Yarra Valley

Victoria

About

Head for the Yarra Valley’s rolling hills, lured by its gourmet experiences and wineries producing benchmark pinot noir and chardonnay. Within an hour’s drive of Melbourne, the Yarra Valley promises a bounty of cellar doors to visit – both boutique and established – as well as lauded restaurants, artisan provedores and incredible scenery.

James Halliday is the first to admit he is hopelessly biased towards the Yarra Valley in Victoria – it’s where he lives and works, after all. In his words, “It is a place of extreme beauty, of constantly changing light, of colour and mood. It offers landscapes on a heroic scale with the same profligacy as it offers intimate vistas. Once you have seen it, you cannot help but love it”.

THE HISTORY OF THE YARRA VALLEY

The Yarra Valley wears the crown as Victoria’s oldest wine region, with a rich history that dates back to the area’s first settlers in 1838. The region’s first vines were planted on a property that now makes up Chateau Yering. Viticulture was quick to catch on, and smaller vineyards were established throughout the area. Ever since, this grand-old dame has experienced peaks and troughs in popularity, from reaching initial superstardom in 1881 to a renaissance act between 1968 and 1971, then another resurgence in its status in the 1980s.

Up until the 1990s, the Yarra Valley was the territory of small wineries and super-premium wines. It wasn’t until De Bortoli Wines of Griffith in New South Wales invested in a vineyard here in 1987 that large, commercial ventures began to infiltrate this Victorian wine region. A spate of big names – Mildara Blass, Hardys, McWilliam’s, Chandon – started to move in on the Yarra Valley in the years that followed. Today, there are more than 100 Yarra Valley wineries and the area is as popular with domestic wine drinkers and aficionados as it is with international wine lovers. The region itself is known as one of the top locations for cool-climate wines in Australia.

climate and soil

There are two distinct soil types in the Yarra Valley. The first kind – loamy sand or clay loam – can primarily be found on the northern side of the valley. These soils appear either grey or a grey-brown on the surface and have red-brown subsoils and good drainage. The other kind is the highly friable, red-hued volcanic soil on the southern side of the valley. It is here where the 2019 Halliday Wine Companion Winery of the Year, Seville Estate, has its vines planted. This latter soil type tends to be deep and fertile, although it is younger in origin.

The Yarra Valley is cool – temperature-wise, that is. When compared to some of Australia’s other top wine-producing regions, its climate is markedly milder. It is also cooler than Bordeaux in France, yet warmer than the more inland Burgundy. Unlike fellow Victorian regions Geelong and the Mornington Peninsula, the Yarra Valley has a limited maritime influence. Its dominant rainfall occurs in winter and spring, and its summers are typically cool, dry and slightly humid. Some of the wineries located on the lower valley floor can be affected by frosts, but this is not common.

yarra valley wine styles

This cool-climate region grows a variety of exciting wines, and although pinot noir and chardonnay are the reigning champs, experimental winemakers have expanded their repertoire outside of these styles. Other key drops gaining attention from the Yarra Valley are shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc, plus many alternative varieties. The region’s harvest runs from early March to early May.



The quality of the region’s chardonnay grape wasn’t as immediately obvious as that of pinot noir, but since the 1990s it's been on the rise and diversified in style. Yarra Valley chardonnay features distinctive characteristics of melon, fig and white peach, and varying weight, texture and richness. Thanks to the region’s different altitudes and growing conditions, Yarra Valley chardonnay continues to evolve and develop.


The quantity of sauvignon blanc in the Yarra Valley pales in comparison to that of chardonnay, and demand often outstrips supply, but the examples that you can get your hands on will display herb, gooseberry and tropical flavours.


Pinot noir is the star of Yarra Valley red wine varieties. Much like its cousin chardonnay, Yarra Valley pinot noir comes in many shapes and sizes. The spectrum of styles covers aromatic, fruity, savoury, and structured wines. Certain styles flourish in particular locations; perfumed pinot noir favours cooler sites, while the wines associated with fruit do well in warmer areas. The Yarra Valley’s older vines produce dense wines, and grapes grown on a vineyard with granite-laced soil may produce wines with mineral characteristics.


The lower, warmer sites around the Yarra Valley are best suited to shiraz, and their north-facing slopes are the location of choice for vines. Unlike the heavier, full-bodied shiraz produced in other wine regions of Australia, Yarra Valley shiraz is more medium-bodied. These wines have an intense hue and a flavour profile revealing black cherry, pepper and spice, with the silky tannins of the Yarra Valley ever-present. Other characteristics include summer pudding, prune, Christmas cake, and some savoury flavours. Viognier first appeared as a minor blend component with shiraz in the late 1990s.


Similar to shiraz, cabernet sauvignon prospers on the warmer sites of the Yarra Valley. These grapes are also often blended with other complementary red varieties such as cabernet franc and merlot. Blending produces a range of Yarra Valley cabernet sauvignon styles, from full-bodied and structured to floral and aromatic. Most examples are age-worthy, elegant and full of character.

THINGS TO DO 

At only 40 minutes’ drive from Melbourne’s CBD, Victoria’s Yarra Valley is sure to be one of the most easily accessed wine regions in Australia. That goes a long way in explaining why it is so beloved, both with locals and interstate visitors. Before heading out, however, it is worth noting that there is no public transport in the Yarra Valley, and the best way to discover its bounty is by car. So, nominate a designated driver, join a wine tour (a number operate throughout the area), or hire a chauffeur to ferry you around. Another way of seeing the Yarra Valley is from the sky, and although the basket of a hot-air balloon makes it harder to flit between cellar doors, the view from this lofty perch is well worth it.

For those looking to refresh their palates between wine tastings, pay a visit to one of the several distilleries, breweries and cideries that have laid roots in the Yarra Valley. Visitors seeking a cheesier experience can make for Yarra Valley Dairy to peruse this provedore’s shelves (all laden with local produce and goodies) or sit on the deck with a cheese plate and coffee. The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery will be a hit with sweet-tooths.

To sink your teeth into something more substantial, many of the Yarra Valley’s top wineries come complete with acclaimed restaurants. Reserve a table at the likes of Oakridge Estate, Yering Station, Balgownie Estate or Levantine Hill, among others, for a sample of the fine dining on offer in the Yarra Valley.

Prefer a taste of the Yarra Valley that gives your appetite a rest for an hour or two? There are a handful of galleries in the region, including Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Sandra Bardas Art Gallery, and the sculptures at Art at Linden Gate. Take a walk around the gardens of Coombe Yarra Valley (once home to Dame Nellie Melba), or explore the Kinglake National Park.

accomodation in the yarra valley

Winery Bench Image

Such is its proximity to Melbourne that the Yarra Valley could happily be done as a daytrip out of the city. Those wanting to experience more than an amuse-bouche of the region, however, will also find a collection of comfortable and luxury Yarra Valley accommodation. Book a vineyard-fringed house if travelling with friends, or couples can book a two-person studio or romantic cottage. Some wineries have accommodation on-site too, and this makes a convenient option for where to stay in the Yarra Valley.

Facts

Wineries 193
Tasting Notes 7707

Geographic

Latitude 37°49’S
Altitude 50–400 m
Heat Degree Days 1250–1352
Growing Season Rainfall 400 mm
Mean January Temp 17.9–19.4°C
Harvest Early March to early May