Without doubt one of my first Australian inspirations, the Yarra Valley, is a little slice of wine paradise just an hour form Melbourne. As you can imagine, I am always very keen to show it off to any of our visitors. This January it was the turn of my parents visiting from the UK. They’re not massive wine fanatics like ourselves so we needed to ensure that the tour had something for everybody. This is an easy task in the Yarra…
Designated driver or tour bus?
Though there is something for everyone, tours of the Yarra Valley inevitably involve booze along the way. The only safe ways to enjoy your visit are to recruit a designated driver or join a tour. There are many wine and produce tours on offer in the region at around $120. They are a great idea if you are flexible about where you would like to visit. My mother and I joined one such tour in April 2016 and it was great. Tour groups often get private tastings and behind the scenes access not afforded to individuals. We had the good fortune to be shown around the winery at Chandon. The only small disadvantages are that you cannot choose your group or itinerary.
For Phil’s birthday in 2015, I arranged for a private tour of the Yarra Valley in a rather lovey chauffeur driven car. This of course is the expensive and luxury way to do it, and the day was indeed fabulous. However, on this occasion, Phil very kindly agreed to be our designated driver.
11am – Napoleone Brewery
First stop: Beer (and cider) o’clock. Sharing the picturesque Maletos precinct, flanked by orchards, Napoleone is always my favourite start. I really enjoy a cider from time to time, and their ciders are some of my absolute favourites. The apple and pear variety has the perfect combination of crisp and sweet flavours. The brewery hosts tours, but if like us you have your own agenda, you can view some of the vast equipment through the window behind the bar.
Staff at the brewery are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Tell them what you like and they will suggest a combination for you to taste. Paddles of four generous servings cost $12 (refundable against purchase) and you can have a combination of beer and cider. My father is a dark beer enthusiast and he fell head over heels in love with their darkest porter – one of the seasonal varieties on offer.
12pm – Lunch at Maletos
After your first tasting, it will be getting on towards lunch time. Lunch in the Yarra can be pretty frantic and extremely expensive. A few of the bigger wineries have restaurants and offer one, two or three course set menus with wine. Tarrawarra is one such winery offering a delicious two course menu with wine. Another favourite option of ours are can be found at some of the smaller establishments – where you can purchase local produce and borrow a picnic blanket.
On this tour we discovered the perfect luncheon at Maletos itself. Just behind the brewery tasting bar is the bright and airy Maletos cafe. Lots of delicious local produce are used for their menu, and there is even a map of where the ingredients are sourced from. There is a great selection of smaller dishes as well as gourmet wood-fired pizzas at fair prices. We opted to fill our table with a combination of smaller plates and a pizza to share. A large collection of local, national and international wines are on offer to complement you meal, as well as the full selection from the brewery.
1pm – Yarra Yering
Having tasted many of their wines at events such as Pinot Palooza and the Halliday Top 100, I was desperate to pay a visit to Yarra Yering. When visiting the Yarra Valley it is so tempting to gravitate to your favourite places, but the region boasts of so many fine wineries it is always good to try a new one each time.
Established in 1969 by the visionary Dr Bailey Carrodus, Yarra Yering remains one of Austalias best wine producers. Sarah Crowe their gifted winemaker, won Jame’s Halliday’s coveted Wine Maker of the Year 2017 and on tasting their unique wines you can see why. Their celebrated blends are unlike any other wines in the region and the Shiraz Pinot Noir is divine. I had the privilege of meeting Sarah at Pinot Palooza, just after winning her award and I felt quite starstruck. She is an inspiration and I hope to meet her again some day.
We were not disappointed. Tasting the whole range of their wines felt like a privilege and the historical information and beautiful views over the vineyard were enough to keep my Dad busy (less enthusiastic about the wine itself). We were compelled to purchase a bottle of the 2016 Shiraz Pinot Noir having narrowly missed out on the sold-out 2015 vintage. This wine is ready for drinking now. We also bought a bottle of the 2009 Dry Red Wine No.1 after finding the contrast between that and the 2016 vintage fascinating.
2pm – Yarra Valley Dairy
After such an exquisite array of wine, it was time for cheese. Neighbouring farms produce the high quality cow and goat’s milk that supplies the dairy. Producing mostly soft French-style cheeses, the dairy also showcases wines from smaller wineries, local produce and international cheeses. Free tastings are available from the counter or generous sample platters can be enjoyed in the small cafe out back.
Whilst waiting for our table we met Rina Stefani from the Stefani Estate – hosting a tasting of her wines. Stefano and Rina have two estates, one in the Yarra and another in Heathcote. Stefano is from Tuscany, where his grandfather owned a vineyard. As a result, the Italian influence was clear in their delicious Sangiovese – I had to have a glass with my cheese!
The cheeses themselves never disappoint. ‘Saffy’ a fresh cow’s milk cheese marinated in saffron, lemon rind, cumin seeds, garlic & olive oil, remains my favourite. However, their new ‘Firey’ marinated cheese was also a hit – later enjoyed on toast with a poached egg at home. Lots of local products and recipe inspiration are also available.
Pudding! Another stop for those less interested in wine is the chocolate shop. Vast bowls of dark, milk and white chocolate drops greet you at the entrance for you to taste – all delicious. Temptations is everywhere, with serious and fun chocolate products for everyone, a viewing window into the factory, a cafe selling all manner of cocoa products and an ice creamery. We can never resist the delightful truffle counter and the bush tucker selection is also not to be missed.
4pm – Yering Farm Wines
Whilst it is always important to discover some new wines whilst in the area, I couldn’t resist finishing my tour with a Davison family favourite. Consequently, we found ourselves rounding off the day with a visit to Yering Farm to taste their latest releases. Rushed off their feet with the biggest crowds I have ever seen there, the friendly cellar door staff made space for us. It is a clear favourite for groups, many of which were enjoying drinks on the front lawn overlooking the picturesque estate and distant mountains.
Dad enjoyed their ‘Syder’ made from Pink Lady Apples grown on the estate, whilst we enjoyed a wine tasting. Merlot (unusually for us) stole the show on this occasion. Our modest cellar now hosts a bottle of the 2015 Estate Series. Read more about this wonderful winery in my article entitled ‘Yering Farm – One of my first favourites’ by clicking here.
With full bellies and smiles, our tour had been most successful and new fans of the Yarra Valley had been made in the family. There really is something for everyone. More exclusive wine lovers can add many more wineries from the bountiful selection and as a result make the tour more wine-focussed. Previous visits for us have included the generous tastings at Chandon, a picnic at Kellybrook and the warm welcome at Punt Road. Since there is so much on offer, excitement to return and discover more gems persists.