour of the Yering Station winery and a great farmers market every third Sunday of the month. As for the wines, both the whites and reds wines are excellent. Australia’s most highly-regarded wine writer says of their releases that the “…wine quality has consistently been outstanding”.
Don’t leave without trying the Yarrabank Cuvee. The winery produces sparkling wine using ‘méthode champenoise’, the traditional French method of producing sparking wine in the Champagne region of France. A joint venture between Champagne Veuve A. Devaux and Yering Station since 1996, the wine uses handpicked Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and has a wonderfully fresh feel for a Champagne-style sparking wine.
Another great maker of bubbly (as many Aussies call sparkling wine) is Dominique Portet. Located in the center of the valley, this French winemaker uses handpicked Merlot grapes to make his famous sparkling rosé. His wines are delightful, especially the sparklings and particularly the Fontaine Rosé – no surprise, however, as Dominique’s family has been making wine for ten generations – since the 17th century.
Dominique has been in the Yarra for over 10 years and is now a true Aussie, and his son and winemaker Ben is following in his father’s footsteps. With a winemaking degree from Adelaide University degree, he has notched up some years of experience at wineries in France, South Africa and the Napa Valley.
While the chic cellar door of Maddens Rise could pass for a florist’s shop in a posh suburb, there is some serious winemaking going on in the vineyard. Alongside biodynamic practices, handpicking, and the classic Valley grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, there are trial blocks of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Arneis, Fiano, Garganega, Vermentino, and Sangiovese. Lacking the history of the vineyards of the Old World, the New World Australians are not afraid to experiment with varieties!
Also open to experimenting is a man called Phil Sexton. In an audacious contemporary barn of a winery in Healesville, featuring a bakery, cheese room, provedore, and casual bistro, the fine wine produced here is labeled Giant Steps. The name is a nod to the leap the owner took in moving Western Australia to the Yarra Valley in Victoria, and from beer-making (he’s behind the brilliant Little Creatures brews) to wine making.
While the small batch Giant Steps wine is created from single vineyards within the Yarra Valley, there is also a less expensive label called Innocent Bystander, wines produced from grapes from different vineyards around the Valley and beyond.
The bistro does fantastic gourmet pizzas – perfect to eat while you clink classes of Pinot Noir, one of the region’s best drops, and clink to a great day!
Book a tour to Yarra Valley
– Terence Carter & Lara Dunston