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.
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
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.
|Heat Degree Days||
|Growing Season Rainfall||
|Mean January Temp||
Early March to early May