· Lay of the Land
Unlike the Barossa, the Yarra Valley specializes in cooler climate wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, though you’ll still find some signature Aussie Shiraz here. Over 70 cellar doors, or tasting rooms, are open to the public, though if you want to pack the most into your day, think about hiring a tour operator like the Australian Wine Tour Company, Yarra Valley Winery Tours, or the punny Grape Escape Tours.
We won’t get too far into the breakdown of the various subregions in the area, especially because it can get confusing with names like Yarra, Yering and Tarrawarra, though you should consider focusing on one or two each day so you don’t spend all your time in the car or bus.
· Tasting Notes
Some of the country’s best wines are made in the Coldstream area. This is where Australia’s top wine critic, James Halliday, has a winery called Coldstream Hills, whose Sauvignon Blancs give the Kiwis a run for their money. This is also where modern Yarra Valley winemaking was reborn thanks to a man named Dr. Bailey Carrodus, who founded the Yarra Yering winery (see, we told you the names got confusing) in 1969 and produced the area’s first commercial wines in over fifty years. Be sure to try both the full-bodied Chardonnays and mouth-coatingly rich Pinot Noirs here.
Nearby, fans of sparklers will enjoy the wines, and possibly a picnic on the beautiful grounds, of the Australian installment of Domaine Chandon, or lunch at another beautiful big-name winere, Rochford, though you might have to compete with a few big tour buses.
Personally, we’d suggest heading into the one-street village of Healesville (yet another subregion) and enjoying a lunch of wood-fired pizza at the tasting room cum gastropub of Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander, where you can also try the full line-up of wines of both labels.
· Beer and Bakeries
Because mankind cannot live on wine alone, cross the parking lot and pop into the White Rabbit brewery to sip some suds, or grab a pastry over at the famous Beechworth Bakery. If beer’s more your thing, by the way, you should also plan a stop at the Coldstream Brewery, which also has one of the area’s best restaurants, with rustic local, seasonal plates like char-grilled prawns in grapevine leaves.
North of Healesville is another big player in Yarra, DeBortoli, a family-owned winery that produces a huge list of wines each year including their flagship Estate Pinot Noir that gives visitors a good benchmark for what Pinots from this region tend to be: ruby red, earthy, lots of bright red berry notes, and a touch of spice.
On the other, far less showy, end of the spectrum is a historical, family-owned little winery called Yeringberg whose distinctive and quirky wines are still made in the 1860’s winery building by the dePury family overlooking the floor of the Yarra Valley itself.
· Bed & Booze
As we mentioned, the Yarra is perfect for a day trip visit from Melbourne since it’s so close, but the wineries we talked about are just a few of the fabulous tasting rooms you can visit, so if you do want to stick around for a couple dipsomaniacal days, we thought we’d let you know about some lodging options.
The most deluxe hotel in the area is the Relais & Chateaux property, Chateau Yering, on a property where wine has been produces since 1845, and where the rooms have been designed with a florid Victorian eye. Less high-maintenance drinkers gravitate towards the nearby town of Yarra Glen and the Yarra Valley Grand Hotel. The 1888 building was listed in the National Trust, but was recently renovated and redecorated with period touches, and whose bistro is the hottest ticket in town in the evening.
Whether you just come for the day or a wine-fuelled weekend, Yarra Valley has tons of charming wineries and world-class wines that have helped distinguish it not only in Australia, but on the world wine scene.
Disclosure: Eric Rosen visited the Yarra Valley as a guest of Tourism Victoria, but all opinions expressed are entirely his own.