Everybody loves a good Pinot Noir, and the Yarra Valley Wine Region in Victoria, Australia has just the right cool-climate to produce some of the finest in the world.As my friends will vouch, I don’t mind the odd drop, or two, or seven, so when I had a good ‘ol vino and food-filled Yarra Valley weekend last week to celebrate Australian Wine Month, I was in my element. A short 45 minutes drive from Melbourne sees you enter a lush agricultural wonderland and with hilly ‘Australiana’ vistas and some seventy vineyards and cellar doors to explore, it’s a wine-lovers dream.
There are three suburbs that make up the Yarra Valley Wine Region: Healesville, Yarra Glen and Coldstream. We decided to base ourselves out of Healesville for the Yarra Valley weekend, but all three have loads of accommodation options from budget but cute like the Healesville Hotel right through to luxury stays like Chateau Yering at Yering Station Winery. The Yarra Valley suburbs are relatively close to one another, so the longest you’ll have to drive between any two wineries is about 20 minutes. That’s if you are indeed doing the driving which, if you really want to soak up all the region has to offer, I wouldn’t recommend! Still, if you draw the short straw and find yourself the designated driver, you’ll most definitely be doing your mates a solid as public transport and cabs are pretty much non-existent in the Yarra Valley. And I’m not even exaggerating, I have it on good local authority that there is only one cab per day running (!)… so your friends will owe you big time if you’re the sober (read: responsible one) for the day as hailing a cab in the middle-of-knowhere is off the agenda!
In the likely event that no one in your entourage puts up their hand to carry the keys for the day then never fear, there are other fantastic options like organising a private tour and guide, hiring a designated driver or joining a commercial tour for a day of wine-tasting. After experiencing all three at different times over the years, I would have to say that the best way to go, for me, is to hire a designated driver to drive your own car as we did on this weekender, but everyone’s preferences will differ with the amount of flexibility they are looking for and their budget. You can hire a driver from Designated Indulgence, and for $300 for eight hours you can choose your itinerary and explore at your own pace, and the best part is, if you have a full car-load of people the price is seriously affordable!
What I love most about the Yarra Valley over many other wine regions in the world is how much the sommeliers and servers at cellar doors are passionate about their wine. It’s contagious! It’s easy to enter a tasting room with one friend and come out with a couple more after spending an entire hour chatting about tasting notes and ‘modern’ Chardonnay’s versus ‘old’ Chardonnays with the professionals behind the bar (trying not to go overboard with the “wine-wank” of course). For the record I am for the ‘old’ oakey, buttery Chardonnays all the way!
From architectural statements to rustic tin sheds hidden among the vines, the Yarra Valley has a wonderful range of cellar doors, and with so many to visit, two full-days isn’t nearly enough to explore this region. Here are a couple of my favourite wineries, cellar doors and farms to visit while you’re up there.
Yering Station is like your very own French Chateau in the middle of Victoria, except that you share it with a multitude of visitors. That being said, you never feel like the tasting room is crowded and the service is second to none. The cellar door is a darling vine-riddle 1850’s brick building juxtaposing the 5-star architecturally-designed modernist restaurant next door overlooking the Yarra Ranges. Free tastings, Wine ranging from $18 – $90 AUD.
Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander is a bubbling cellar door and eatery located on the main road in Healesville Town and is the only cellar open after 5pm. It gets a little busy on the weekends to best to book ahead if you want some hearty yet gourmet pub tucker. It’s also within walking distance to most Healesville accommodations, which is great for those who want to have a couple of tipples at dinner and walk home instead of worrying about never finding a cab (see above: cab situation in the Yarra Valley, or lack thereof).
Sticks Winery is a hidden little gem among a great big vineyard off the beaten path. There are many reasons to visit this tasting room, not the least of which is their fantastic Sticks Pinot Noir (which is my go-to Pinot for an after-work wind-down or glass with dinner)! It’s easy on the wallet too, and the servers will go out of their way to make your visit is an enjoyable and knowledgeable one. Free Tastings, Wine ranging from $22 – $45 AUD.
If a hipster were a winery it would be Yering Farm. Decorated with vintage wares and inside an old converted barn is the cellar door, where you can easily spend an afternoon grazing on a cheese platter and tasting bespoke wines not found in wine shops. Yering Farms directly sell their bottles to some of Melbourne’s top restaurants, and leaving with a case full of their Run Rabbit Run Chardonnay is very easy to do. Free tastings, Wine ranging from $200 – $500 AUD for a case of 12.
If all this wine is becoming tedious (how?) then White Rabbit Beer is for you. Located right next door to the Healesville Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander Cellar Door, it is designed around two custom built 5,000l open fermentation tanks and decorated with imagery from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Sit down, take time out and have a pint or a paddle.
Rochford Winery is the largest winery out of those listed here and has the most “commercial feel”. Tastings are not free – they are $5 – but you get a very extensive tasting (almost double than other cellar doors). Having said that, the food in their restaurant is to die for and it’s easy to spend a long leisurely lunch here on the weekend (with wine parings of course).
If you are anything like me and have a bit of a cheese tooth, then Yarra Valley Dairy is for you. Wine really does go hand-in-hand with cheese and the Dairy has a vibrant and award-winning selection of fine-quality farmhouse cheeses made right there on the premises.
For more information on Aussie Wine Month this May, and to see what events are on near you, visit Wine Australia.