Wine Wednesday: Yarra Valley, Australia
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TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen has a background as a food and wine writer and has covered wine regions all over the globe including Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria and many of those in his native California, so we decided to launch a new #WineWednesday series where every week we give you a brief snapshot of wine regions all over the globe and insight on how to get there, where to stay and a couple places you might want to visit while there. We kicked off the series with California’s Russian River Valley and Napa, then headed to the Southern Hemisphere to sample sips on Waiheke Island in New Zealand before raising a glass of bubbly in Champagne. Today we visit one of Australia’s lesser-known (at least by Americans) wine regions, the Yarra Valley, where instead of big, bold Shiraz, you’ll find finer-filigreed Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, among many other varietals.
The big name in Australian wine is Barossa, famed for the bold Shirazes that have gained prominence all around the world. However, one of Australia’s other premier wine-growing regions has been the go-to tasting spot for those in the know on visits Down Under for years now, and is home to some of Australia’s best-known and well-respected wineries: the Yarra Valley.
Making it perhaps Australia’s most accessible wine region, the Yarra Valley is just a quick 45-minute drive northeast of Australia’s second city, Melbourne in the state of Victoria.
Melbourne has a major international airport and is serviced by carriers including Qantas and Virgin Australia (of course) as well as Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Korean Air, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and United, among others, so you can either earn or burn miles from any of the three major alliances while flying here, as well as maximizing your airline’s non-alliance partners.
In terms of getting to Yarra itself, your best bet is to go with a tour operator who knows the area and can tailor a wine-tasting itinerary to your preferences.
One of the best tour operators in the Yarra Valley is the Australian Wine Tour Company, who offer everything from tourist bus trips to bespoke private escorted tours at boutique wineries. Yarra Valley Winery Tours offers public and private day tours that include tastings and lunch, and Grape Escape Tours hosts both day-trips and overnights in the valley.
Where to Stay
Because the Yarra Valley is so close to Melbourne, it makes for a great wine-tasting day-trip and your best bet is to stay in the city, which, as a major metropolis, has all the major points hotel brands including two Hiltons, both a Grand and Park Hyatt, a Marriott, an Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn (by the airport), a Radisson and both a Westin and a Four Points by Sheraton as well as a Sheraton set to open next year. There are also three massive hotels that are part of the Crowne complex of casinos and entertainment venues on the south side of the river.
However, if you want to make a little mini-trip out of your time in the Yarra, you can also choose to stay out in the country at some quaint hotels and B&B’s. The most luxurious is s Chateau Yering, which sits on what was once largest wine property in Yarra, and is housed in an 1854 mansion. It was turned into a 32-suite hotel in 1997 and is a member of Relais & Chateaux.
The old Yarra Glen Grand Hotel, which was built in 1888, and is in the tiny hamlet of Yarra Glen, is a better budget option and has been fitted out with charming Victorian country furnishings like oversized wooden furniture and frosted glass light fixtures. The hotel also has a bustling bistro and a lively pub where locals hang out.
Like many other wine regions, the Yarra is comprised of several distinct areas within itself including Yarra itself, Yering, Tarrawarra, Healesville and Coldstream.
That last one is where some of Yarra’s most lauded wineries are located, including Yarra Yering, which was founded in 1969 by Dr. Bailey Carrodus, and released the first commercial wine produced in the valley in 50 years way back in 1973. Stop by the tasting room to try the legendary reds here with views of the storied vineyards out the old house’s floor-to-ceiling windows
Nearby you’ll find another well known winery: Coldstream Hills, which is owned by Australia’s most influential wine writer, James Halliday, and produces some of the area’s best Chardonnays.
North on the Maroondah Highway are the bigger tourist-bus-stop wineries such as Domaine Chandon, which has beautiful grounds and (unsurprisingly) delicious sparkling wines; and Rochford, whose restaurant has stunning vineyard views.
For the art portion of your day, take the Yarra Glen road to Yering Station, which has a gleaming new winery building and a casual café as well as an art gallery, and then make a quick stop at TarraWarra Estate, a winery that has been producing award-winning vintages ofr nearly 30 years, and which now operates out of an imposing stone building with an impressive private art collection.
Don’t tarry here for lunch since you’ll want to loop back east towards Healesville on the Yarra Glen-Healesville Road for a gourmet gastropub-style meal (think flatbread pizzas and pumpkin-goat cheese arancini) in the convivial restaurant at Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander. Stop at the counter before or after your meal for a tasting of the full range of both labels. Innocent Bystander line is for casual drinking while the Giant Steps wines are premium, terroir-driven, single-vineyard productions. brisket or fried polenta with roasted cauliflower, currants and pine nuts.
North past Healesville, De Bortoli is a family-owned winery that is one of Australia’s biggest names, and which produces an extensive line of wines including their much-esteemed Estate Pinot Noir. There’s a restaurant at the cellar door featuring rustic Italian dishes.
Finally, for a taste of history along with your wine, visit the old Yeringberg Winery, which is perched on a hill above Yarra Glen, and has sweeping views of the entire valley. The winery dates back to the 1860’s, and if you’re lucky, the family members who operate this winery will open it up to show you some of the original equipment used to operate it way back then. The artisanal wines produced here are both delicious and distinctive.
If you’re staying for a few days, consider taking a break from the wine to try a few of these other options. The area is known not only for its wines, but also its artisanal beers, so while you’re at Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander head across the parking lot to the White Rabbit brewery to try a beer sampling of their pale and dark ales on the weekends.
The Coldstream Brewery in Coldstream Hills is another great choice for sipping suds ranging from a crisp Pilsner to a dry sparkling cider, and it also has a restaurant that’s a local favorite thanks to down-home dishes made with a gourmet flair, such as BBQ cider buffalo wings with beet salad and flatbread smoked salmon pizza with dill, arugula, crème fraiche and mozzarella.
The area also has other phenomenal activities like hot air ballooning with Go Wild Ballooning, which offers a sunrise flight with a champagne breakfast afterwards.
Whether it’s a quick day-trip from Melbourne or a full-on food and wine itinerary, the Yarra Valley is a great place to spend some time on your next Australian adventure.